National grassroots campaign to push for gun control

Sign up for Weekday J and get the latest on what's happening in the Jewish Bay Area.

WASHINGTON — Seizing on public frustration over gun violence in America, the American Jewish Congress has launched a grassroots campaign aimed at prodding Congress to action.

At a news conference Tuesday on Capitol Hill, Democratic members of Congress and gun-control advocates joined in calling for meaningful gun-control legislation. Several rabbis marked the call for action by blowing shofars outside the U.S. Capitol.

"It is time for public officials to understand that America's parents cannot tolerate what is happening in school after school, state after state," said Jack Rosen, president of the AJCongress.

Congress has demonstrated that it has little appetite for any such legislation. But several lawmakers, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), said it was time to start doing what is right — and not what the National Rifle Association deems acceptable.

The AJCongress wants to gather 1 million signatures as part of a petition drive to urge Congress to pass legislation requiring all gun buyers to pass background checks and for all guns to be licensed and registered, much like cars.

It is also calling for safety devices to prevent accidental firing of guns and closing loopholes that create different standards for licensed and unlicensed firearm dealers.

Lawmakers are certain to be hearing continuing appeals in coming months from people like Carol Kingsley, who spoke at the news conference.

Jack Berman, Kingsley's husband and a regional director of the AJCongress, was killed in a 1993 shooting spree inside a San Francisco skyscraper.

"To those members of Congress who are reluctant to vote for stricter gun-control laws, I urge you, find the courage to just say no to the NRA," said Kingsley, who was accompanied by her 7-year-old son, Zack.

"Do your job and listen to the majority of your constituents who want stricter gun-control laws. If you don't act soon, it may not just be your elected position that you lose. Tomorrow's victims may be a neighbor, a friend or a family member."

Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the rabbis' shofar blast signaled both a call to battle for meaningful gun-control legislation and a call for repentance.

He said lawmakers should ask forgiveness "for our great sin of kowtowing to the NRA and being complicit in the thousands of murders of innocent people that would not have happened had this Congress acted properly years ago."

The AJCongress and other Jewish groups have not endorsed specific legislation, but there appears to be support among gun-control advocates for legislation Nadler said he planned to introduce this week.

He is proposing three separate bills that would establish a licensing system for handguns, would require states to put registration programs into place to track when weapons are bought and sold, and would create a federally funded gun buy-back program.

Feinstein said she planned to craft similar legislation in the Senate.

"People who use guns do in fact kill people, yet where these guns are, who has them, is entirely anonymous in our society," she said.

Enacting legislation requiring licensing and registration of guns faces an uphill battle. So far, Congress has balked at passing gun-control measures contained in the Senate version of the juvenile justice bill passed earlier this year.

Those provisions would subject individuals purchasing guns at gun shows to background checks, ban the import of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds and require that trigger locks or other safety devices be sold with handguns.

The House rejected those proposals in June, following a fierce lobbying effort by the NRA.

House and Senate conferees were expected to resolve differences over the two bills this week, and it appeared unlikely that the gun-control provisions would survive.

"Everyone agrees there must never be another Columbine, another North Valley Jewish Community Center," Rosen said, referring to this year's shootings at the Colorado high school and at the JCC near Los Angeles.

"Yet what have we, collectively, as a nation of parents, done to prevent the possibility? As a generation, we must stand up to protect our children and succeeding generations from this scourge."