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Jewish Umbrella Group Backs New Gun Controls

The Jewish community’s umbrella group on policy issues has adopted a new resolution regarding mass violence acts, reaffirming the community’s support for gun control but stopping short of calling for a complete ban on the sale of assault rifles.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, in its annual plenum convened in Washington this week, voted on Monday to adopt new language addressing the community’s growing concern over events of mass violence, such as the recent shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

The resolution takes a clear stand supporting legislation aimed at controling the sales of certain firearms and enhancing background checks and gun safety measures. It also expresses opposition to the idea, supported by gun advocates, that in order to prevent gun violence incidents there is a need for more guards armed with guns at schools and public areas.

The resolution was sponsored by all major Jewish organizations, by the large religious denominations and by several federations, including those from communities hit by gun violence: Connecticut, Colorado, and Tucson Arizona. “The Jewish community has a deep and abiding concern for public safety, firmly rooted in Jewish tradition which compels us to uphold the sanctity of life,” the resolution reads in its opening statement, moving on to list measures that would limit access to assault weapons and large ammunition magazines.

But the language adopted at the end of a two-hour discussion on Monday night, was softer than some in the community had hoped. A series of proposed amendments, seeking to inject harsher anti-gun language into the resolution, were eventually voted down in favor of an approach acknowledging gun owner rights and based on the Second Amendment.

“We are not seeking to undermine in any respect the right of law abiding Americans to own handguns and rifles for legitimate purposes such as hunting, self-defense, and sport,” the resolution reads. In another section it states that the Jewish community’s work to address gun violence should be done “in the context of support for a reasonable balance of interests under the Second Amendment.”

Several Jewish federations, including San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Silicon Valley, sought to strike down this language and other references in the resolution addressing rights of gun owners. They also proposed amendments calling for a complete ban on the sale of assault rifles and asked to delete references to violence in media and video games as a source of concern and to limit the weight given to mental health issues when discussing gun violence.

But the JCPA plenum, in which 15 national organizations and more than 100 federations are represented, was not open to adopt a stronger anti-gun approach. “What they basically said was that they wanted a comprehensive approach that also recognizes the Second Amendment,” said Ethan Felson, JCPA’s vice president who presided over the voting process. He noted that in the spirit of the organization’s effort to introduce civility to public discourse, it was important “to acknowledge people that have opposing views” and to “be clear we are not on the way to seek taking guns away from people.”

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