Opinion: We must find common ground on gun safety

It is hard for us to remember, but there was a time in this world before the senseless gun deaths of schoolchildren every week in America. There was a time before the horrifying statistics of thousands of people dying each year from gun violence.

So far in 2018, there have been 2,097 deaths and 34 mass shootings. There was a time when we could turn on the news without the fear that we would hear - yet again - of lives tragically ended; a time when the scourge of gun violence did not intrude daily into our lives; when our culture of violence was not ubiquitous.

Parkland. Benton. Aztec. San Bernadino. Newtown. Huntsville. Littleton. After each of these incidents and hundreds like them, we have watched in horror. Pundits wonder why it is so easy to purchase an assault rifle; parents wail at the loss of their children; politicians convey their “thoughts and prayers” – and a few days later we are back to normal. It is as if the young children gunned down in their classrooms in cold blood never happened. If history is any prediction, the Parkland shooting will be no different.

On Passover, in Jewish tradition, we ask: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” The question I submit is: Can this shooting be different from all other shootings? The answer is – yes – if this time we choose a new course of action.

Our moral compass is so severely broken that we absolutely must respond differently to this shooting. This pattern of America’s tragic new normal cannot be allowed to continue. We are living in a time of deep spiritual sickness. The fact that we have not banned assault rifles, high-capacity ammunition magazines, or bump stocks is as much a political failure as it is a moral one. The indiscriminate distribution of guns is also a religious issue. What is more religious than life and death?

Any person who glorifies violence is one who worships idols and not God. The fact that anyone, regardless of mental capacity or knowledge of gun safety, can get a gun is an offense against God and against humanity. Our gun-flooded, violence- prone society has turned weapons into idols, and the only appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.

We must finally change our culture of death. Our politicians are too cowardly to do it, so we must hold them accountable at a new level. They have blood on their hands: they have served as the single most obstructionist force to any progress on gun safety, and it is utterly irresponsible. The time comes when we must decide what we will stand for and what we will tolerate. Otherwise, all that will remain is the silence of the innocent children punctuated by the blasts of guns.

It is incumbent upon all who see a place for guns in society to speak out against the excesses that allow these attacks to happen every single day. We must speak out with spiritual audacity and moral courage. Can we not agree that the violence destroying our country and disfiguring our culture is so great that it is imperative to explore all avenues and solutions? No religion condones killing; no moral teaching extols violence; any rational look at our society demands that we move forward on common-sense gun safety legislation.

We face a critical time: we can choose to turn inward as a society to protect only ourselves and our narrow interests or we can look for common solutions for the greater welfare of our country. The latter is the much harder path, but I believe it is the one that will provide our children with a safer world, the one to which people of all faiths are committed and the one to which we all must rededicate ourselves anew.

Why is this shooting different from all other shootings? It isn’t – unless we all finally do something about it.

Rabbi Peter S. Berg is senior Rabbi of The Temple in Atlanta.