Tag Archives: Gun Violence Prevention

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,


Statement from JCRC on Las Vegas Mass Shooting

For the second time in two years, we awoke to the horrifying news that our nation had endured the worst mass shooting in our history. The news out of Las Vegas this morning is heartbreaking – and enraging.

We extend our heartfelt prayers to all of the victims and to the families in Las Vegas who are only now finding out about the loss of loved ones. And we recognize that thoughts and prayers are not enough; not for us as engaged citizens and most of all, not for our elected leaders charged with the responsibility of ensuring our safety.

We do not yet know the motive for this heinous crime.  What we know is that regardless of the motive - whether in San Bernardino, California or Roseburg, Oregon, at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, at the Pulse Night Club in Tampa, at a Congressional baseball practice in suburban Washington, or now at the Mandalay Bay Resort in Las Vegas – these acts of violence are heinous and must be condemned in the strongest possible terms. We must seek to know the motive and we must have an honest national conversation about these actors.

We do not yet know the toll of those taken from us this morning. What we know is that on an average day, 93 Americans are murdered by gun violence, nearly 12,000 every year, at 25 times the average rate in other developed countries. We know that even as these mass shootings horrify us and capture our attention, thousands more will die by gunfire – in bystander violence, in domestic violence, by suicide or crimes that will disproportionately impact communities of color - without the media attention we see this morning.

We do not yet know how this gunman acquired his weapons. What we know is that common sense gun safety regulation, while safeguarding the ability of law-abiding American to own firearms for personal use, can save lives. The organized Jewish community was a leader in the successful 2014 effort by Mass Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to adopt reasonable legislation; legislation that has contributed to Massachusetts having one of the lowest gun death rates in the nation.

We renew our commitment to working for comprehensive federal laws to reduce further gun violence and save lives. Such action will come too late for those who were taken from us this morning. We must not wait even one more day to demand action that will save others still with us.

Enough is Enough is Enough

It probably goes without saying but most of us who are involved in service and advocacy organizations – both as volunteers and professionals – want to have an impact on the world around us. We want to make a difference on the issues we care about, for the communities we are part of, and for the betterment of society.

So it is deeply frustrating, to say the least, when a matter of deep importance like dealing with the scourge of gun violence becomes so intractable that it feels like no one can have an impact. It isn’t just that in the wake of the massacre at Pulse, Congress still is unable to come together to close the loophole that allows people on the ‘no fly’ list to buy weapons. I don’t know why anyone was surprised by this given that after the slaughter of 20 children (and six adults) at Sandy Hook Elementary School they didn’t act to restore the assault weapons ban. And, of course, all of this intractability continues despite the death of 91 Americans by gun violence EVERY SINGLE DAY.

It is easy enough to rail against the brokenness of Washington - to blame hyper-partisanship, special interests, redistricting rules, campaign finance, the breakdown of our political discourse, and all the other factors over the past 30 years that have led to this inability of Congress to act (on seemingly anything) in recent years – and we should. But we also want to get something done, now, for those 91 people every day and to prevent the next mass shooting, which is any and almost every day now.

That’s why we’ve focused on ways to address gun violence that don’t depend on Congressional action. We worked to pass the Massachusetts Gun Violence Prevention Act in 2014. It is no coincidence that, while our Commonwealth now has some of the toughest gun regulations in the nation, we also have amongst the lowest rates of gun violence as well. Because smart, reasonable state laws do make a difference, and should be a model to the nation.

But we’re not done and – much as it has been a wonder to watch C-SPAN this past week and appreciate the efforts of several members of our own congressional delegation - we’re still not waiting on Congress.

We know that the public sector purchases 40% of guns in the U.S. and therefore has tremendous leverage to affect the gun industry. So for the past three years, as part of the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign, along with our interfaith partners across the country, we’re working to get public officials to leverage their power as consumers in order to engage the CEOs of major gun manufacturers to adopt safer practices.

Of the 92 Mayors, Police Chiefs and Attorneys General who’ve joined the campaign nationwide, 10 are from Massachusetts, including Mayor Marty Walsh and Police Commissioner Bill Evans of Boston, Mayor Setti Warren of Newton, MA Attorney General Maura Healey, among others.

We urged President Obama to use his power to make a difference, and he responded. A series of executive actions he made earlier this year could pave the way for a smart gun industry. A month ago, Mayor Walsh and Commissioner Evans attended a Fifty State gathering at the White House to begin to establish a baseline for a smart gun market. Days later, Do Not Stand Idly By leaders met in the White House with key officials in the administration to discuss the next steps of this strategy. We are working together to change the way Americans and, law enforcement in particular, do business with the gun industry.

We are making progress, but we need your involvement to make an impact. This July, Do Not Stand Idly By will engage the CEOs of major U.S. gun manufacturers to adopt safer practices. Yes, Congress must wake up and do their job. But given that they are not, our task is to seek other creative paths forward. We will not allow gun manufacturers to remain immune to the crisis and fallout of mass shootings, accidental shootings, and shootings on our streets. Please add your name to the letter below that faith leaders will send, alongside a letter from 92 Mayors, Police Chiefs and others, to CEOs of seven major U.S. gun manufacturers.

Together we all have a role to play and an opportunity to make a difference!

Shabbat Shalom,


Dear [Gun Manufacturer CEO], 
It is time that you provided leadership to curb gun-related deaths in America.  
There are two things your company can do, on its own volition, to make America safer.  
You can make guns safer through the use of smart-gun technology and other safety technologies.
And you can distribute guns responsibly by ensuring that each dealer your company uses as a sales outlet is committed to keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
Public-sector leaders across America -- mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, county executives, attorneys general, governors and others -- have asked for your leadership in these areas. 
As taxpayers, these officials make purchases of firearms on our behalf.  They make these purchases for one reason only:  to protect public safety.
We ask that you respond to these reasonable requests from your public-sector customers and from citizens, who are asking you to be allies in protecting public safety.  Your leadership can save many lives.
Add your name to the letter here

Boston Interfaith Leaders Launch Online Campaign to #DeclareInterdependence

 The Boston 12
 is a group of area religious leaders, including JCRC Executive Director Jeremy Burton and JCRC Associate Director Nahma Nadich, which has met regularly for a number of years. We are Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. We are members of cousin religions, descendant of Abraham. We are family.

delcareThe public rhetoric that is borne of the current election season scares us. It is dangerous. It is tearing our nation apart. With this social media campaign we are making an appeal to the better angels of our natures and of our nation. We believe in the American hope and promise of E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One (adopted in 1776 as our national motto). But that promise can only be realized with hard work, a lot of listening to each other, a lot trying to understand each other using civil discourse, instead of blaming each other. Instead of everyone yelling their own truth. It feels as if the world around us is spinning out of control as fear causes one group to blame or scapegoat another group. We hope to make a small space for the hard work of listening and learning and finding common ground for the common good.

The Boston 12 has composed five different online messages with one common theme, Declare Interdependence. The first message – to Pledge Respect – went out via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram on Thursday, June 16, 2016. The following four messages will be released June 23, 30, July 3, and July 4.

To get involved, follow JCRC online via FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. Share the posts. Retweet the posts. Regram the posts. And use #DeclareInterdependence.


Issue by Issue

Seventeen years ago, I took part in an organizing campaign that is still a point of pride for me, and I believe that the experience yields some valuable lessons for our work here at JCRC.

It was the late 1990s, and I was a volunteer organizer with JFREJ in New York City, during a time when - in the wake of the slaying of Amadou Diallo, a Guinean immigrant who was shot 41 times by police while sitting on the front steps of his Bronx apartment – conversations about the use of excessive force by police dominated the headlines. There were several months of public action and civil disobedience, with members of the Jewish community deeply involved as a result of our organizing. And then, Gidone Busch, an Orthodox Jew with severe mental illness, was fatally shot near his Brooklyn home.

As two communities, African-Americans and Hasidic Jews, each came to the urgency of this issue from different paths, we also came to work with leaders who were highly problematic to us and to each other.

So when we convened a press event at Congregation B’nai Jeshurun in Manhattan to demand action against excessive force and for enhanced civilian oversight it was quite a remarkable moment, headlined by two men: Reverend Al Sharpton, who had led anti-Semitic boycotts and incited riots against the Jewish community; and, Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who had taken anti-LGBT positions and participated in controversial racially biased activities. These two men, who had gone toe-to-toe with each other on many other matters stood side-by-side in a queer-affirming synagogue to unite on the issue at hand.

In our unity, we built more power for our movement, leading to changes in NYPD operations. None of us was less committed to pursuing our full agendas, nor had we forgiven our grievances for each other. Rather, in that moment, we all recognized that to be effective in achieving change, we needed to work in coalition; and, working in coalition is profoundly limited when we choose to partner only with those with whom we are fully aligned on every issue.

Last week I talked about the severe ideological sorting and social separations that are becoming pervasive in our society. Our success as an organization and as a community comes only when we resist this urge and partner on an issue-by-issue basis. This is true whether it is JCRC working in partnerships with religious institutions with which we differ on LGBTQ equality, so that together we can address the scourge of gun violence. This is true when AIPAC brings together evangelicals and progressives in support of the U.S.-Israel relationship; and, this is true when we sit at our own table of JCRC as a diverse coalition of forty-two organizations who don’t agree among ourselves on many things. And, no, this does not mean that we don’t have boundaries about who we’d work with (but that’s a post for another week).

So yes, we’ll continue to participate in, and even embrace, the sometimes uncomfortable alliances – with other faith communities and with other issue groups with whom we don’t agree on many things – in order to get things done. And maybe, sometimes, by working together on one issue or many, we will foster the relationships that allow us to debate our differences in a healthier and more productive way.

I’ve appreciated the opportunity and ability to have hard conversations with partners - including this week when our trusting relationships have enabled us to talk with each other about the causes and consequences of the Orlando massacre. By starting to appreciate the value of our disparate allies on some matters we can start to recognize our interdependence with each other to tackle all matters in healthier ways than our current civil discourse allows.

Shabbat Shalom,


Stop Waiting for Congress on Gun Violence

"Clergy and Citizens to President Obama: Stop Whining, Start Working to Curb Gun Deaths.”

That was the message at a Metro Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) press conference in Washington yesterday.

While last week’s mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon should have fully captured our nation’s attention, we have, in truth, become numb. A shooting of this nature happens on average once every two weeks and even the slaughter of 20 children in Sandy Hook, CT didn’t lead to immediate national change. While this alone is mind-boggling, it doesn’t begin to express the scope of the plague of gun violence that takes some thirty-three thousand American lives each year.
It is little consolation to us that Massachusetts, once again, is found to be leading the nation. In ranking done by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence we have the lowest rate of gun deaths and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws. This includes last year’s forward thinking legislation that JCRC, along with our member organization JALSA, and so many of our synagogues, took a leading role in working to enact.

In the wake of that victory, we have not been idle. We’ve been vigilant and persistent in ensuring that the new state law is fully implemented, an effort that is ongoing. But the prospect of enacting federal legislation is much more daunting, despite the support of our own delegation in Congress. The repetitive, nightmarish scenes of carnage we have both come to dread and expect, have yielded no new laws, or even the possibility of legislative action.
So it is important to know that amidst all the crass politics and cynical obstructionism, there is far more that can be done right now. 
We are participating in the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign - a national effort led by Metro IAF to leverage taxpayers’ purchasing power to compel gun manufacturers to adopt safer practices and invest in smart gun technology.
The public sector purchases 40 percent of all guns in the United States - 25% for military use and an additional 15% by law enforcement.  That’s a lot of leverage – enough to build demand for products and standards that promote safety and lawful, responsible gun use.
The campaign is building a Gun Buyers’ Research Group of public officials committed to purchasing guns from manufacturers who are accountable for the safety of their products. They are asking tough questions about their investment in smart gun technology and their vetting of the dealers with whom they work. Together we have built a sizable coalition of mayors, police chiefs and governors representing 77 jurisdictions, including MA Attorney General Maura Healey, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Newton Mayor Setti Warren.  
And this campaign led to yesterday’s press conference. Because we should expect and demand more of all our public officials, including the President, who – with his command authority over the largest single gun purchasing power in the nation - could be doing so much more right now.

Please read about this work and yesterday’s message in this excellent Washington Post column by E.J. Dionne.

The next major action will take place later this month at an international law enforcement gathering. JCRC will join faith leaders and police chiefs to demand answers from gun manufacturers, who will be in attendance, selling their products. In the wake of the constant mass shootings and unending epidemic of gun violence, the manufacturers’ continued silence is unacceptable.
Leviticus teaches us, “Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.”
We, and our partners, will not be idle so long as one life can be saved through our efforts. I hope you will join us in this effort.

Shabbat Shalom,


Note: At the time this message was posted, news was breaking of a shooting earlier today at North Arizona University that left 1 dead and 3 wounded in the latest eruption of gun violence. 

Update: Governor Signs New Gun Violence Prevention Bill into Law

Earlier this morning, the JCRC joined with Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, legislators, advocacy organizations and community leaders as Governor Deval Patrick signed a new piece of gun violence prevention legislation into law. Over the past year and half, JCRC, in partnership with the MA Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, has advocated for comprehensive gun legislation to address the tremendous social costs of the existing loopholes in gun laws. Given the lack of any viable federal legislation, our advocacy focused on tightening laws in Massachusetts. And while this bill is not perfect, as no bill ever is, it meets many of the goals that the Coalition set out to accomplish, including:

  • Bringing the Commonwealth into compliance with the Federal NICS background check system;
  • Requiring background checks for private gun sales;
  • Giving police chiefs greater discretion in issuing rifle and shotgun licenses;
  • Advancing suicide awareness and prevention in the Commonwealth through a multifaceted approach;
  • Ensuring the collection of important data to inform future policy-making efforts.

“We congratulate the Governor and Legislature for passing meaningful legislation aimed at addressing the impact of gun violence in all of our communities,” said Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. “We stand with our allies resolute in our commitment to create safe streets, neighborhoods and homes.”

“In 2014, more than 6,700 people have been killed due to gun violence in the United States,” said Jill Goldenberg, President of the Board of JCRC. “We renew our call upon Congress to work together and pass comprehensive federal legislation to put an end to this senseless violence.”

There is still work to be done to ensure effective implementation and the JCRC is committed to continuing the momentum in the coming months and years.