Two Rabbis Fight For Gun Control From Pulpit — and the Heart

Joel Mosbacher and Shaul Praver Were Touched by Violence

After Sandy Hook: Rabbi Shaul Praver stood by the family of Noah Pozner following the boy’s murder in Newtown.
Forward Staff
After Sandy Hook: Rabbi Shaul Praver stood by the family of Noah Pozner following the boy’s murder in Newtown.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 20, 2014, issue of January 24, 2014.
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Praver, like Mosbacher, believes that change will not come from the federal government. He has been working to promote an approach tailored to each state, one that seeks a common understanding with gun holders. “The first step is to find a middle ground,” Praver said. “It’s neither pro-gun nor anti-gun; it’s about safety.”

The Newtown shooting ignited a wave of activism in the organized Jewish community, placing Jewish communal groups at the forefront of the battle for legislation that would limit the types of guns and ammunition sold to the public and mandate background checks of all gun buyers. Some in the Jewish community became the public faces of this battle, including Noah’s mother, Veronique Pozner, and former congresswoman and gun violence victim Gabrielle Giffords. After last May’s defeat of a modest background check measure in the Senate, Jewish organizations continued their work on the issue and focused on grassroots attempts to reach out to members of Congress in their home districts and convince them to support federal gun control legislation.

Praver believes that the overwhelming support of the Jewish community in broad national gun control measures reflects an “oversimplification” of the gun violence problem. “We need to be seen as reasonable and nonfanatical,” he said. This middle-of-the-road approach has led Praver to meet with gun owners across his state and to reach out to groups nationwide that support gun ownership. In public speeches, articles and an upcoming book, Praver is trying to “be the glue” between opposing groups that, he believes, share the goal of gun safety.

His conclusion is that Washington should be left largely outside the debate and that gun control should be discussed on a state level, respecting the attachment of rural Americans to their weapons, dealing with the connection between guns and drug and gang violence in urban America, and protecting suburban America from shooting sprees and gun suicides. “It will be wrong for a rabbi from Connecticut to tell a person in Alaska not to carry a gun. It is part of the lifestyle there, but not necessarily here,” Praver said.

Mosbacher has also been seeking ways to bypass the Washington political gridlock on gun control. Working through the interfaith network New Jersey Together, he has been trying to build pressure on gun manufacturers to make safer guns and to sell them only through authorized dealers who conduct background checks. The network identified the three major European gun manufacturers that sell most of the weapons to American police departments and to the military, and is now working to convince local mayors to question the manufacturers about safety features and “responsible distribution” of their products before purchasing weapons from them for local police departments. “If police departments and the military tell the gun manufacturers, ‘We want you to produce better weapons,’ I think they will listen. After all, the client is always right,” Mosbacher said.


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