Please join us in Pleasantville Saturday 9:30 am for “Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence.”
Allow me to begin by repeating something I said last week:
…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.
Reading the almost 75 local comments to last week’s post—and more than 500 comments over in Connecticut—underscored for me how much strong feeling there is about this issue for folks who locate themselves at every point along the spectrum of opinion. There are folks who are fearful of the many guns floating around out there, a few of whom see anything short of a complete ban on private weapon ownership as inadequate to the task of ending the scourge of gun violence in this country.
There are also decent, law-abiding citizens who own guns legally and for legal purposes—for recreation; for hunting; for self-defense—who are concerned that their right to bear arms (a right which the Supreme Court in 2008 in District of Columbia v. Heller did decide is an individual right) may be in jeopardy; a few of whom (framing their objection in the context of fear of government tyranny) oppose any restrictions on gun ownership at all.
Lots of strong feelings.
And what I’ve learned about meditation—which if you’re a new reader to this blog is the topic I usually write about on Patch—is that more often than not it’s emotions that drive our decisions; more often than not we back into our reasons from our emotions; while the practice of sitting in open awareness to the present moment, to notice without judgment whatever is arising within us does, over time, have the potential to build within us an ability to be less reactive, more considered in our responses, more aware of how we can be of benefit to ourselves and benefit to the world.
So let’s all take a breath.
I want to share information about this weekend’s upcoming Sabbath event, which is scheduled to take place at houses of worship all over the country. And I want to emphasize my hope that, after you read through what is actually being called for, all of us will find this worthy of support.
National “Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence”—and what it stands for.
This weekend - Friday January 4 through Sunday January 6—is national “Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence.” At a recent gathering in front of the National Cathedral, religious leaders—including Roman Catholics, Jews, Episcopalians, Muslims, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, Evangelicals, Sikhs and other—announced they will also be mobilizing their congregations to join a national call-in day to Congress on Feb. 5.
At the gathering in the nation’s capital, Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington; The Right Rev. Mariann Edgar Budde, the Episcopal bishop of Washington; The Rev. Gabriel Salguero of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition; Rev. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good; the Rev. Michael Livingston, past president of the National Council of Churches; and the Very Rev. Gary Hall, dean of the National Cathedral all spoke about the need to mobilize to take concrete action to curb gun violence.
Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence—scheduled to be held at houses of worship throughout the country—is coming from Demand A Plan a campaign launched in July, 2012 as a partnership of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a coalition of Republican, Democrat, and Independent Mayors from towns, villages, and cities all across the country, survivors of recent shootings, the families of the victims, and their supporters.
Here’s what the campaign is calling for: “common sense legislation that will 1) require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America; 2) ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines; and 3) make gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for ‘straw purchasers.’” Let me emphasize that for purpose of being able to work together to achieve positive results, this coalition is backing what they deem “common sense” legislation, all of which is intended to sit well within the 2nd Amendment as it is now understood.
Is it possible to work together? Isn't the country divided over gun laws?
Actually, four out of five Americans believe in common sense gun laws. Certainly the gun owners I know do. Read “The Gun Control We Already Agree On.” Last summer (well before the massacre in Newtown) pollster Frank Luntz conducted a poll of NRA members which showed “strong support for common-sense gun laws, exposing significant divide between rank-and-file members and NRA leadership.” For more specifics on what Mayors Against Illegal Guns is calling for see their “What We Stand For” page.
But why focus on gun laws? Isn’t the real problem the mentally ill, and folks with illegal guns?
We most certainly should be funding more programs for the mentally ill, and not de-funding programs that already exist (see my previous post). But recent events underscore how difficult it is to keep guns out of the hands of felons and the mentally ill.
Recall: The day after the Newtown massacre a mentally ill man from —apparently off his meds, hearing voices, complaining that he was being teased at work – was arrested trying to steal a Bushmaster rifle from a gun store… the very same store from which he had successfully stolen 12 firearms before.
Recall: The rifle used in the Webster, NY, attack was bought by a friend of the sniper who, as a convicted felon, could not himself legally purchase or possess firearms.
Recall: The guns used in the Newtown, CT, massacre had also been purchased legally—by the shooter’s mother.
But wouldn’t banning assault weapons be against the 2nd Amendment? And what are “assault weapons” anyway?
The Supreme Court—in the majority opinion of District of Columbia v. Heller written by Justice Antonin Scalia—was clear that, the 2nd Amendment notwithstanding, certain weapons may indeed be banned under the law. Justice Scalia cites Brief for United States, O. T. 1938, No. 696, at 12–18 arguing that “’weapons which are commonly used by criminals,’ such as sawed-off shotguns, are not protected.”
Justice Scalia goes on to cite “the National Firearms Act’s restrictions on machineguns;” and affirmatively states
“…the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns… Like most rights the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose…. Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.”
Importantly, Justice Scalia cites the historical tradition of prohibiting the carrying of “dangerous and unusual weapons;” and adds that the Court’s analysis does not “suggest the invalidity of laws regulating the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.” “Justice Breyer chides us” Justice Scalia wrote, “for leaving so many applications of the right to keep and bear arms in doubt, and for not providing extensive historical justification for those regulations of the right that we describe as permissible.” But, Justice Scalia wrote,
“… since this case [District of Columbia v. Heller] represents this Court’s first in-depth examination of the Second Amendment, one should not expect it to clarify the entire field, any more than Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1879), our first in-depth Free Exercise Clause case, left that area in a state of utter certainty. And there will be time enough to expound upon the historical justifications for the exceptions we have mentioned if and when those exceptions come before us.”
Some military weapons (such as machine guns) are banned under the National Firearms Act; but so too are some non-military weapons (such as sawed-off shotguns) banned.“Assault weapons” have in the past and could again in the future be banned, depending on the way such weapons were defined by legislators.
Some have questioned whether a semi-automatic rifle should be referred to as an “assault weapon.” At the moment there is no universally agreed upon legal definition of the term. But in their own catalog Bushmaster (manufacturer of the AR-style semi-automatic rifles used in the Newtown massacre; the Aurora, Colorado movie massacre; the Portland, Oregon mall attack; and most likely the Webster, New York firefighter ambush, to name a few) certainly portrays their semi-automatic rifles as weapons which can be —and are being—used as military weapons.
Their 2012 catalog boasts that Bushmasters have been “serving law-enforcement agencies and militaries of more than 50 foreign nations. TORTURE TESTED. BATTLE PROVEN.” See The New York Times opinion piece The Deadly Fantasy of Assault Weapons.
Note, too, that contrary to on-line rumors still circulating on the internet based on early, erroneous reports, the chief weapon used in the Newtown massacre was indeed a Bushmaster AR-15. At his December 16 briefing Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance said:
“There have been questions about the weaponry and I would like to take a minute to discuss with you briefly, very superficially, some of the information that can be released at this time. The weapon that was utilized most of the time during this horrific crime was identified as a Bushmaster AR-15 assault type weapon. It had high capacity magazines. In addition to that, the subject had in his possession a Glock 10 millimeter, a Sig Sauer 9 millimeter. Both weapons, all weapons had multiple magazines and additional ammunition. The fourth weapon recovered was a shotgun that was recovered from the suspect's vehicle that was parked outside of the school.” (CNN transcript)
What’s legal and illegal? Note that in his statement, Connecticut State Police Lt. Paul Vance referred to the AR-15 as “an assault type weapon.” Under Connecticut law the weapon was apparently technically legal, even though it possessed “high capacity magazines.” That’s because Connecticut’s assault weapons ban is based on the flawed 1994 federal assault weapons ban.
Fully automatic rifles—which everyone would agree are assault weapons—are already basically illegal under federal law. But under Title XI, subtitle A of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB), or Public Safety and Recreational Firearms Use Protection Act, the term “assault weapon” was further defined to include a weapon which, while not fully automatic, is capable of accepting a detachable magazine and which also includes two or more other features of military guns—such as flash suppressor, capacity for bayonet, pistol grip, grenade launcher (sometimes referred to as “cosmetics”). That meant that if a weapon had a detachable magazine but only one other military accessory it was still legal. But the federal ban expired in 2004, and so legislators will need to define the term anew.
Legislators might decide to simply return to the 1994 definition, but that would leave the country with a law no more stringent than Connecticut’s. They might decide to go further by defining an assault weapon as any weapon with a detachable magazine regardless of other features. In any event, legislation once passed would have to pass muster in the courts. Senators Diane Feinstein and Frank Lautenberg are readying legislation, as reportedly are Senator Charles Schumer and Representative Carolyn McCarthy.
All of this while the NRA is busy moving in the opposite direction, hard at work—believe it or not—trying to deregulate and promote the use of silencers, illegal at the moment in New York and New Jersey and in nine other states. See “Silencers: The NRA’s Latest Big Lie” and the websites of the American Silencer Association and Silencerco.
A few final thoughts… And so we gather together. Allow me to emphasize again that in addition to clergy the national Sabbath to Stop Gun Violence is supported by Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Demand a Plan. These groups represent over 800 mayors (including Pleasantville's) and 800,000 grass-roots citizens from across the country. They are Republicans, and Democrats, and Independents. They’re conservatives and liberals and moderates. They’re gun owners and folks who don’t own guns; they’re folks of every religion, and from every walk of life.
We just laid twenty very small coffins in the ground.
And the coffins of six adults.
Please keep your ears open about a January 21 (Inauguration Day/ Martin Luther King Day) March on Washington; a One Million Children march on Washington (aka Million Kids March), tentatively set for March; as well as a possible One Million Moms for Gun Control march.
Please purchase a “We Are Newtown” bumper sticker, proceeds to go toward a memorial to the victims.
Please read my previous posts on gun control: Repairing the World: The Truth About Ending Gun Violence Now (December 20) and There is No God: Continuing Thoughts on Gun Control (December 27).
If you’re in the Hudson Valley, please read The Lower Hudson Council of School Superintendents’ call for seven policies to address gun violence.
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 and “A Hebrew School Your Kids Can Love.” Read The New York Times article. Follow Rabbi Mark on Twitter . Weekly meditation at the synagogue every Saturday morning at 9 am is open to the public; everyone – without exception - is welcome and warmly invited. OUR MEMBERSHIP DRIVE IS ON. See “Top Ten Reasons to Join PCS” - as well as service times and events - at www.ShalomPCS.com.