My 6-year-old daughter overheard me talking about putting up orange ribbons on the trees on our property. Orange is the color associated with advocacy against gun violence.
“Why will you put up orange ribbons, Mommy?”
My heart sank.
Shouldn’t my conversations with my young children focus on sharing or using manners or something elementary like that? How would I explain gun violence to my young children without making them feel frightened?
“Orange is a color that we use to let people know that we want a safe world,” I told her. “Some people do things that aren’t safe to others. Don’t you want a safe world, sweetie?”
“Mommy, of course safety is important… So what’s for dinner?”
Protection from gun violence is a basic human right that even my children understand, and certainly one that they deserve.
Gun violence should not be a partisan issue.
I remember when I first fired a gun. I was in college and I went to a shooting range with friends. As I approached the checkout counter, the cashier asked me how many rounds I wanted and what type of gun I preferred, and suggested that I wear earmuffs to protect my ears.
I walked into the range, which was set up like a bowling alley, and shared a lane with a friend. I did my best to aim at the target, and although I can’t remember how well I did, I do remember that firing the bullets made my arm ricochet back towards my face.
I remember exactly what it felt like to shoot that gun. Absolutely thrilling.
And then I left the range. After I walked out the door, I realized that no one checked my identification, nor that of my friends. I also realized that anyone in the range could have opened fire on any of us, since the guns were handed to us without question. If I was in an unsafe mental state, I could have caused harm to others or to myself. As I drove home from the range, I still had that thrilling feeling of firing a gun, but it combined with something else now. I felt unsafe.
I suspect that is exactly what connects me with my friends, family, and fellow Americans who own guns. I understand that feeling of wanting to be protected — reasons why we might carry guns. I understand that thrilling feeling that comes along with firing a gun for recreational or gaming purposes. I even understand that carrying guns gives someone a sense of control after they experienced traumatic violence in their own lives. If you fall into any of these categories, I can appreciate your desire to have your Second Amendment rights protected. I am not going after those rights.
But I also hope that if you fall into that category of people, you will join us at the table to protect your children and mine from gun violence. That’s because gun violence should not be a partisan issue.
We cannot debate the facts. According to a study done by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly 40,000 people in America died in 2018 from gun violence. That is a record high. Our country has not seen numbers like that since 1968, more than 50 years ago. This statistic does not even include the injuries. I will not wait until my child is one of those statistics, God forbid, and you should not wait either. I ask you to join me at the table.
We can debate the reasons behind gun violence. We can blame the underlying root of the cause, perhaps mental illness or some sort of hate crime. We can point fingers at our existing gun safety laws that are not even being carried out.
But I am not interested in having this debate. Because, let’s be honest, we need to fix all the above. We need to radically organize, together. We need to think out of the box. We need to be determined. We need to not accept the status quo.
The “we” is important, though. People of all faiths and creeds, races and politics should unite around this issue to protect our children. I would expect that Jews, Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, and Buddhists, people of all races and sexual orientations, and Democrats and Republicans would be outraged when an act of gun violence takes place and to mobilize to ensure that we, together, do something to end gun violence. Please, for the safety of your children and mine, regardless of who you will vote for at the polls, come together to figure out a plan to make our country a safer place to live.
I am proud that I live and serve as rabbi in a town where there has been grassroots organizing around this issue. With the support of my fellowship experience with JOIN for Justice and our partnership with faith-based organizers at New Jersey Together, I personally led a group from my congregation to petition local municipalities to sign onto the “Do Not Stand Idly By” campaign, a nonpartisan, nonlegislative effort to bring gun manufacturers into the conversation as well. This campaign is named after the verse in Leviticus (19:16), “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” I also stood with fellow clergy members across New Jersey as we petitioned for, and then watched, Governor Phil Murphy sign on this past March.
I am also proud that the orange ribbons that adorn my trees are there because of the talented organizing efforts of a group in my town, Glen Rock After the March. In honor of Gun Violence Awareness Month, the group has organized a “Circle of Light” walking vigil. The vigil, which will take place on June 2 at 7 p.m., will begin at Glen Rock’s Sikh Gurudwara with some prayers, speeches, and songs. Then participants will walk around town, passing houses of worship, creating a circle of light and inspiring hope for change. I am honored to speak at the closing ceremony of this gathering, which will also end at the gurudwara. (All are welcomed, but RSVPs are appreciated at walkingvigil.eventbrite.com).
It is significant to me that this event is co-sponsored by the Religious Communities of Glen Rock, an interfaith group of clergy and laity from houses of worship in town. Despite differences in politics of members in this group, I am pleased to say that after very respectful dialogue, it was a near-unanimous decision to officially serve as co-sponsors for this event. These are two examples of efforts — on a local and on a statewide level — that involved people of all faiths, races, and sexual orientations. Most significantly, however, is the fact that both efforts involved people who vote blue and people who vote red.
As a rabbi, I am supposed to tell you to send “thoughts and prayers” to those affected after a tragedy. And while that is nice, the truth is that prayers don’t seem to be solving this problem.
Just as carrying a weapon is a right protected by the Constitution, protection from gun violence must be considered a basic human right. Gun violence exponentially targets our public spaces, houses of worship and our schools. Therefore, politicians at all levels, local community members, students and teachers, and members of houses of worship need to organize around protecting this basic human right.
Jennifer Schlosberg is the rabbi of the Glen Rock Jewish Center.