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Keeping Faith in Background Checks

April 18, 2013 By:
Rabbi Lawrence R. Sernovitz and Rev. Charles W. Quann
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If we had to pick the most common complaint we hear about Washington today, it's that partisan politics impedes progress. Proving that theory wrong, our own Sen. Pat Toomey, a Republican, joined hands last week with Sen. Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, in proposing a common sense amendment to expand background checks and close gaping loopholes that expose us all to needless gun violence. As we have done before, we thank these two senators — both gun owners with top ratings from the National Rifle Association — for their courage and creativity in working to build a valuable compromise.

Despite this bipartisan effort, however, the proposal received only 54 of the 60 Senate votes needed to pass the measure. We recognize the reality that this is a tough vote for many and commend Second Amendment champions like Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) for their support. We also believe that with continued public pressure, the Senate will reconsider this important measure and we will pass this amendment, achieving a safer and more secure America.

Today, we write saddened but more determined than ever. How can it be that even the tragic loss of the lives of 20 small children all at once, combined with the introduction of a bipartisan proposal, still could not break the gridlock that has defined Washington in recent years? We write as a rabbi and a minister — two clergy of different faiths but both with Philadelphia congregations — and both well aware of the problem. Pennsylvania reports the third highest rate of gun deaths in our nation, and, as clergy, we have witnessed gun violence ravage our own communities.

When more than 30,000 Americans die each year as a result of gun violence, and when Philadelphia often headlines the list of American cities reporting high homicide rates, we know that it is our moral and religious obligation to support measures, such as the Toomey-Manchin proposal, that promise to stem gun violence.

Jewish tradition teaches that you shall not stand by idly while your neighbor bleeds. With Wednesday's vote, Congress has done exactly that. How many more children need to die before our elected officials take a stand?

Indeed, as our Christian brothers and sisters teach, we must continue to do our part and trust that God will join us to bring about the results we seek. Corinthians states, “So neither the one who plants counts for anything, nor the one who waters, but God who causes growth. The one who plants and the one who waters work as one, but each receives his reward according to his work.” Unfortunately, Congress isn’t doing the work that needs to be done to protect our nation.

It is our collective duty to water the seeds planted by parents, victims and advocates from coast to coast by continuing to insist that our elected officials do what the vast majority of Americans want them to do — and pass an expanded background check law. We must not give up until we have realized the potential of meaningful steps forward, such as the Toomey-Manchin proposal. For the sake of Newtown, Aurora, Oak Creek, the city streets of Philadelphia — and for all of God’s children — we deserve another vote.

Rabbi Lawrence R. Sernovitz is the associate rabbi at Old York Road Temple-Beth Am in Abington. Rev. Charles W. Quann is the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Spring House.

 

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