Janie’s Got a Gun

 [In Commemoration of Gun Control Shabbat]

The title is from a song by Arrowsmith about a girl who is the victim of incest. Today, it seems to apply to far too many in our country who believe they have good reasons to own and use a gun.  This year, 2013, however, seems to be the year when we finally ask ourselves, isn’t it time for some sensible gun control?

Janie’s got a gun, as so do a whole lot of other people. Some of them have mental illness and we can’t seem to find a way to keep guns out of their hands before they kill themselves and/or kill others.  We have criminals in the streets that have more firepower than those who are sworn to protect us.  Guns are so easy to obtain that the laws we have to restrict gun ownership are laughable. And we protect our “right” to own a gun as if it is identical to our right to free speech. It is not. Our right to free speech end where words begin to physically hurt others. Guns have been physically hurting and killing others at a sickening pace. Where does this right to own a gun end?

People say that we will never have sensible gun control because the gun lobby is too strong. Once upon a time we were content with a steadily rising automobile death rate. One day we declared that death rate indefensible and we have saved countless lives with safer cars, car seats and driving laws.  When will the steadily rising rate of gun violence bring us to declare the rate indefensible? Will it be after the High School in Columbine? After the movie theater in Aurora?  After  Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown? After the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek?  After one more senseless death on the streets of an all American city? After another abusive man turns his gun on his wife and family?

Maybe crazy people don’t buy guns; perhaps it is the guns that make them crazy. How many gang members feel “empowered” by the firepower they are packing?

Do we really need automatic weapons to defend our homes and families? Do we really need large ammunition clips to feel  safe? Are we prepared to say we don’t have the technology to flag those gun sales, commercial and private sales, to those who have lost their right to buy guns?

In the same way we make bartenders responsible for serving liquor to those already clearly intoxicated, perhaps we should hold the sellers of arms and ammunition responsible for what happens with the guns they sell, not just the big retailers of guns, but even the guys who sell their collections privately. Maybe we should require liability policies for those who own guns, to make sure they are used and stored properly. If the government can’t control guns, maybe it will take a financial obligation to get people to make reasonable decisions regarding their guns.  How we do it is only the technical part of  our need to make reasonable gun control happen.

It is time that clergy and religious people everywhere stand our ground to end this war in our streets. If we believe in a God of Love, we need to work to get these instruments of hate off of our streets.  If we believe in a “right to life” then we need to apply that right not just to the unborn, but to those who are born as well.  (will we do anything to save the life of an unborn child and do nothing to save the life of a natural born child?) If we believe that God gives us daily a choice between life and death, and we must choose life,  then we need to stand up to the merchants of death and draw the line between what is reasonable defense of home and person and to work hard to eliminate the free fire zones on the streets and public places in our cities and suburbs.

Our country was able to move to end senseless deaths on our highway by making strict licensing laws, mandating seat belts, air bags and child safety seats. We can end the senseless deaths from guns by mandating strict background checks (or strict licensing of gun ownership that includes such background checks) and taking automatic and semi-automatic guns out of circulation together with large ammunition clips. We need to make gun owners liable for whatever damage that can be linked to their guns.

We can do this. We must do this. How many more children and adults must die needlessly before we do what we know we should have done long ago?

The State of Connecticut complained this week that the movie “Lincoln” wrongly indicated that they had voted against the sixteenth amendment to the Constitution that ended slavery. History clearly shows that the state delegation voted in favor of the law. One hundred years from now, will history show clearly that we stood on the side of sensible gun control?

Now is the time to lift our voices.

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