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There is No God: Continuing Thoughts on Gun Control

Rabbi Mark Sameth shares his views on gun control. You comments are welcome.

My friend, a Roman Catholic priest, surprised me.  

“In the Bible it says, There is no God! Go ahead, look it up!”

I did, and of course my friend Father Daly was right. Here’s the full quote from Psalms: “The fool has said in his heart ‘There is no God.’”

My intention here is not to suggest that atheists are fools. Atheists and others who choose no religious affiliation now make up twenty percent of the U.S. population. The Dalai Lama is an “atheist.” Some of my best friends are atheists. I’m not writing here about atheism. I’m writing about prefatory clauses.

As with Psalm 53:2, a prefatory clause opens the Second Amendment. I often see gun rights advocates quote the Second Amendment as “The right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” But the full quote is “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to bear arms shall not be infringed.”

In their dissent to the landmark 2008 decision District of Columbia v. Heller, four of the nine Supreme Court justices read that prefatory clause as meaning that the right to bear arms was a collective right, not an individual right. “The ‘right to bear arms,’” Justice John Paul Stevens wrote, “protects only a right to possess and use firearms in connection with service in a state-organized militia.” Justices Souter, Ginsburg, and Breyer agreed and joined his dissent. But four justices joined Justice Antonin Scalia in declaring the right to bear arms an individual right. That’s how close it was (indeed, how many other landmark cases have been as close?). But absent legislative action, individual right is now settled law. 

What I would hope is that folks who were on both sides of that debate could now agree on the following…

Let’s keep guns out of schools. In the same majority decision quoted above Justice Scalia took pains to note that “the Second Amendment right is not unlimited…The Court’s opinion [the majority opinion that the right to bear arms is an individual right] should not be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions… laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools…”

As the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association said in a joint statement last Thursday “Guns have no place in our schools. Period.” Armed law enforcement officers (there were two of them) got off a few shots but could not stop the 1999 Columbine massacre; nor could armed personnel stop the massacre at Virginia Tech. As Mother Jones Magazine has reported regarding the 62 mass-murders over 30 years they examined recently, most of the killers got their guns legally, and not one was stopped by an armed civilian. And let’s not forget Fort Hood, where there were 13 killed and 29 wounded… on an army base filled with armed soldiers.  

Would more guns have saved the firefighters who were ambushed and shot to death in Webster, New York this past Monday? Or the victims of the sniper attacks that paralyzed Washington, DC in 2002? In the words of PATCH blogger Robert Herbst “It’s the guns…!”

We should recognize NRA chief Wayne LaPierre's call for more guns for what it is: in the words of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, “a shameful evasion of the crisis facing our country… a paranoid, dystopian vision.” The New York Times  called it a “mendacious, delusional, almost deranged rant.” For those who have been following LaPierre’s career this should come as no surprise. Read "LaPierre's NRA was already so crazy back in 1995 that George H. W.  Bush resigned his membership." The full text of President Bush’s letter was published in the New York Times on May 11, 1995.

Let’s ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines. The Supreme Court - in the same majority decision quoted above - took pains to support the “historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of dangerous and unusual weapons.” There is no reason we cannot outlaw such weapons, and we should. A buy-back program would be needed to get these dangerous weapons out of folks’ hands. It’s been accomplished elsewhere, notably in Australia (domestic municipal buy-back programs include Los Angeles and San Diego) and we should push to do it here. And we need to ban the on-line sale of ammunition. This would be a good thing; because whatever you may have heard about decreasing gun deaths, according to the Violence Poverty Center using data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while gun deaths remained relatively flat from 2000 to 2008, the total number of people shot went up nearly 20 percent since 2001. “States with low gun ownership rates and strong gun laws,” they found, “have the lowest rates of gun death.” 

Let’s close the gun-show loophole. The loop-hole defeats any attempt to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. We need to push for longer purchase times, and to end “instant” purchase time.

Let’s come back together. Proposals put forth by the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre last week – one calling on the federal government to “create an active national database of the mentally ill,” another asking why “with all the money in the federal budget, we can't afford to put a police officer in every school?” - are so-called “big government” or “tax and spend” responses which would cost billions of dollars. While I deeply disagree with LaPierre on these specific proposals I wonder if there might not perhaps be a glimmer of hope here: Is it possible that a new conservative-liberal consensus on government taxing and spending for the public weal is aborning?

If so - while we’d need to be clear that autism is not a mental illness but a neurological development disorder; and while we’d be wrong to blame autism for the Sandy Hook massacre, and while armed guards in schools is a terrible idea - perhaps this newly dawning realization that indeed “it takes a village” will focus us on the need to fight rampant de-funding of programs for those with neurological and psychiatric disabilities, and children’s programs which are already in existence; and to support additional funding for new programs to aid the most vulnerable members of our society.

And as the NRA has now come out in favor of a national database to keep track of folks who have never committed a crime, perhaps they can be persuaded to drop their powerful efforts to thwart legislative attempts to create a much needed federal registry of gun transactions, also by people who have never committed a crime, for use in criminal investigations when gun crimes do occur. 

Is this possible? Well, there’s reason to believe that a shift in attitudes is underway. A just released poll indicates that a bare majority of Americans “now favor major restrictions on owning guns or an outright ban on gun ownership by ordinary citizens and more than six in ten favor a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles.” Indeed, the fact that a new grass-roots anti-gun violence movement called “Newtown United” has taken off in the town where the massacre took place – a traditionally strongly pro-gun area where “dozens of gun dealers, gun instructors, gun repair shops and shooting ranges do a brisk business,” and “regular people... have an arsenal in their basement"  - gives us hope that out of tragedy may come a new understanding.

Finally, let’s have a national discussion on the 2nd Amendment. Let me hasten to underscore that the few gun owners I know personally are all decent, law-abiding folks. Let’s not make matters worse by demonizing each other, whichever side of the issue we’re on. And I understand that suggesting a national discussion on the 2nd Amendment is more controversial than any of the above proposals. But following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 we saw the beginning of calls – from the Harvard Crimson, from Salon's Washington Bureau Chief Walter Shapiro, from Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution and others - for repeal of the 2nd Amendment. And now, following the Sandy Hook massacre we have former Seattle policeman Norm Stamper, former Colorado lawmaker Bryan Jameson, Dr. Jeff Clawson, Professor Robert Klose, and the magazine The Economist again calling for repeal or consideration of repeal. We should educate ourselves about these arguments, pro and con. Maybe upon consideration legislative action to repeal the 2nd Amendment is something we will wish to support.

In the meantime…

Please join us at PCS on Saturday, January 5, 9:30 am for National End Gun Violence Sabbath. For more information go to www.ShalomPCS.com

Please sign the petitions at One Million Moms for Gun Control, Demand A Plan, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and We The People.

Please purchase a “We Are Newtown” bumper sticker, proceeds to go toward a memorial to the victims.

Please read my previous post on gun control. 

Your comments are welcome.

Rabbi Mark Sameth is the spiritual leader of Joyful Judaism: Pleasantville Community Synagogue an inclusive, progressive synagogue – with members from twenty towns, villages and cities all across Westchester

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Dan Aschenbach December 28, 2012 at 04:08 AM
20 children died. There is no debate. Semiautomatic weapons should be outlawed like heroin or cocaine. Mental health professionals need to be consulted for bringing more assistance to those who face illness. Political leadership has to act now.
Joann Kornas December 28, 2012 at 11:59 AM
People don't realize how many times a "quote" is taken out of context or only part of it is given in order to make it fit what they are trying to say. Thank you for revealing this in such a dramatic way. I hope people will "get" it!
Simon Lack December 28, 2012 at 12:38 PM
I think that's an excellent article, very thoughtful and well argued. Thank you for framing the issues so clearly.
Donald December 28, 2012 at 12:45 PM
The 1994 assault-weapons ban is widely considered to have been ineffective to diminish the violence it was intended to curb. One reason was the gun-show loophole. However, another was the prior law's failure to be retroactive, especially with the large numbers of banned weapons in circulation at the time of its enactment. Hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of assault-style weapons have been sold since the expiration of the their proscription in 2004. Dianne Feinstein's proposed legislation similarly lacks a provision making it retroactive. In its absence, any new law is likely to be just as ineffective as the 1994 law.
Rjohnston December 28, 2012 at 03:39 PM
A few counterpoints: does it seem odd that Chuck Schumer and Diane Feinstein, both big guncontrol advocates, have concealed carry permits? The takeaway is guns for us, not for you. Seems hypocritical. The Mother Jones article is very misleading in the way it defines "civilian" and mass-murder to come to its conclusion that an armed civilian has never stopped an incident. Just not true.
Donald December 28, 2012 at 06:58 PM
No, nothing odd (even if your misplaced assertion were substantiated). I am unaware of either senator owning an assault-style weapon or a high-capacity magazine, which are among the things enlightened lawmakers are now seeking to proscribe. In any event, it will likely be difficult for Congress to enact either foregoing proscription, let alone making all possession or sale of such items illegal by not including a grandfather clause in any new gun-control act.
Brad Schaeffer December 29, 2012 at 02:01 AM
I notice that there is still plenty of cocaine and heroin on the streets despite their being banned. Just a thought.
Brad Schaeffer December 29, 2012 at 02:09 AM
I understand the Rabbi's argument (and those of the four dissenters in Heller) re: the significance of the quote "A militia being necessary to the security fo a free state..." that precedes the more oft-quoted "right to...bear arms" part. I've thought about it and it would seem important that this is the one right in the Bill of Rights that Madison felt was controversial enough (for lack of a better term) as to require an explanation of sorts. In short, here is why we're giving you this right: so you can form a militia if needed. But certainly anyone familiar with late-18th Century America, as Scalia, Roberts, Thomas, Alito , and Kennedy are, understands that it was about far more than just militia. 95% of the populace lived in rural, often remote, areas. The arm of the law was quite short back then, and slow to respond. The woods were filled with threats: hostile Indians, predatory animals, and roving bandits. For many, too, hunting was key to sustenance. So to say that but for the necessity of militia, the Framers would have left Americans defenseless in the face of multiple threats from which an intentionally small government was ill-equipped to provide adequate relief, while also denying them the tools to hunt seems a bit if a stretch. It would seem very much an individual right. (By the way the first "assault weapons" -- whatever that even means -- were made in the 1880s...barely 50 years after Madison's death. They are more a 19th century than 21st century technology.)
c December 31, 2012 at 09:35 PM
A couple of thoughts- how can a militia be formed without armed individuals coming together to form the militia? and secondly- bet Feinstein and Schumer have semi-automatic handguns (like 85% of all sold today)
Frank Nietzky January 02, 2013 at 12:32 AM
The gun prohibition groups continue exploit public confusion on gun ownership. California was the first state to ban so-called “assault rifles” . The gun-banners did not use the term “assault rifle” in the proper technical sense—that is, a power combat rifle that has a switch so that the gun can fire either automatically or semi-automatically. Instead, the prohibitionists tricked legislatures into banning guns that could only fire as semi-autos, but which looked like selective-fire military rifles. Biden will capitalize on this technical confusion just because it was done before. The truth is that civilian AR-15 Bushmaster rifle used in Newtown did not have full auto switch and the rate of fire would be pretty much the same as any semiautomatic handgun. The AR-15 has become very popular with law-abiding citizens. AR-15 and similar guns are often the guns of choice for many hunters, target shooters and would-be home defenders. Some folks say, you don't need AR-15 to hunt with. I say why not? It is lighter in the woods than an old style bolt action military rifle with a wooden stock. So what we are trying to legislate? If the gun looks like a machine gun it is assumed to be a machine gun. Folks you can not legislate based on menacing looks! Any semiautomatic pistol sold today in US is capable holding of 15 or even 18 rounds. What we should do is encourage existing administration to allocate more grant money towards schizophrenia research.
Aidan June 21, 2013 at 03:51 AM
"Semiautomatic weapons should be outlawed like heroin or cocaine." Yeah. Coke and smack have vanished alright. Your five year-old logic doesn't cut it.

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