The darkness of the season, amidst the high latitudes of the Pacific Northwest, was deepened with news of the tragedy resounding from across the continent. After the initial, stunned silence in the face of the enormity of the December 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, a frustrated fury drove a clarion call to action. Despite the proximity to the Christmas celebration and its demands, dozens of Christian clergy joined with other faith leaders, compelled by the urgency of the moment and resolute in bringing change to a broken world. This gathering-turned-press-conference and public signing of a statement inspired the formation of the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, bringing together politicians, citizen-activists, social justice entrepreneurs and concerned parents.
Leveraging the momentum of a similar coalition that helped pass the ballot initiative legalizing same sex marriage, the faith community yet again helped to realize what a paralyzed and purchased state legislature would not: establishing universal background checks on all gun sales.
But the pervasiveness of gun violence tragedies, the under-regulated sales and the inaction of our legislators and the influence of the gun lobby persist. Our streets still regularly run red with the blood of the innocent, our homes remain statistically perilous sites of armed domestic violence, and the maliciously motivated possess unfettered access to weapons of war.
Perhaps we’ve reached a tipping point, as more and more of us, including thoughtful gun owners, come together to enact common sense gun legislation on multiple levels. In Seattle, we are considering the efforts of the Do Not Stand Idly By movement, linking the purchasing power of tax dollars to changes by the gun manufacturers who sell to law enforcement. In what we hope is a newly-sensitized state legislature, we are working to pass the Child Access Prevention/Safe Storage bill (HB 1747), creating a felony criminal liability when a negligently stored firearm is used by a child to harm themselves or others, and the Extreme Risk Protection Order (SB 5727), allowing families and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove access to firearms if a person is threatening themselves or others.
And on the federal level, as recent mass shootings bind easy access to guns to national security, the current presidential campaign offers an opportunity for us to lift our voices in support of gun violence prevention.
Nothing will come easily or quickly, despite the ongoing, senseless loss of life and the trail of tears that follows. But as our tradition compels: Lo alecha ham-lacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben chorin l’hibatel mimena—We are not obligated to finish this task, but neither are we free to desist from it…any more than we are free to stand idly by as innocent blood is shed, the weapons of war continue to flow onto our streets, and our leaders put the needs of business ahead of the will of the people and the sanctity of life.
Daniel Weiner is the senior rabbi at Temple De Hirsch Sinai in Seattle, WA.