Gun debate must spur action, even if its imperfect

In his State of the Union speech this week, President Barack Obama once again addressed America’s gun violence crisis, noting that in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., massacre two months ago, “This time, it’s different.”

The school slaughter seemed to wake the sleeping giant of American opinion when it comes to our much-too-easy access to firearms of mass destruction. Instead of the debate dying down, as so often happened in the past, in the months since Newtown it has only grown more urgent.

The Jewish community, both locally and nationally, has been weighing in on the debate as well. Our story on Page 3 this week details efforts at the congregational level to examine our tradition and spur action.

Napa’s Congregation Beth Shalom held a town hall–style forum to give community members a chance to express themselves on the subject. Members of San Francisco congregations Emanu-El and Or Shalom attended a vigil for gun control, while Chabad of Sunnyvale held an evening discussion on gun violence, offering a Torah perspective.

This week, a group of American rabbis led by Menachem Creditor of Berkeley’s Congregation Netivot Shalom published a book of essays, all of which offer Torah-based rationales for taking strong action against gun violence.

We strongly support these efforts, and hope they continue as long as the unacceptable status quo remains in place.

It may not remain so for long. As the president mentioned in his Feb. 12 address, polls show that an overwhelming majority of Americans, including many who support the Second Amendment, want new, commonsense gun legislation, such as universal background checks.

We know not all proposals will become law. It appears the assault-weapons ban, something we strongly support, will die in committee. Unfortunately, the same may come to pass regarding access to high-capacity magazine clips.

But as the president said, legislators did not go to Washington “to be perfect.” They have to do something, even if it falls short of the ideal. This is, of course, a very Jewish notion, that we are not obligated to complete the task of repair, nor are we absolved from making an effort.

As has always been the case when it comes to key civic issues, Jews will stand in the vanguard of change when it comes to reducing gun violence in America.

The president has articulated the convictions of most Jews and most citizens of this country: This time is different, and we will not let the moment pass without enacting meaningful change.