Steven Rubin: Hatred and guns; a deadly mix

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TYRINGHAM — The Jewish community of Berkshire County, like those throughout the country, mourns the recent violence at Chabad of Poway in California, coming exactly six months after the horrendous loss of life at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Within a day or two of the attack in Poway, heartfelt responses were sent to congregants from our local rabbis. The executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires also posted notice of the attack. Both communications expressed sadness and compassion, decried the violence, and urged the Jewish community to come together in these difficult times.

These communiques were eloquently stated; their authors were sincere in their expressions of grief. As Jews we were urged to struggle against hate, to "find strength in our traditions," and to continue to strive for "justice" in an imperfect world. We were told that "thoughts and prayers" are not sufficient, although we were also encouraged to "pray for the families of the victims." We were reassured that "security plans and protocols" were in place.

Who could learn of these events and not be heartbroken? Who would not grieve for the families and for their victims? Like others, I too fear future acts of violence that will surely come.

And yet, if "thoughts and prayers are insufficient," what then is — if not "sufficient" — helpful, useful, practical?

FOCUS ON GUNS

One answer came a few days later: a message from JFB, area rabbis, and religious leaders calling for "an evening of unity, prayer, and call to action" in downtown Pittsfield. We need to participate in such demonstrations and urge our neighbors and friends, whatever their religion, to join us. Politicians will pay attention. Local officials will take notice.

Demonstrations are important. But we need to focus on the main issue: gun violence and the lax gun laws that currently exist in most states. We need to advocate for laws that will, among other things, require background checks, close sales-related loop holes, set age limits, and eliminate access to military-style weapons. Here then, are several ways we can become involved in this effort and hopefully make a difference:

Donate to gun control advocate organizations. There are many, but here are a few of the most prominent:

Nationwide:

— Everytown for Gun Safety (www.everytown.org)

— Women against gun violence (www.wagv)

— Giffords Law Center (www.lawcenter (giffords.org)

— Brady Campaign (www.bradycampaign.org)

— The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (www.csgv.org)

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Massachusetts:

— Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence (www.mapreventgunviolence.org)

— Stop Hand Gun Violence (www.stophandgunviolence.org

Volunteer to work with one (or more) of these groups. Very often this only involves spending a few minutes a day (or week) making phone calls. Organizational websites list volunteer opportunities, and it is easy to get involved.

Pressure congresspersons to stop taking money from the NRA. Support those who have resisted the NRA's advances. Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action (www.momsdemandaction.org) publish lists of elected officials who are beholden to NRA money, along with telephone numbers and amounts accepted.

Contact your elected officials. Let them know just how important gun control is to you. We are fortunate to live in a state where lawmakers are mostly supportive of strict/reasonable gun-control laws, but more can be done.

Pressure businesses to break ranks with the NRA. Join boycotts. Support such companies as Wal-Mart, United Airlines, Avis and Budget rental cars, and Wyndam Hotels, among others who have severed their ties with the NRA.

Be active on Social Media. Post on Facebook. Follow your representatives on Twitter or Instagram and make known your views. Others will read your posts; your opinions, "likes" and "dislikes" will spread exponentially.

And if you are not convinced that guns are the problem, that we are living in a country awash in gun violence, and that action — strong and immediate — is not required, consider these facts:

AN AMERICAN AFFLICTION

Gun-related deaths (including suicide) in the United States are 25 times higher than any other country: 3.85 deaths due to gun violence per 100,000 people, which is eight times higher than Canada and 27 times higher than Denmark, for example. America makes up only five percent of the world's population but owns almost 50 percent of civilian-owned guns. America also has 31 percent of the world's mass shooters. (CNN, 2018)

Surely there are other issues that need not be ignored. Increased security measures will help. Mental health counseling will help. Encouraging students and congregants to report suspicious or abnormal behavior might help. But clearly, gun control is the overriding issue. Reasonable measures are needed to control access to guns, most especially assault-style weapons (hunters do not need the latest AK-47). Given the current political climate, this will not be easy, but neither is it impossible. Most other economically advanced countries have done it. Why then can't we?

I was comforted by the words of our spiritual leaders and appreciate their efforts to bring the community together as we try to make sense of and deal with our "broken world."

But it is up to us to act, to become involved, to make our voices heard in the wider world — loudly and consistently.

Steven Rubin is professor of emeritus of international studies and former dean of the college of arts and sciences at Adelphi University.


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