Standing Up for Gun Sense

Our politics in our State have turned recently from one of civil discourse to one of divisive exploitation of power. I believe very strongly in the promise and effectiveness of democracy. And nowadays it seems that our parties have become so oppositional, collaboration and true bipartisanship seem like a pipe dream. The fabric of civil discourse in this country is suffering. And part of that is because of a very deep tension between different visions for America. I encourage you to educate and discuss the many radical issues before the NV Legislature at the moment. And to join with fellow congregants in standing up against one platform in particular, the so-called Guns Everywhere legislation our Nevada senators are currently considering.

At our home seder on Saturday night, a Temple Sinai congregant, David Rondel, spoke about freedom from a philosophical perspective. In this country, we often define freedom in the negative. Freedom from discrimination, racism, hunger, religious persecution, tyranny, and so forth. When we talk about civil rights, these are mostly stated in the negative: freedom from such and such, and these are very important freedoms. And yet so much of the meaning of freedom is not about freedom from potential negative sources, but freedom to pursue a full and productive life. The freedom to receive affordable education, the freedom to receive equitable healthcare, the freedom to be able to feed our families through well-paying jobs, the freedom to a safe environment around you. Together, these “freedoms to” comprise a set of rights society as a whole needs to provide in order for people to thrive. This is the difference between the freedom from Mitzrayim, Egypt, and the freedom to seek out the Promised Land. Freedom from Egypt is a prerequisite for freedom, but as the Israelites could tell us, the absence of Egypt is only the beginning of the journey. Without the freedoms to, the positive requirements of freedom, the freedoms from cannot be fully appreciated.

The problem with defining freedom only in the negative is they communicate what we don’t want. They do very little to envision the society we do want, the kind of society in which we take care of one another, and take responsibility for the level of opportunity and promise for all.

Since moving to Nevada, I have come to see that the libertarian political ethos is much more focused on negative as opposed to positive definitions of freedom. There is a pervasive sense here that as long as the government stays out of things and doesn’t limit my freedoms from, and each person can do what he or she wants as individuals, I’ll be happy. The problem with that is society as a whole requires a certain level of systems and services that will improve the good for everyone, and support the productive freedoms for all citizens. Public education is a great example. Good public education requires an investment by the society as a whole in the greater good. By virtue of participating in a synagogue community, you all are voting with your feet on the premise that the sovereign individual is not the end all, be all in this world. You are saying that community matters, and by extension, other people in the community matter too. There are values and considerations regarding what is good for the whole group that often ARE more important than the rights of the sovereign individual. The freedom to live and work in a safe environment is one example.

Now as a rabbi, there are two guiding paradigms I choose between in addressing any public issue. These two approaches are the prophetic and the pastoral. The pastoral approach to leadership puts people first. The prophetic approach, when executed thoughtfully, also puts people first, though like the prophets of old, the prophetic approach to leadership holds up the disconnect between our stated values and the world as it is. It often involves taking a stand on an issue that is not popular within the immediate community, or may be uncomfortable, for the sake of the greater good. When it comes to the expansive gun legislation that is being proposed by the NV Legislature currently, for me it is mostly about people rather than principles, more about the pastoral set of considerations than the prophetic. I care about people and I believe that part of freedom is the right to feel safe in one’s place of work, study or residence. One of the reasons Nadya and I were attracted to this community, and I wanted to become your rabbi relates to the robust academic community at UNR, a population that is central to this congregation. We have over 15 professors and staff of UNR who are congregants of Temple Sinai. When they say to me, that if Campus Carry were to pass, I would feel unsafe at work, or worse, I would consider leaving the state, I listen, I care, and I stand with them.

The Social Action Team of Temple Sinai has decided to stand up and oppose the proposed “guns everywhere agenda” of the NV legislature. We have decided to stand up against this legislation, for both pastoral and prophetic reasons. Many of our members would feel unsafe on campus as a result of Campus Carry, AND opposing the expansion of gun access bills is the right thing to do for society for a whole host of issues. If your opinion on this issue is different from mine or from ours, that is okay. You are no less entitled to your opinion and to engaging in civic dialogue. For me, there are certain instances where NOT to take a stand would be irresponsible for someone in my position who cares about people and freedom in a holistic sense. THIS is one such instance.

Also, the credible evidence is clear that the presence of More Guns means Less Safe environments.

According to the NY Times editorial board, there is no disputing the hard facts in a new report on gunshot fatalities showing that at least 722 nonself-defense deaths since 2007 were attributable to individuals with legal permits to carry concealed weapons. A methodical gleaning of eight years of news accounts by the Violence Policy Center, a gun safety group, found that in research involving 722 deaths in 544 concealed-carry shootings in 36 states and the District of Columbia, only 16 cases were eventually ruled lawful self-defense — even though this has been a major gun rights selling point for the new laws.

In addition, NV is one of just five states in the country where suicide deaths with firearms outnumber roadway fatalities. We have one of the highest rates of suicide by guns in the nation. We need to look at the issues of gun sense holistically, do more to expand universal background checks, child access prevention and suicide prevention, and help seniors find meaning and community in their lives. Expanding campus carry among the college age population would only put more of our young people at risk. Gun violence has become an epidemic in our state, and now the legislature wants to expand the ease and range of access for concealed carry even further. Educate yourself on these issues. Fight apathy. Stand up against AB 148. Stand with the entire Northern Nevada higher education system which has publically announced their opposition to this legislation. And learn more about how you can join the movement to oppose Guns Everywhere legislation by attending the Social Action Committee of Temple Sinai’s Teach-In for Gun Sense.

When we consider our freedoms at the close of this year’s Passover, we need to consider not only our freedoms from, but the positive meaning of what living as members of a free society actually looks like. The one freedom from, which is most central to this issue, is the freedom from fear. The notion that more people carrying guns alleviates fear is non-sense because that is only true in a world where two people shooting is better than no one shooting. I prefer the world where safety means less violence, not more. We have the opportunity to create a safer world, rather than expanding the scary one in which we live where school and university shootings happen more frequently than in any other developed nation. Please call and write your legislators before the judiciary committee votes on this issue next week and tell them to Oppose 148. And educate yourself on the many issues related to Gun Sense by attending our Teach-In on Tuesday, April 21st at 7:00 p.m. here at Temple Sinai. At the Teach-In you will learn how to join the movement for freedom for all, not just for gun-owners.

As we head into Shabbat and the last day of Passover, I bless you with a restful day of reflection on the true meaning of freedom for us as a community and for society as a whole.

I want to leave you with a quotation from one of my favorite books, Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer. He quotes Abraham Lincoln on the eve of the Civil War, where he refers to the pending issues of slavery and secession. He says:

My countrymen,… think calmly and well upon this whole subject. Nothing valuable can be lost by taking take. If there be an object to hurry any of you, in hot haste, to a step which you would never take deliberately, that object will be frustrated by taking time; but no good object can be frustrated by it. (Parker J. Palmer, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2011, 85.)

Indeed, part of my objection to the Guns Everywhere legislation is the haste with which our legislature is proposing and attempting to push through this broad agenda, with minimal room for public discourse. Thank you.

Shabbat shalom.