May 17, 2023
The Central Conference of American Rabbis grieves the continuing scourge of gun violence in the United States. Mass murders have become too numerous to name. All too often, troubled people, espousing extremist ideology, perpetrate mass tragedy while wielding semiautomatic weapons intended for military use. These murders happen so often that American society risks becoming numb. Yet each mass casualty event is tragic. These events end the lives of human beings created in God’s image, injuring others, and plunge families and communities into mourning. Survivors have to deal with this tragic loss and many experience trauma for years. Every American community is plagued by gun violence. Each time a single life is lost—by murder, suicide, or accident—a Divine light on Earth is extinguished.
The evidence is clear: societies throughout the world, similar to the United States in every way except for the number of guns in circulation per capita, have dramatically lower rates of gun death.
Reform rabbis affirm the efficacy of prayer. We do pray for the souls of victims, for the healing of those injured, and that grieving families and communities may find comfort. As people of faith, we know that prayer alone does not suffice. Judaism teaches that action—above all, action to save lives—is required alongside prayer.
Many elected officials have declared mental illness to be the primary problem leading to gun violence. Even as we affirm that the vast majority of those who struggle with mental illness are not dangerous, we acknowledge that the United States does suffer from a mental health crisis. Reform rabbis call on federal, state, and local governments to enhance access to mental health care and to enact laws that empower judges to remove firearms from the possession of individuals who present potential danger to themselves or others.
Above all, common sense legislation is urgently needed. Nobody, without exception, should be permitted to purchase a firearm without a thorough background check. Civilians should not have access to military-grade weapons.
The time has long since passed for America to “choose life, that you and your children may live” (Deuteronomy 30:19).
Rabbi Erica Asch
Rabi Hara E. Person
Central Conference of American Rabbis