I didn’t rush to write a response to the Las Vegas mass shooting. I thought long and hard about it, but in the end, I begged off. I know you were watching the same grotesque scenes of terrorized people running in an utter panic, unable to find safety. I know you were watching witness testimonies, injured folks in hospital beds trying to describe something so utterly irrational. And, like me, you were listening to the eternal tennis match between gun enthusiasts and gun control advocates.
I thought that it’s best to let the initial flurry of news coverage and opinions ebb before weighing in with you. Even after days have passed, words do not feel adequate. It’s not like there’s anything positive or uplifting emerging from the Route 91 Harvest Festival. The fact that the shooter, as of this moment, had no stated motive for slaughtering 58 innocent people, and wounding hundreds of others, is a frightening, unsettling fact. It gives this whole awful story a surreal pall, like looking down a well and seeing only darkness.
There are plenty of heroic people who have appeared on tv and in other media. I admire their altruistic spirit. But I also imagine that there were hundreds of folks who did not come forward with their stories because they believed that all they were doing was what they were supposed to do.
The mass shooting in Newtown, CT, five years ago, broke my heart. My heart was broken again by Congress’ absolute lack of action to curb gun violence in the shadow of so many children murdered. It was an appalling display of cowardice and kowtowing to the NRA.
Five years ago I gave up hope of ever seeing a real and lasting Federal response to gun violence. As long as Congress remains configured as it is, the gun industry has nothing to fear. There are more than enough votes to stall, sidetrack, and eventually, squelch any legislation.
Was the NRA expecting the Nobel peace prize because they just suggested that bump stocks “should be subject to additional regulations.”? Of course not. They knew they had to say something, and this is about as innocuously ‘something’ as they could create.
We care about our children and our loved ones, so of course, we have smoke detectors. We have radon detectors. We inoculate our kids against diseases. Many of us get flu shots. Yet when it comes to gun violence, we don’t treat it as a public health crisis. But it is. “In Chicago, 58 people were killed by guns in 28 days, counting back from Sept. 29, two days before the Las Vegas attack. Many shootings were of one person, not mass attacks. In Baltimore, there were 58 gun deaths in 68 days. In Houston, it was 118 days.” Doesn’t this NY Times stat say enough? Is there a clearer statistic to underscore this as a public health concern?
I’m not holding my breath for anything to change. I fully expect nothing. It just makes me so sad that at this stage in American history, there seems to be no evidence that I am a pessimist. I am a realist.
And yet… In 1853, the abolitionist minister Theodore Parker gave a sermon. It included this part, made famous one hundred years later by Martin Luther King. “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe. The arc is a long one. My eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by experience of sight. I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends toward justice.”
The Bratslaver rebbe once said to his disciples: “For the sake of Heaven, Jews: don’t despair!” The Bratslaver rebbe lived 100 before Reverend Parker, but they both seem to be imploring us not to give up. They are suggesting that with patience and fortitude and faith, we might make the world a better place. They are both suggesting that repairing a broken world should not be rejected out of hand. And they both spoke from very dark times in history.
What’s a Jew to do? Not give up in despair. Not give in to the voices of discord and division. Not give over our profound belief in God’s presence and the sacredness of life. Give our time. Give our tzedakah. Give a damn.