Like so many Americans, the deaths of 20 small children in Newtown, CT woke me up to the intolerable scourge of gun violence in our country. As a rabbi, an American, and a mother, the death of so many children in what should be an absolutely safe place – their school – was unbearable. I could easily picture my own precious children at Sandy Hook Elementary. Truly, those children belonged to all of us. The state of our union is bereaved, shocked, and horrified by the problem of gun violence.
I soon learned even more disturbing facts. As tragic as were the deaths at Newtown, Oak Creek, Aurora, Tucson, and Columbine, I learned that for my fellow clergy persons who lead congregations in large cities across the land, the tragedy of Newtown can happen literally any day. In America’s urban areas, clergy persons like myself bury children they had named, loved and educated, multiple times a year. Parents grieve their children – sometimes multiple children - gunned down in their teenage years or younger. Young people have attended two, three, five, or ten funerals of their friends and classmates. 30,000 Americans – half of them young people – die of gun violence in America every year. The state of our union is unconscionably violent.
My religious tradition - - as do many others – rightly names the protection of innocent lives as the very highest of moral values. What is wrong with our nation, that we allow the epidemic of gun violence to proceed unabated? How can the celebrated good heart of America abide the deaths of tens of thousands, so many of them children, on the streets of our nation’s cities every year? How can even the complexities of Second Amendment interpretation obstruct the enactment of common sense, life-saving gun violence prevention measures? The state of our union is tragically confused.
Jewish tradition and Islamic tradition both teach that one who saves a single life – it is equivalent to saving an entire world, and one who destroys a single life – it is like destroying the entire world. This means that even if we cannot prevent every death, we must prevent those that we can. While we must respect Americans’ 2nd Amendment rights, we cannot continue to abide the hemorrhaging of young lives throughout our country. The state of our union must be better than this. The state of our union must provide safety for all the children of America.