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Newtown Massacre Prompts Push for Action on Gun Control

December 19, 2012 By:
Ron Kampeas, JTA
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President Barack Obama attended the Sandy Hook interfaith vigil at Newtown High School on Sunday. Photo by Pete Souza/White House

WASHINGTON — In the wake of the shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., Jewish groups are looking to build alliances and back legislation to strengthen gun control laws.

Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that his group is assembling a coalition that would be ready to act once the right legislation comes along.

“The point now is to create the atmosphere in which there is a demand for action, using our voices, organizing the parents in our pews,” said Saperstein. “When the parents across America start crying out for effective action, if there’s religious leadership, it will galvanize the community to create the moral demand that moves toward sensible legislation.”

Staff at the RAC, the locus in the Jewish community for gun control initiatives in past decades, spent the early part of this week  reaching out to other Jewish leaders, as well as to leaders of other faith communities. “The best way is to rally the faith community and come together around shared policy,” said RAC spokeswoman Rachel Laser.

A number of Jewish groups have indicated that they will back a gun control bill proposed Monday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), the first since the Newtown shooting. It would ban more than 100 assault weapons and ammunition clips that contain more than 10 rounds.

The Newtown killer, Adam Lanza, used a Bushmaster AR-15 assault rifle registered in the name of his mother, whom he killed before heading to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, where he murdered 20 children and six adults before killing himself. Police have said he used multiple clips, although their capacity has not been publicly reported.

Jared Loughner, the gunman in the January 2011 attack in Tucson, Ariz., that grievously wounded U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and killed six others, had a 33-round magazine.

The legislation, Feinstein said in a statement Monday, “will be carefully focused on the most dangerous guns that have killed so many people over the years while protecting the rights of gun owners by exempting hundreds of weapons that fall outside the bill’s scope.”

Feinstein helped draft the last assault weapons ban legislation in 1994. It lapsed in 2004, after the National Rifle Association fought against its renewal.

B’nai B’rith International on Monday demanded the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban.

“Assault weapons enable a shooter to fire multiple rounds without stopping to reload as they automatically expel and load ammunition with each trigger-pull,” B’nai B’rith said in a statement.

“There is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.”

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs circulated a petition  (www.endgunviolencenow.org) through its constituent Jewish community relations councils that calls for “meaningful legislation to limit access to assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines, aggressive enforcement of firearm regulations, robust efforts to ensure that every person in need has access to quality mental health care, and a serious national conversation about violence in media and games.”

The National Council of Jewish Women, which has also taken a leading role in the Jewish community on gun control initiatives in the past, announced its support Tuesday for the Feinstein legislation, which she plans to introduce officially as soon as Congress reconvenes in January. It also supports a measure  proposed by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) that would tighten background checks.

The United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism and the Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly called not only for a ban on assault weapons, but for longer purchase times, deeper background checks, coding ammunition for identification and banning online sales of ammunition.

President Barack Obama, attending a prayer vigil in Newtown on Sunday, said that he was ready to back action that would address such violence.

“Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?” he said. “Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?”

Although he was short on specifics, a number of observers said that Obama’s strong language suggested he was ready to do what he had avoided in his first term: advance assault weapons restrictions.

Susan Turnbull, who chairs Jewish Women International, said that any legislation should deal also with identifying and treating individuals whose mental health should preclude access to weapons.

“We will back any legislation that bans assault weapons and the ammunition as well as giving families what they need to treat individuals with a proclivity toward violence,” said Turnbull

“I think this will be the ‘big idea,’ that the president is not going to limit the conversation to just guns.”

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