We Should Use The Power Of ‘Never Again’ To End Gun Violence
On March 29, Forward columnist Bethany Mandel published an op-ed entitled Stop Using The Holocaust To Push Gun Control. In it, she discussed how invoking Holocaust imagery such as the “Never Again” slogan in the gun control debate is inappropriate. I understand her discomfort with using the Holocaust, a mass genocide that killed six million Jews and two-thirds of European Jewry, to advocate for a solution to gun violence after the Parkland shooting. However, Mandel makes a critical mistake when she equates using Holocaust imagery and slogans in the gun violence debate to drawing an equivalency between ethnic genocide and mass shootings.
“Never Again” is meant to be a message that there is a moral imperative upon all people to prevent tragedies around the globe. Regardless of one’s opinion on how to solve the gun violence crisis in the United States, there is no doubt that it is a tragic and horrific problem. The United States has over four times the number of violent gun deaths per capita than the next developed country. Compared to some developed countries like Germany and Japan, the U.S. has over thirty to forty times the number of gun deaths per capita. According to the CDC, there were over 35,000 firearm deaths in 2015 alone.
Therefore, when it comes to the prevention of atrocities, the slogan “Never Again” cannot be limited to the confines of the Holocaust. Invoking its imagery is a powerful way to draw attention to the national tragedy of gun violence. Limiting the cry of “Never Again” only to the Holocaust misses the point. “Never again should there be a mass killing” is a lot more impactful and relevant than “Never again should there be the ethnic cleansing of Jews.” Both are important and true, but the former certainly does more good for the world.
The main point Mandel makes is that such imagery is unproductive, as it also paints people who oppose gun control as Nazis. While people who oppose any form gun control may be considered bystanders or enablers to the issue, it would be a massive jump to then accuse them of being the perpetrators of mass killings. Only the individuals committing the atrocities are the ones responsible for the deaths and injuries of victims of the gun deaths they cause. Even so, the individuals who are responsible for those deaths, as Mandel rightly points out, are not Nazis. But using the phrase “Never Again” does not make them Nazis retroactively simply because the movement now evokes Holocaust imagery — and it’s a big leap to say that it does. But just as something should have been done to prevent six million Jews from being murdered, something needs to be done to prevent further mass killings at the hands of firearms.
Mandel’s fear is that responsible gun owners will now be held complicit in gun violence and labeled as Nazis. She writes, “it poisons the gun debate to suggest that gun-owning Americans are tantamount to Nazis.” But it is not responsible gun owners facing that accusation: it is the opponents of sensible gun legislation like background checks, assault weapons ban and waiting periods. According to a recent Gallup poll, over 96 percent of people favor background checks and between 83 to 91 percent would vote for some sort of background check system in the next election. Those who oppose such basic gun control legislation, laws that almost every other developed country posses and that significant research shows are effective in stemming gun violence, might be complicit in some way in the unnecessary deaths of gun violence victims — although still being a far cry from Nazis.
Such legislation would not prevent synagogues and Jews from protecting themselves as Mandel suggests — but might actually prevent actual neo-Nazis from getting their hands on such weapons.
When we face continuous horrific tragedies in our country, we cannot be afraid to do as much as possible to prevent those atrocities from happening again. That includes invoking imagery that would raise awareness and be a striking clarion call for change.