Obama Announces New Measures To Curb Gun Violence

Transcript follows the jump
Vice-President Joe Biden:

The ammunition on the right is a .233 bullet, the same used to destroy the young bodies of the children at Sandy Hook Elementary School. This ammunition isn’t meant for hunting, it’s meant for warfare.

Before I begin today, let me say to the families of the innocents who were murdered 33 days ago, our heart goes out to you.  And you show incredible courage — incredible courage — being here.  And the President and I are going to do everything in our power to honor the memory of your children and your wives with the work we take up here today.

It’s been 33 days since the nation’s heart was broken by the horrific, senseless violence that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School — 20 — 20 beautiful first-graders gunned down in a place that’s supposed to be their second sanctuary.  Six members of the staff killed trying to save those children.  It’s literally been hard for the nation to comprehend, hard for the nation to fathom.

And I know for the families who are here that time is not measured in days, but it’s measured in minutes, in seconds, since you received that news.  Another minute without your daughter. Another minute without your son.  Another minute without your wife.  Another minute without your mom.

I want to personally thank Chris and Lynn McDonald, who lost their beautiful daughter, Grace, and the other parents who I had a chance to speak to, for their suggestions and for — again, just for the courage of all of you to be here today.  I admire the grace and the resolve that you all are showing.  And I must say I’ve been deeply affected by your faith, as well.  And the President and I are going to do everything to try to match the resolve you’ve demonstrated.

No one can know for certain if this senseless act could have been prevented, but we all know we have a moral obligation — a moral obligation — to do everything in our power to diminish the prospect that something like this could happen again.

As the President knows, I’ve worked in this field a long time — in the United States Senate, having chaired a committee that had jurisdiction over these issues of guns and crime, and having drafted the first gun violence legislation — the last gun violence legislation, I should say.  And I have no illusions about what we’re up against or how hard the task is in front of us.  But I also have never seen the nation’s conscience so shaken by what happened at Sandy Hook.  The world has changed, and it’s demanding action.

It’s in this context that the President asked me to put together, along with Cabinet members, a set of recommendations about how we should proceed to meet that moral obligation we have.  And toward that end, the Cabinet members and I sat down with 229 groups — not just individuals, representing groups — 229 groups from law enforcement agencies to public health officials, to gun officials, to gun advocacy groups, to sportsmen and hunters and religious leaders.  And I’ve spoken with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, had extensive conversations with mayors and governors and county officials.  

And the recommendations we provided to the President on Monday call for executive actions he could sign, legislation he could call for, and long-term research that should be undertaken. They’re based on the emerging consensus we heard from all the groups with whom we spoke, including some of you who are victims of this god-awful occurrence — ways to keep guns out of the wrong hands, as well as ways to take comprehensive action to prevent violence in the first place.  

We should do as much as we can, as quickly as we can.  And we cannot let the perfect be the enemy of the good.  So some of what you will hear from the President will happen immediately; some will take some time.  But we have begun.  And we are starting here today and we’re going to resolve to continue this fight.

During the meetings that we held, we met with a young man who’s here today — I think Colin Goddard is here.  Where are you, Colin?  Colin was one of the survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre.  He was in the classroom.  He calls himself one of the “lucky seven.”  And he’ll tell you he was shot four times on that day and he has three bullets that are still inside him.  

And when I asked Colin about what he thought we should be doing, he said, “I’m not here because of what happened to me. I’m here because of what happened to me keeps happening to other people and we have to do something about it.”

Colin, we will.  Colin, I promise you, we will.  This is our intention.  We must do what we can now.  And there’s no person who is more committed to acting on this moral obligation we have than the President of the United States of America.

Ladies and gentlemen, President Barack Obama.  (Applause.)

President Barack Obama:  

Thank you, everybody.  Please have a seat.  Good afternoon, everybody.  

Let me begin by thanking our Vice President, Joe Biden, for your dedication, Joe, to this issue, for bringing so many different voices to the table.  Because while reducing gun violence is a complicated challenge, protecting our children from harm shouldn’t be a divisive one.  

Over the month since the tragedy in Newtown, we’ve heard from so many, and, obviously, none have affected us more than the families of those gorgeous children and their teachers and guardians who were lost.  And so we’re grateful to all of you for taking the time to be here, and recognizing that we honor their memories in part by doing everything we can to prevent this from happening again.

But we also heard from some unexpected people.  In particular, I started getting a lot of letters from kids.  Four of them are here today — Grant Fritz, Julia Stokes, Hinna Zeejah, and Teja Goode.  They’re pretty representative of some of the messages that I got.  These are some pretty smart letters from some pretty smart young people.  

Hinna, a third-grader — you can go ahead and wave, Hinna. That’s you — (laughter.)  Hinna wrote,

“I feel terrible for the parents who lost their children…I love my country and [I] want everybody to be happy and safe.”

And then, Grant — go ahead and wave, Grant.  (Laughter.)  Grant said, “I think there should be some changes.  We should learn from what happened at Sandy Hook…I feel really bad.”

And then, Julia said — Julia, where are you?  There you go —

“I’m not scared for my safety, I’m scared for others.  I have four brothers and sisters and I know I would not be able to bear the thought of losing any of them.”

These are our kids.  This is what they’re thinking about.  And so what we should be thinking about is our responsibility to care for them, and shield them from harm, and give them the tools they need to grow up and do everything that they’re capable of doing — not just to pursue their own dreams, but to help build this country.  This is our first task as a society, keeping our children safe.  This is how we will be judged.  And their voices should compel us to change.

And that’s why, last month, I asked Joe to lead an effort, along with members of my Cabinet, to come up with some concrete steps we can take right now to keep our children safe, to help prevent mass shootings, to reduce the broader epidemic of gun violence in this country.  

And we can’t put this off any longer.  Just last Thursday, as TV networks were covering one of Joe’s meetings on this topic, news broke of another school shooting, this one in California.  In the month since 20 precious children and six brave adults were violently taken from us at Sandy Hook Elementary, more than 900 of our fellow Americans have reportedly died at the end of a gun — 900 in the past month.  And every day we wait, that number will keep growing.

So I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe’s task force.  And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part.  As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.

We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system.  We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans.  We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.  

And while year after year, those who oppose even modest gun safety measures have threatened to defund scientific or medical research into the causes of gun violence, I will direct the Centers for Disease Control to go ahead and study the best ways to reduce it — and Congress should fund research into the effects that violent video games have on young minds.  We don’t benefit from ignorance.  We don’t benefit from not knowing the science of this epidemic of violence.

These are a few of the 23 executive actions that I’m announcing today.  But as important as these steps are, they are in no way a substitute for action from members of Congress.  To make a real and lasting difference, Congress, too, must act — and Congress must act soon.  And I’m calling on Congress to pass some very specific proposals right away.

First:  It’s time for Congress to require a universal background check for anyone trying to buy a gun.  (Applause.)   The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5 million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.  But it’s hard to enforce that law when as many as 40 percent of all gun purchases are conducted without a background check.  That’s not safe.  That’s not smart.  It’s not fair to responsible gun buyers or sellers.

If you want to buy a gun — whether it’s from a licensed dealer or a private seller — you should at least have to show you are not a felon or somebody legally prohibited from buying one.  This is common sense.  And an overwhelming majority of Americans agree with us on the need for universal background checks — including more than 70 percent of the National Rifle Association’s members, according to one survey.  So there’s no reason we can’t do this.

Second:  Congress should restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, and a 10-round limit for magazines.  (Applause.) The type of assault rifle used in Aurora, for example, when paired with high-capacity magazines, has one purpose — to pump out as many bullets as possible, as quickly as possible; to do as much damage, using bullets often designed to inflict maximum damage.  

And that’s what allowed the gunman in Aurora to shoot 70 people — 70 people — killing 12 in a matter of minutes.  Weapons designed for the theater of war have no place in a movie theater.  A majority of Americans agree with us on this.  

And, by the way, so did Ronald Reagan, one of the staunchest defenders of the Second Amendment, who wrote to Congress in 1994, urging them — this is Ronald Reagan speaking — urging them to “listen to the American public and to the law enforcement community and support a ban on the further manufacture of [military-style assault] weapons.”  (Applause.)  

And finally, Congress needs to help, rather than hinder, law enforcement as it does its job.  We should get tougher on people who buy guns with the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals.  And we should severely punish anybody who helps them do this.  Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be — who has been Acting, and I will be nominating for the post.  (Applause.)

And at a time when budget cuts are forcing many communities to reduce their police force, we should put more cops back on the job and back on our streets.

Let me be absolutely clear.  Like most Americans, I believe the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms. I respect our strong tradition of gun ownership and the rights of hunters and sportsmen.  There are millions of responsible, law-abiding gun owners in America who cherish their right to bear arms for hunting, or sport, or protection, or collection.  

I also believe most gun owners agree that we can respect the Second Amendment while keeping an irresponsible, law-breaking few from inflicting harm on a massive scale.  I believe most of them agree that if America worked harder to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, there would be fewer atrocities like the one that occurred in Newtown.  That’s what these reforms are designed to do.  They’re common-sense measures.  They have the support of the majority of the American people.  

And yet, that doesn’t mean any of this is going to be easy to enact or implement.  If it were, we’d already have universal background checks.  The ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines never would have been allowed to expire.  More of our fellow Americans might still be alive, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries and graduations.  

This will be difficult.  There will be pundits and politicians and special interest lobbyists publicly warning of a tyrannical, all-out assault on liberty — not because that’s true, but because they want to gin up fear or higher ratings or revenue for themselves.  And behind the scenes, they’ll do everything they can to block any common-sense reform and make sure nothing changes whatsoever.  

The only way we will be able to change is if their audience, their constituents, their membership says this time must be different — that this time, we must do something to protect our communities and our kids.  

I will put everything I’ve got into this, and so will Joe.  But I tell you, the only way we can change is if the American people demand it.  And by the way, that doesn’t just mean from certain parts of the country.  We’re going to need voices in those areas, in those congressional districts, where the tradition of gun ownership is strong to speak up and to say this is important.  It can’t just be the usual suspects.  We have to examine ourselves and our hearts, and ask ourselves what is important.  

This will not happen unless the American people demand it.  If parents and teachers, police officers and pastors, if hunters and sportsmen, if responsible gun owners, if Americans of every background stand up and say, enough; we’ve suffered too much pain and care too much about our children to allow this to continue — then change will come.  That’s what it’s going to take.

In the letter that Julia wrote me, she said,

“I know that laws have to be passed by Congress, but I beg you to try very hard.”

 (Laughter.)  Julia, I will try very hard.  But she’s right.  The most important changes we can make depend on congressional action.  They need to bring these proposals up for a vote, and the American people need to make sure that they do.  

Get them on record.  Ask your member of Congress if they support universal background checks to keep guns out of the wrong hands. Ask them if they support renewing a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.  And if they say no, ask them why not.  Ask them what’s more important — doing whatever it takes to get a A grade from the gun lobby that funds their campaigns, or giving parents some peace of mind when they drop their child off for first grade?  (Applause.)

This is the land of the free, and it always will be.  As Americans, we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights that no man or government can take away from us.  But we’ve also long recognized, as our Founders recognized, that with rights come responsibilities.  Along with our freedom to live our lives as we will comes an obligation to allow others to do the same.  We don’t live in isolation.  We live in a society, a government of, and by, and for the people.  We are responsible for each other.  

The right to worship freely and safely, that right was denied to Sikhs in Oak Creek, Wisconsin.  The right to assemble peaceably, that right was denied shoppers in Clackamas, Oregon, and moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado.  That most fundamental set of rights to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness — fundamental rights that were denied to college students at Virginia Tech, and high school students at Columbine, and elementary school students in Newtown, and kids on street corners in Chicago on too frequent a basis to tolerate, and all the families who’ve never imagined that they’d lose a loved one to a bullet — those rights are at stake.  We’re responsible.

When I visited Newtown last month, I spent some private time with many of the families who lost their children that day.  And one was the family of Grace McDonald.  Grace’s parents are here. Grace was seven years old when she was struck down — just a gorgeous, caring, joyful little girl.  I’m told she loved pink. She loved the beach.  She dreamed of becoming a painter.  

And so just before I left, Chris, her father, gave me one of her paintings, and I hung it in my private study just off the Oval Office.  And every time I look at that painting, I think about Grace.  And I think about the life that she lived and the life that lay ahead of her, and most of all, I think about how, when it comes to protecting the most vulnerable among us, we must act now — for Grace.  For the 25 other innocent children and devoted educators who had so much left to give.  For the men and women in big cities and small towns who fall victim to senseless violence each and every day.  For all the Americans who are counting on us to keep them safe from harm.  Let’s do the right thing.  Let’s do the right thing for them, and for this country that we love so much.  (Applause.)  

Thank you.  Let’s sign these orders.  (Applause.)

(The executive orders are signed.)  (Applause.)

All right, there we go.  (Applause.)

Jewish Organizations Applaud Obama’s Gun Violence Reducing Plan

In a speech at the White House today President Barack Obama has announced a plan with 23 executive steps for reducing gun violence:

I’m putting forward a specific set of proposals based on the work of Joe [Biden]’s task force. And in the days ahead, I intend to use whatever weight this office holds to make them a reality. Because while there is no law or set of laws that can prevent every senseless act of violence completely, no piece of legislation that will prevent every tragedy, every act of evil, if there is even one thing we can do to reduce this violence, if there is even one life that can be saved, then we’ve got an obligation to try.

And I’m going to do my part. As soon as I’m finished speaking here, I will sit at that desk and I will sign a directive giving law enforcement, schools, mental health professionals and the public health community some of the tools they need to help reduce gun violence.

We will make it easier to keep guns out of the hands of criminals by strengthening the background check system. We will help schools hire more resource officers if they want them and develop emergency preparedness plans. We will make sure mental health professionals know their options for reporting threats of violence — even as we acknowledge that someone with a mental illness is far more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the perpetrator.

More after the jump.
In response, B’nai B’rith International has issued the following statement:

B’nai B’rith International praises President Obama for his plans to introduce a legislative package next week that, among other things, would include reinstating the assault weapons ban, limiting the number of rounds in ammunition magazines, implementing universal background checks for those purchasing firearms and enacting new gun trafficking laws.

B’nai B’rith calls on both parties in Congress to work with the administration to swiftly pass effective gun legislation.

The shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., a month ago and several other gun related tragedies in recent years have demonstrated a growing need for reform of the nation’s gun laws.

Following the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, B’nai B’rith was quick to call on the president and Congress to reinstate the assault weapons ban, believing there is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.

On Jan. 14, the B’nai B’rith International Executive Committee passed a formal resolution that called for a ban on assault weapons, as well as a limit on ammunition magazine capacity.

This country needs meaningful, bipartisan gun regulation. B’nai B’rith pledges to work with all political parties, interest groups and coalitions to make these regulations a reality.

“We thank President Obama and Vice President Biden for these thoughtful and comprehensive proposals to prevent gun violence in America,” said Rabbi Steve Gutow, president of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs.

We recognize that this is a complex issue. In the month since 26 first graders and educators were murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary, over 900 Americans have lost their lives from gun violence. The memory of Newtown is still fresh, and so is Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood and other massacres that remind us that something must be done — and that there isn’t a single solution to preventing mass violence. We appreciate the Administration’s understanding that there are multiple causes which must be addressed. It is crucial that passions not ebb nor our country return to complacency. Gun violence claims new lives every day. We encourage the President to continue to move this conversation forward during his State of the Union address, keeping the protection of Americans front and center. As a community that has experienced mass violence, we appreciate the careful consideration that is being given to this issue. It is a national priority and we must keep up the momentum.

Lori Weinstein, Jewish Women International (JWI)‘s executive director issued the following statement:

JWI applauds President Obama’s bold leadership on reforming gun laws in an effort to reduce gun violence in our nation. JWI has pledged its commitment to support the banning of assault rifles and high-capacity magazines as well as strengthening and expanding background checks for gun purchasers. The executive orders announced by the President will give us added tools and strategies to further gun violence prevention. JWI calls on Congress to follow the President’s lead by enacting effective legislation.

As an organization that works every day to prevent violence against women and girls, we have seen all too often the devastating effects of gun violence. We and our network of more than 25,000 pledge to work with the Administration to make gun violence prevention a priority for the country. This issue will be of primary importance to JWI throughout the 113th Congress, and we hope for quick passage of gun laws to curb gun violence.

Michael’s Story: A Tale of Resilience in the Wake of Being Shot

— by Aviva Perlo

As I began to write this week, a wave of emotion hit me. Michael is a survivor of gun violence, and the timing now matched the mass shootings and homicides in Newtown, Connecticut. With profound empathy, concern, and a call to action; I share Michael’s story and some thoughts about gun violence. May families and communities from Connecticut, to Columbine, to Virginia Tech, to Arizona, to Louisiana, to Texas, Chicago, Philadelphia, and communities everywhere that are affected by gun violence, receive some sense of comfort and hope for better days.

More after the jump.
Michael and I met through the synagogue where I grew up. His father was the head Rabbi of nearly 5000 congregants for almost 30 years. (Yes, everything is big in Texas.)

Michael was shot 31 years ago. Michael was a student at the University of Texas at Austin when he and his girlfriend, Sharon, headed back to the dorm one night after studying organic chemistry. He noticed the gas gauge was on empty. Michael pulled into a convenient store, borrowed $2 from Sharon for gas, and ran inside to pay. “On one side of the door, I had a regular life, and another side of the door, I was just another statistic of crime” Michael said. The store was in the midst of a robbery. The thieves took Michael in the back to dispense of him so he could not be a witness to their crime. Michael was shot in the back of head, and no one thought he would survive. “The police and paramedics transferred my case to homicide,” explains Michael. “When the neurosurgeon saw I was still alive in the morning, he told my parents there was a 100% chance that I would be a vegetable. Obviously I beat the odds,” he said smiling.

“My dad told Sharon to leave and told her that the doctors said I’d be a vegetable” Michael said. “He told her, you are young, go live your life.” But Sharon replied, “Michael is my life.” She stayed in the hospital that day, and has stayed for decades. Michael and Sharon married years later and had a healthy child together who recently graduated college.

I asked Michael about his recovery. He explained:

My Dad has a true saying. Mile by mile is a trial. Inch by inch is a cinch. Yard by yard is hard. I was getting better slowly. The neurosurgeon told my family I was stable enough to be transferred to a hospital in Houston. A doctor came in my room there and told me I was not going back to college and to focus on more realistic goals. I thought to myself: Who are you to tell me what I cannot do. You don’t even know me. I made it my goal then and there to return to college one day. It was not easy. Life is not easy. I was paralyzed and had to learn to do small things like tie my shoe with one hand. A year and a half later I returned to University of Texas. I had to go to a lot of therapy. But four years later, I graduated with honors.

Michael worked hard to relearn some basic skills of reading, writing, walking, talking, tying his shoes, and more. He obtained a masters degree in counseling. He said his family was tremendously supportive, plus people of all faiths that he did not even know were praying for him. Today Michael works with individuals and families who have survived trauma, mainly head injuries. “I’m on the trauma floor… to help people cope with head injury and spinal chord injury. I do emotional support which means sitting in hospitals and waiting rooms to put a smile on peoples’ faces” says Michael.

One time Michael met a mother in a hospital waiting room whose teenage son had also been shot in the back of the head like Michael. She sat in desperation wondering if he would survive.  Then Michael walked in, introduced himself, sat with her, and gave her living proof of the possibility of hope. I asked Michael if he receives certain reactions from people due to his speech or his walk. Michael is partially paralyzed and walks with two uneven legs. The bullet modified his speech. “Oh is there a way that I walk?” he asked. I froze. He smiled. I laughed in relief. “I use humor religiously” he said, “It is very important” he said. We spoke briefly about the difference between survivors with visible and invisible affects. “I don’t know what it’s like to be a survivor without any signs of it because this is all I know” Michael said. I wondered if his presence raises awareness for others in ways that differ for those who have survived trauma without visible signs of it. “The most important thing,” Michael said, “is to keep hope alive. Do the best with what you have. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

Although gun violence has become a public health epidemic in America today, there is hope. Much is preventable if we can modify our thinking about safety and violence. The question is not are you pro gun or not? Gun violence involves many factors: managing emotions, lobbyists, access to weapons, access to health care, access to medicine, economic disparities, domestic violence, bullying, desires for instant gratification, fear, desires for security, critical thinking about what actually protects us, keeping kids creatively occupied after-school, establishing connections with friends, neighbors, faith groups, and more. It requires thinking beyond black and white binary terms. “I learned that anger is not necessarily a bad thing” said Michael, “It is energy. It depends on what you do with it, how you direct it. We have to use our energy for the good” said Michael.

Psychiatrist Dr. Sandra Bloom writes in her book Creating Sanctuary:

There is a large body of knowledge available about the effects of trauma, the necessary ingredients for healthy child development, [normative] processing of memory and emotions, the importance of human relationships…, problem solving,… and mediation. Unfortunately however, few people know… this. We spend too much time consuming news tabloids and over-sensationalizing… rather than looking at the complex nature of human behavior and interrelatedness that we have with one another….

Jewish tradition says that we are not permitted to hold a knife while praying because prayer is meant to extend our lives, and knives cut our days short. Some commentators extrapolate the same for guns, that guns too must be separate from prayer because they slice our days. Exceptions are made for soldiers in the line of duty. If only we could see that the ‘line of duty’ or the militia as stated in the Second Amendment is separate from America’s streets or schools or shopping centers or homes. These are not the militia. These are the spaces where we are meant to build healthy, beautiful lives. May we learn to value life and to separate the profane from the sacred.

JSPAN Supports Assault Weapons Ban

— by the staff of The Jewish Social Policy Action Network

We are deeply saddened by the tragedy that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Our immediate thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families. This horror reinforces the urgent need to ensure that common-sense gun control laws are in place to help reduce these kinds of incidents.

More after the jump.
As a first step, JSPAN supports legislation to get the weapons of war off our streets by reinstituting the ban on assault weapons that Congress wrongly allowed to expire in 2004. Congress and state legislative bodies should also immediately act to eliminate the gun show loophole and to ban the sale, transfer, transportation and possession of large clips, drums or strips of more than 10 bullets.

Because we recognize that these immediate actions will not solve the larger issue of gun violence in our society, JSPAN is resolved to continue to work in coalition with other organizations such as CeaseFirePA and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. We demand that sensible changes in public policy take place to promote an America where everyone is safe at home, at school, at work and in our communities.

We urge you to share this resolution with your Facebook friends and colleagues. We also urge everyone to phone the White House Switchboard – 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111 and tell the comment operator that you want the President to push legislation to ban assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.

American Jews Support Gun Law Reform

Since last week’s massacre in Connecticut, Jewish politicians and organizations have showed their support of reform in gun laws.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is the co-chairman of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition. Following the event the coalition has launched the Demand A Plan campaign:

Our efforts cannot bring back the 20 innocent children murdered in Newtown, CT — or the 34 people murdered with guns every day in America. But we can prevent future tragedies by passing common sense legislation that will:

  1. Require a criminal background check for every gun sold in America.
  2. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
  3. Make gun trafficking a federal crime, including real penalties for “straw purchasers.”

Demand that your members of Congress and the president support these legislative priorities.

More after the jump.

Over 300,000 Americans have already signed the campaign’s petition, and the coalition itself has over 750 mayors as members.

Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) has announced on her website that she will introduce a bill to ban assault weapons on the first day of the new congress.

“Who needs these military-style assault weapons? Who needs an ammunition-feeding device capable of holding 100 rounds? These weapons are not for hunting deer — they’re for hunting people”.

Additionally, over 10,000 Americans have signed a Jewish Council for Public Affairs petition to make access to guns and mental health care a national priority.

“There has been an immediate emotional reaction across the entire country of shock, horror, and deep sadness. But this was not an isolated event. In the past few months, we have seen shootings at malls, theaters, and places of workshop; each one followed by a return to complacency and status quo,” said JCPA President Rabbi Steve Gutow. “The grotesque shooting at Newtown and the massive outpouring of support for this petition mark a tonal shift in our country where the need for a comprehensive approach to guns and mental health care are urgent priorities we can no continue to ignore. The thousands of signers are the beginning of a national and sustained effort to make sure future tragedies like this are unimaginable.”

The Jewish Women International organization applauded yesterday president Barack Obama’s announcement of gun violence task force:

“JWI strongly supports the leadership of President Obama and Vice President Biden in reforming our nation’s gun laws in the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. We applaud the creation of an interagency task force to address gun violence and urge Members of Congress to enact tough restrictions on guns, most urgently banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. JWI also believes that Congress must improve the quality and accessibility of our nation’s mental health services. As an organization that has worked to address the devastating effects of gun violence and domestic violence for decades, we applaud the Administration’s efforts and urge thoughtful and decisive action from all levels of government.”

In a speech in the House of Representatives, Rep. Alysson Schwartz (D-PA) stated:

We have seen far too many moments of violence and loss. This loss is too devastating to ignore. I believe that even in this time of deep sadness and grief, we must resolve to end such violence. We must do better to understand and treat mental illness. And we must come together to move our nation towards common sense, responsible gun laws. Laws that recognize the responsibility of gun-ownership, and ensure safety and security in our homes, schools, communities, and public spaces.

Even Hardcore NRA Supporters Begin To Have Regrets

The Pozner family sits shiva as their son Noah, the youngest victim at Sandy Hook Elementary School, was laid to rest on Monday.

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Conservative pundit Joe Scarborough received the NRA’s highest ratings during his four terms in Congress, but now he has changed his mind on gun violence prevention.

It’s time for Washington to stop trying to win endless wars overseas while we’re losing the war at home… We must give no more ground… I choose life, and I choose change. And for the sake of our children, we must do what’s right. And for the sake of this great nation that we love, let’s pray to God that we do.

Similarly, Senator Mike Warner says:

I’ve been a strong supporter of Second Amendment rights. I’ve got an A rating from the NRA. But the status quo isn’t acceptable. I’ve got three daughters. They asked me on Friday evening, ‘Dad, what are you gonna do about this?’ There’s got to be a way to put reasonable restrictions, particularly as we look at assault weapons, as we look at these fast clips of ammunition.

Meanwhile, Senator Joe Machin (D-WV), who famously ran a campaign advertisement where he brandishes a rifle and “takes out” anti-gun legislation, has now moderated his views:

I dont know anyone in the sporting or hunting arena that goes out with an assault rifle. I don’t know anyone that needs 30 rounds in a clip to go hunting. I mean, these are things that need to be talked about.

According to CNN:

There are an estimated 270 million guns in the hands of civilians in the United States, making Americans the most heavily armed people in the world per capita. Yemen, a tribal nation with no history of strong central government or the rule of law, comes in a distant second.

It is Time for Meaningful Gun Control

— B’nai B’rith International

Even while we grieve and try to come to terms with the senseless Dec. 14 assault on an elementary school, we must also look ahead to ensuring such a horrific mass shooting never happens again. In the wake of the gruesome Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., where gunman Adam Lanza murdered 26 people, 20 of them children, it is well past time to demand sensible gun control measures.

More after the jump.
B’nai B’rith calls for the reinstatement of the assault weapons ban, which went into effect in 1994, but was not renewed when it expired a decade later. At the time, 1,100 police chiefs and sheriffs from across the country urged the law be renewed and strengthened. Other meaningful, enforceable gun control measures are also needed.

Lanza used a .223-caliber Bushmaster assault rifle-a civilian version of the U.S. military’s M-16. The magazine-fed civilian weapon is meant for rapid firing, capable of carrying hundreds of bullets in its magazines. Lanza also had two semiautomatic handguns that he did not use.

Assault weapons enable a shooter to fire multiple rounds without stopping to reload as they automatically expel and load ammunition with each trigger-pull. There is no sane, acceptable, reasonable need in a civilian setting to fire off large rounds of ammunition.

B’nai B’rith has called for gun control reform before, most recently in July after the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. where 12 were killed and 58 wounded.

Mass shootings come to be known by a macabre shorthand: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Tucson, Aurora and now Newtown. It’s time for lawmakers to change the vocabulary. Enact and enforce gun control measures.

B’nai B’rith International, the Global Voice of the Jewish Community, is the oldest and most widely known Jewish humanitarian, human rights and advocacy organization.  For 169 years, since 1843, B’nai B’rith International has worked for Jewish unity, security, continuity and tolerance.  Visit www.bnaibrith.org.

Obama’s Remarks at Memorial Service

I had things prepared to post this weekend but political and social matters seem trivial and inappropriate this weekend, after the school shooting in Connecticut.

Here is an excerpt of Pres. Obama’s remarks at today’s memorial service.  A full transcript is available online via the Washington Post.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

More after the jump.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change. Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose — much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

The Time Is Now

— by Annette Sabbah

Long ago, the great Rabbi Hillel wrote: “If not now, when?”

After Yesterday our answer should be one long, loud, visceral, primal scream: Now.

After yesterday, while still reeling from that unfathomable nightmare scenario, sickened to our stomach by the sheer randomness & brutality of the crime, thinking of the unspeakable anguish & the numbing pain now awaiting each of those young mothers or fathers — all our clocks should collectively read but one hour: Now.  To act today, this minute, this instant.

After yesterday, the second Amendment should now read as follows: “We, the Founding Fathers now urgently joined by the Founding Mothers and with all the Wisdom, Responsibility & Sanity vested in us decree Sacrosanct, Undeniable, Non-Negotiable & Inalienable the Right of a Free People to Hold, Retain, Savor, Enjoy, Love, Safeguard, Bear & Keep Life.” In a separate clause it should also read: “The War on Mental Illness, severe or otherwise, should be unanimously declared equal to War on Drugs. Congress must therefore spare no effort to help to diagnose, rehabilitate, treat and & whenever possible cure this terrible ailment from our midst.”

More after the jump.
After yesterday, we must come to the full realization that over the past few months, we are witnessing week in and week out a disturbing & unprecedented phenomenon: random shooting rampage epidemic. These are taking place in places and venues which are part and parcel of our everyday lives. Our malls, movie theaters, places of worship, colleges, a Tucson supermarket on a beautiful Saturday morning and yesterday in the brightest of places — a place filled with the voices, laughter and innocence of little children — a first grade classroom.

After yesterday — freedom of expression should begin to mean something different. Today’s culture of violence, maimings, killings & blood saturated movie screens and videogames devaluate life while glorifying death – fashioning a generation of desensitized youth. Oblivious to pain and suffering.
When a producer, director or videogame creator “freedom of expression” promotes violence for the sake of violence to sell tickets or a game — that’s where his rights should end and ours begin. Our rights to not have our children’s minds poisoned by a warped vision of the world — where to every problem, the solution is a gun.

After yesterday — it behooves us as parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, wives, husbands, brothers, sisters — all citizens of this great country, to all raise our united voices and demand our Government act. Act promptly & act decisively. Act intelligently & act judiciously. Act to curb the sales of guns, restrict existing gun Laws and enforce new ones. Act to instate tougher & lengthier gun permit or license requirements.

After yesterday — each and everyone of us will find within his/her heart the right measure, the right degree of participation — but one cannot remain idle. Because one thing is for sure and connects us beyond being either for or anti gun control. We all have kids or grandkids — whom we love beyond words. Nieces, nephews, loved ones – be they young or old. From today on, we want them safe wherever they may be.

After yesterday — there is no longer any rhyme nor reason in a society such as ours, for a disturbed individual to, at a moment’s whim, begin roaming the streets of our lives with an AK 47, an Ouzi, a sawed off shotgun, a Glock, a Semi Automatic with high capacity magazine able to dispense 100 rounds or more in matter of minutes… and reload as many. And kill. NOT NOW. NOT EVER. NOT ANYMORE. The time is now my friends, get up and dust off your uncertainties, your misgivings, your reservations. It’s your turn to speak as I just have — if even one sentence — remembering always the power of the written word is mightier than the sword.

For when words speak the truth they strike a universal chord in the hearts of men – then grow and reverberate and have the power to change the world.

“Be the change you want to see in the world” – Ghandi.

“If not now, when?” – Hillel.

In the names of those you love.
The hour is late.