May 10, 2018
The United States is unique in the number and frequency of so-called “mass shootings.” These are defined as events perpetrated by an individual against randomly selected individuals featuring multiple fatalities. They occur in many places, including shopping malls, movie theatres, music concerts, and most notably in schools. The weapon of choice for most of these events has been semi-automatic rifles, such as the AR-15. These rifles are commonly described as “assault rifles.” While there is not an agreed-upon definition of the term, these weapons share common features, such as high-velocity bullets and quickly replaceable magazines. They are often copies of military weapons designed to be highly accurate, highly destructive, and easy to shoot. Often the design is a based on a fully automatic weapon which releases several rounds with each trigger pull. Fully automatic weapons remain under federal ban. The semi-automatic modification allows only one bullet per-pull. However, the high velocity of these bullets coupled with high capacity, quickly reloadable magazines, makes these weapons particularly deadly. Emergency room physicians report that shootings involving assault weapons are far less survivable than those involving handguns or other rifles. Home modifications of the “assault rifle,” for example through the use of “bump stocks” allow these weapons to operate in a manner very similar to automatic weapons, as was demonstrated by the Las Vegas shooting at the Harvest music festival on October 1, 2017.
These weapons are not used for ordinary hunting or self-defense. While they are popular instruments for sport shooting, their utility is only in killing multiple victims.
A federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines was enacted in 1994. Its provisions were allowed to expire in 2004. Efforts to reenact this ban have been unsuccessful.
The CCAR has a long history of supporting sensible gun control regulations including resolutions adopted in 1975, 1987, 1989, 2000 and 2015. These resolutions call for continued advocacy and legislation.
This is well rooted in our texts. In the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Kama 46a we read:
- Nathan says: From where is it derived that one should not breed a bad dog in his house, or keep an impaired ladder in his house? From the text, “You shall bring not blood upon your house (Deuteronomy 22:8).”
Rabbi Shlomo Luria (1510-1573) points out that many authorities forbid raising a dangerous dog even if it is kept chained. This would indicate that a dangerous object—such as a gun—is forbidden, even if it is safeguarded. There are exceptions to the ban on weaponry for self-defense, but a semi-automatic weapon would hardly fall into the category of self-defense outside of a war zone.
Following the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on February 14, 2018 there has been a renewed call—led by student groups—for school safety measures. These students have grown up in an environment in which preparation for an active shooter on the school campus is as routine as are fire drills. These students are decrying the inaction of the previous generation in preventing school shootings. One element many of these students are calling for is a ban on assault rifles and high capacity magazines. The CCAR supports their efforts.
An assault weapons and high capacity magazine ban will not stop all mass shootings or gun-related deaths. In fact, it is known and recognized that the majority of gun-related deaths are from handguns. While this violence rarely makes headlines, the human toll is tragic—and disproportionally affects communities of color. Assault weapons are, however, used often in indiscriminate mass shootings and a ban on their possession will help to make these instances far less deadly—and will convey the message that weapons of war do not belong in civilian hands.
WHEREAS assault rifles are used in most instances of mass shootings in the United States
WHEREAS wounds from assault rifles are far more damaging and untreatable, causing more death than other forms of firearms
WHEREAS high capacity magazines allow these weapons to be even more deadly by allowing killers to continue firing without reloading
BE IT RESOLVED that the Central Conference of American Rabbis:
- Calls on State and Federal Legislatures to renew and make permanent a ban on assault rifles and to include a ban on high capacity magazines and bump stocks (all of which to be defined by law); and
- Calls on our members to lead congregations and communities in advocacy to bring about these bans; and
- Publically supports the teens, including NFTY, who are leading the call for school safety through the ban of assault rifles and high capacity magazines.