(February 21, 2018 / JNS) Major American Jewish organizations are calling for stricter gun-control laws in the wake of the Feb. 14 mass school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 14 students and three staff members dead.
A spokesperson for the women’s organization Hadassah told JNS that the group supports all three of the legislative proposals under discussion in the aftermath of the shooting.
One is a bill sponsored by U.S. Sens. Jon Cornyn (R-Texas) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) to expand criminal background checks on prospective purchasers of guns. A second legislative proposal, supported by many Democrats, is to renew the federal ban on assault rifles that expired in 2004.
In addition, Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) is calling for legislation that would institute universal background checks, ban individuals on the terrorist watch list from purchasing guns and outlaw bump stocks, the device that enabled the Las Vegas shooter last October to upgrade his weapons from semiautomatic to fully automatic.
On Feb. 20, President Donald Trump ordered the Department of Justice to take action to ban bump stocks. He also has indicated that he supports some strengthening of background-check regulations.
Hadassah is urging its members to promote the gun-control proposals at upcoming “Day in the District” sessions, in which its members nationwide meet with Congress members in their local districts.
Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Advocacy Center in Washington, D.C., told JNS that his organization “will likely support” all three of the gun proposals. He said the Orthodox Union “has long supported common-sense measures to reduce gun violence, including banning certain sophisticated assault weapons such as the AR-15 used in [the Parkland] attack.”
The organization is also seeking additional federal and state funds for schools for their security needs, although “the precise elements of an individual school’s security program should be made by each school’s leadership,” said Diament. Some conservative pundits have suggested stationing armed guards in front of schools, though the logistics and costs for such a policy have not been analyzed.
The Orthodox social-justice group Uri L’Tzedek supports all three of the legislative proposals and will be promoting them through a “beit midrash” series of educational programs within the Orthodox community. Participants will “learn and then pick up the phone,” its president, Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz, told JNS. “We will also be using our email blasts to 10,000 recipients and the thousands following our social media to get folks to visit senators and congressmen, call them and write to them.”
In addition, Uri L’Tzedek intends to hold public vigils to “mourn the losses [from gun violence] and raise public awareness,” said Yanklowitz.
In a statement to JNS, B’nai B’rith International expressed support for “legislation to limit access to the most dangerous weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines whose sole purpose is to maximize death counts.” It also urged broader background checks, longer waiting periods between buying a gun and taking possession of it, and restrictions on the number of guns an individual may purchase.
Barbara Weinstein, associate director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said her movement endorses the Cornyn-Murphy legislation, but believes that bill “will only begin to address the problem.” She told JNS that Congress should establish universal background checks, renew the ban on assault rifles and close the ‘private sale’ loophole, which permits a private party to sell guns without obtaining information about the buyer’s criminal record or mental state.
Other Jewish groups have been somewhat less specific in their positions.
A spokesperson for the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism told JNS: “As a religious organization, we believe that Jewish values compel us to do all that is possible, within the framework of U.S. law to protect our children and enact sensible gun-safety laws.”
The USCJ has not taken a position on pending gun-control legislation.
A spokesman for the Anti-Defamation League told JNS that the ADL “has taken no position on specific legislative efforts” other than those suggested in the group’s 2013 resolution on gun control. That resolution recommended “stricter controls governing the sale, possession and distribution of firearms”; “comprehensive background checks”; and “a responsible conversation on the [gun control] issue that does not further stigmatize mental illness.”