Addressing the Many Layers of Gun Violence

I was away last week taking a short respite, for which I am grateful – I unplugged from work, email, and social media in an attempt to filter out the world.

In the days before I stepped away, we were all grappling with the horrific white supremacist assault in Buffalo that took 10 lives. I thought I might come back and share some additional reflections on that – beyond our initial statements and outreach. I, like many others, have been reaching out to lend support to our friends and partners in local Black communities – and to express our solidarity as they have so often when Jews have been attacked.

But then, last week, came the horror in Uvalde, Texas, as 21 people – including 19 children –were killed. I sat down this week thinking I’d expand on our statement last week and outline  the work we have done and will continue to do to combat the scourge of gun violence that plagues our nation.

As I pondered what to say here, we learned of the killing of 4 people at a Tulsa medical center on Wednesday evening.

There are a staggering number of mass shootings (those in which four or more people are killed or injured) in this country; some 232 just this year already, according to the Gun Violence Archive.

It is impossible to give each of these assaults on our society, and each of the individual victims, the depth of attention and gravity that they are due. It says something about our country that the mass shooting of children has not – at least in the past – invited the kind of national focus and clarity of will that would lead to profound changes in our laws and practices in order to prevent the next such horror. 

But one aspect in particular that I’m sitting with this morning are the multiple layers of these mass shootings, and our need to focus on each aspect of this national crisis. There is the layer of intent, as in Buffalo and elsewhere, where the motives are white supremacist in nature. There is the layer of mental health, a rising crisis in our nation and possibly a factor in at least some of the recent high-profile assaults. And there is the layer of means, as in access to high powered assault weapons that enable someone to cause far more damage and pain than they might be able to otherwise.

I don’t have anything profound or new to offer by way of insight on these challenges today, other than to say “yes, and.”  

We can and must address all of these facets concurrently (and no doubt others as well). We have to combat rising extremism and its normalization – such as the ways in which the “great replacement” conspiracy theory (including its antisemitic aspects) has been normalized by major media figures and members of Congress. JCRC will continue to invest in partnerships and collaborations that build bridges across communities that invite and encourage us to stand up for each other, to confront hatred together, and to challenge those who choose to look away.  

We have to invest in mental health services at every level of society. JCRC recently adopted principles for mental health advocacy and we are working with CJP and the human service agencies that we proudly advocate for on Beacon Hill, to expand access for all in our Greater Boston community.  

We have to find a way forward on gun safety. We are proud members of the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence and will continue to advocate both locally and with our federal partners. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how the events of the world can be overwhelming, and how this post does not even begin to cover the litany of challenges we’re facing as a community and a society.  

I often am pressed to make a choice – about what we prioritize and who we partner with – and I appreciate that need to prioritize. We can’t possibly respond with the same urgency of purpose and resources to every crisis and every challenge in the world. And the choices we make about which ones we do respond to says something about ourselves as individuals and as a society.  

But this moment, right now - knowing that between the time I write this and the time that you read this there will, with almost absolute certainty, be yet another incident of mass gun violence in the United States - requires of us a specific form of urgency. We need to commit to addressing this crisis with a “yes, and” approach.  

Together we can make the choice to have the will to tackle all of its many facets and layers.  

Shabbat Shalom,

Jeremy