How gun violence has touched American Jews

Gabby Giffords gives a speech in an archival scene from “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.”
Gabby Giffords gives a speech in an archival scene from “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.” (Courtesy of Briarcliff Entertainment)

Tony Zinman | Special to WJW

All Americans should see the recent film “Gabby Giffords Won’t Back Down.” Not only is it an incredibly inspiring story of how one can persevere over adversity, but the film is a stark reminder of the impact of gun violence in America.

Our American Jewish community has been hit hard by gun violence. Gabriel Zimmerman was murdered in the Tucson shooting and is the only congressional staffer ever to be slain at work. Six-year-old Noah Pozner was murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. There were also multiple Jewish victims in the Parkland, Fla., shooting in 2018. Some of our darkest recent days as American Jews were the 2018 Pittsburgh and the 2019 Poway, Calif., synagogue shootings. Yet it continues to impact us. Just weeks ago, the mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., had several Jewish victims. That one hit home for me as my sister-in-law and 5-year-old niece were at the parade and had to take cover in a parking garage. My niece was asking questions for days about the blood she observed.

I involuntarily became a member of the gun violence survivors’ club in 2007. I was moving to Tucson from Wenatchee, Wash., for a new job as a juvenile public defender and was driving with my wife and 6-year-old in our U-Haul. We took a short detour to Las Vegas for some family fun.

After my wife and son went to bed, I thought I would go have some grown-up Vegas fun. So, I walked across the bridge to the New York-New York Hotel & Casino and planted myself in a dueling piano bar on the casino floor, where I happily had a drink, a cigar and was singing at the top of my lungs.

Suddenly, the singer shouted to get down on the ground if you wanted to live and the casino went silent. I was crouched on the floor for about 20 minutes, but it seemed like an eternity in the silence. Eventually, we were escorted out by the police and I only found out that there was a man shooting into the casino from the mezzanine when I was crying back in my hotel room at 2 a.m. watching CNN. (Five were injured, but fortunately, nobody died.)

My experiences led me to get involved in our local Tucson chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America back in 2015. I have watched this group of “sheroes” work tirelessly to change our laws to prevent gun violence on a local, state and national level. While the bill passed in Congress was a step in the right direction, we still have a long way to go.

(Arthit Pornpikanet / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

Gun violence prevention is a Jewish value. Jewish tradition emphasizes the sanctity and primary value of human life. The Bible 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).

I have yet to visit Israel, although I understand one sees guns everywhere due to security issues. However, the Israeli government makes it very difficult for a private citizen to obtain a firearm. To get a gun, one must complete a detailed health evaluation from a doctor certifying that the applicant is both physically capable and mentally stable enough to carry a weapon. An applicant also needs to complete a shooting course with a certified instructor and demonstrate sufficient mastery of handling and shooting a weapon. Before a license is granted, Israeli authorities perform a detailed security check on applicants. Once granted, a license permits an individual to own and carry a single handgun and store a maximum of 50 bullets at any given time. A private citizen cannot own an assault rifle. The United States should follow the Israeli example on gun ownership.

Gun violence in America has reached a point where one can no longer sit back and observe while shaking one’s head after the next mass shooting. As Jews, we have a responsibility to act. So please contact your local chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America and be a part of the solution.

Tony Zinman is the co-chair of Tucson Jews for Justice and a member of Tucson Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

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