On Friday, 20 children and eight adults were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School. These children, brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, family, friends and teachers are just the latest victims of senseless and preventable bloodshed. The recent tragedy in Newtown, CT is a devastating reminder that over 30,000 Americans die each year as a result of gun violence. The number and severity of violent shootings in recent years can only be described as an epidemic. The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting forces us to address the crippling nature of gun violence. It serves as a clarion call to action: “If not now, when?” (Rabbi Hillel, Perkei Avot)
We are inspired by a Jewish tradition that emphasizes the sanctity and primary value of human life. The Torah commands us, “Thou shalt not murder” (Exodus 20:13). The Talmud teaches us that “he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and he who saves one life it is as though he has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Scripture encourages peaceful pursuit of our mutual welfare. Isaiah exhorts the people of the earth to “beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks,” (Isaiah 2:4) and we are commanded to turn weapons of destruction into tools for the greater good of society.
As we continue to mourn the lives of those murdered, it is our collective responsibility to advance sensible gun laws aimed at curbing future violence. It is imperative that President Obama and Congress take action to advance sensible gun control laws, including taking assault weapons off of our streets and improving our process for background checks. If we are to fulfill our obligation to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15) we must demand that our elected officials take action to protect our society and to prevent another life from being prematurely taken. If not now, when?