Washington — A Jewish community strongly supportive of gun control plus Jewish lawmakers eager to enact new gun control laws may bring Jews into a lead role as the nation debates federal measures to rein in mass murders at its malls and schools.
The new openness to legislation and other measures following the slaughter of 26 elementary school children and school staff in Newtown, Conn. — plus the killer’s mother — is welcomed by most Jewish organizations, which have long supported gun control. But in recent years, with the prospects for progress on this front all but hopeless until the December murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School, those organizations have been largely passive on the issue.
Now, activists are fighting to seize the moment and get gun control back on the front burner.
“There has been an ebb and flow of activism on this issue,” said Dan Mariaschin, executive vice president of B’nai B’rith International, one of the groups calling for legislation to limit the sales of assault weapons. “It is an issue we as a community care deeply about, but it didn’t find itself at the top of the agenda of Jewish groups.”
UPDATE: The push for new gun laws may have gained more momentum with the National Rifle Association’s widely criticized press conference on Friday, in which the group called for armed guards in every school.
In recent days, that latent passion has come alive. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs has called on members to sign a petition advocating “meaningful legislation” to limit access to assault weapons. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism began reaching out to other Jewish movements and to non-Jewish faith groups in an attempt to create an interfaith coalition to back the drive for gun control.
“This can be a model for Congress on how people can work together at times like this,” said Rachel Laser, the RAC’s deputy director. “I think the faith community can play a central role in getting the ball across the line.”
On Capitol Hill, the effort to introduce legislation limiting access to weapons has been led by several Jewish lawmakers, all Democrats (though one now uses the Independent label). California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a longtime leader on the issue, intends to introduce legislation for renewing the ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, which expired in 2004.