Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at the National Press Club Urging Passage of Stonger Gun Control Legislation
National Press Club
November 15, 2001
Contact: Alexis Rice or Julie Silverman (202) 387-2800
September 11th shattered our nation's sense of security and invulnerability. Since that horrific day, our country has, rightly, focused its attention on improving and strengthening our national security. In an effort to protect our nation from future terrorist attacks, President Bush created the Office of Homeland Security. Like the President, Congress has turned their attention to finding ways to protect the American people from such attacks, looking at measures to improve aviation security, to protect against chemical attacks, and to uncover the financing of terrorist organizations. In these ever-important discussions about improving our homeland security, it is imperative that Congress view homeland security comprehensively, and that they include common sense and effective efforts to curtail gun violence as a means to protect our country and our citizens - from international terrorists, from domestic terrorists, from criminals, from ordinary gun-owners who are careless in keeping their weapons from criminals or from children. We must remember that while we work to counter these new threats emanating from abroad, we must continue to fight the very real threat of violence that stems from within our own society.
In some ways, of course, our sense of security and invulnerability was misplaced. The terror attacks drew, properly, intense attention. They were, thankfully, without precedent. When 5,000 people are killed in an instant, the loss is unmistakable. When 5,000 Americans are killed every two months, or 5,000 children every 16 months as is the case with victims of gun violence the loss is harder to comprehend, to grab on to. Our nation's gun control laws are too weak, allowing criminals, children, and even terrorists and terrorist organizations easy access to firearms. There have been cases in which people have bought guns and ammunition here in the United States in order to send them to back to terrorist groups like Hezbollah and the Irish Republican Army. On September 10th, a jury in Detroit convicted Ali Boumelhem, a member of Hezbollah on charges of conspiring to smuggle guns and ammunition to Lebanon after the F.B.I. had observed Mr. Boumelhem buying weapons at gun shows in Michigan. Conor Claxton, an accused member of the IRA, admitted in federal court that he went to a gun show in Florida to buy guns to smuggle back to Northern Ireland. It is utterly unacceptable that individuals who seek to destroy lives and inflict harm - to create terror in people's lives - are legally able to purchase arms in our country. We need comprehensive criminal background checks on all gun purchasers, and we need to keep records of all gun sales. In order to protect our nation's citizens and human beings all around the world, we must strengthen our national gun laws. We must keep firearms out of the hands of people who do not value life, people who wish to destroy God's precious gift of life.
Our sages taught that God began the human race with one single life in order to teach us the infinite value of every human being. It is said that a person who destroys a single life, it is as if he destroyed the world. A person who saves a single life, it is as if she saved the world. It is to this end the preservation of life, of God's most precious creation that we must compel Congress to enact stronger gun legislation. Let us not "stand idly by the blood of our neighbor." Let us, let Congress, stop following the voice of the NRA and put the lives of its citizens first, doing everything possible to use the law to keep guns from the hands of tomorrow's criminals.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaismis the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), whose 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR) whose membership includes over 1700 Reform rabbis.