Saturday, December 22, 2012

Do we want a rootin' tootin' gun-totin' nation? / Vayechi

The Book of Genesis closes out with this observation: Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim; the children of Machir son of Manasseh were likewise born upon Joseph’s knees… Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years…. (Genesis 50:23, 26) The Psalmist equates living to see your grandchildren with living a full and blessed life. May the Lord bless you from Zion; may you… live to see your children’s children… (Psalm 128:5,6) The author of Proverbs (traditionally attributed to King Solomon) concurs: Grandchildren are the crown of their elders... (Proverbs 17:6) Joseph life was filled with wealth, power, and success, but also with tumult, pain, and sorrow. His life ends, however, with blessing: he lives to see his grandchildren from both sons, Ephraim and Manasseh.

We are all consumed with thoughts and emotions concerning the massacre at Sandy Point Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Among the 26 victims are 20 children. I think of all that they will never do or become. I think of their families who will not see them grow up, who will never dance at their weddings. We generally think that if we do not live to see grandchildren, it is because we grownups didn’t live long enough, not because the children were murdered at such a tender age.

Does it take the deaths of 26 people – 20 of whom are young children – for us to wake up to the crucial need for gun control reform? And if not, how many more will be massacred before we outlaw assault weapons, large ammunition clips, military bullets, and insist on background checks for all purchasers of fire arms? Can even the staunchest pro-gun people argue that anyone needs a Bushmaster that shoots 30 bullets in 15 seconds, or with modifications, in 3 seconds?

Now we are subjected to the perverse spectacle of the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre calling on Congress to assigned armed police officers to every school in America. (Slate estimates this would cost $5.5 billion per year.) Not tougher gun laws, LaPierre predictably exhorted, but guns inside schools. At a press conference, he said: "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” His twisted reasoning goes like this: "We must speak for the safety of our nation's children. We care about our money, so we protect our banks with armed guards. American airports, office buildings, power plants, courthouses, even sports stadiums, are all protected by armed security. We care about our president, so we protect him with armed Secret Service agents. Members of Congress works in offices surrounded by Capitol police officers, yet when it comes to our most beloved innocent and vulnerable members of the American family – our children – we as a society leave them every day utterly defenseless. And the monsters and the predators of the world know it and exploit it."

What a warped perspective. But wait, it gets worse. All over the country, gun aficionados are popping up to recommend that teachers be trained in firearms and bring guns to school. Within days of the shooting, there was an attempt in Michigan to pass legislation permitting gun owners with additional training to carry firearms onto school property. Are those who propose this craziness not familiar with friendly fire, human error, and the possibility that those who carry firearms might, themselves, become embroiled in a difficult and highly emotional life situation, and lose control? To me this is sheer insanity. Fortunately, and not surprisingly, the American Federation of Teachers agreed.

Sen. Diane Feinstein of California responded succinctly and sanely: "Should we have a conversation about school security? Yes. Should we have a conversation about mental illness and the culture of violence? Yes. But we can't ignore the common denominator in all of these deadly massacres: Access, easy access to killing machines.”

May we all live to enjoy the blessing of grandchildren, not only because we live long enough to bounce them as babies on our knees and to dance at their weddings, but because they live long, full lives, as well. Perhaps that is one reason we bless our children each Shabbat through Jacob’s precious grandchildren, Ephraim and Manasseh:

On that day Jacob blessed them, he said, "In time to come, Israel (the Jewish people) will use you as a blessing. They will say, 'May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." (Genesis 48:20)

May our children grow to become like Ephraim and Manasseh, and like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. May they grow to adulthood in health and happiness, and live full lives and see their grandchildren come into the world. May they inherit from us not a world that is increasingly becoming an armed fortress, but rather a world of greater peace and tranquility. Do we truly value human lives? Our platitudes are meaningless in the face of lax gun control regulations that make a mockery of our nation’s claim to respect the sanctity of human life. We may talk the talk, but now it is time to walk the walk.

© Rabbi Amy Scheinerman

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