This past weekend 10 teenagers from Temple Beth David went to Washington D.C. to learn about various political issues and lobby on behalf of those issues. For the next few weeks I will be including the speeches the students delivered to our representatives and Senators. What follows is the presentation Maya Kostolitz, Senior, in partnership with other students from Glastonbury CT, made to Senator Murphy. The views that follow are those of the Religious Action Center, the political advocacy wing of the Reform movement, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Temple Beth David:
“The United States of America, the land of the free, is in the midst of an epidemic. Gun violence is dominating our society. 30,000 citizens are shot and killed every year, with an additional 76,000 being forced to live through the trauma of being shot. The United States’ rate of gun violence is 2000 percent higher than any other developed country in the world.
With the legislation currently in place, I would expect nothing less. As of right now, if a person with a criminal record wants to purchase a military grade assault weapon with a bump stock and a silencer, they can do it without even technically breaking the law. They even have a few options! First, they can buy the gun from an authorized, licensed dealer. In this case, a background check is required. Most background checks are completed instantaneously, but they may take longer if the record displays that the customer may be a prohibited purchaser. If the background check takes more than 72 hours, the retailer can go ahead and sell the gun without ever completing the check.
This very loophole is how the Charleston shooter obtained his gun. Another simple method for getting a gun would be to buy it from a gun show, or anyone whose primary business is not selling guns. In this case, no background check of any type is required, and anyone can get a gun anytime. The H.R.8. Legislation will expand the federal background check requirement to private sellers, online sales, and gun shows. This legislation is supported by nearly 90% of American citizens, and hopefully it will help to reduce the amount of firearm related deaths, and prevent the 22% of people that purchase guns using these shady methods from being able to get guns.
Attending Wethersfield High School, Gun Violence prevention hits home for me in many different ways. I vividly remember the day I realized that I wanted to be an activist for this issue. In November of 2017, a Wethersfield teen was shot by his own friend. This was the first time that I saw the other side of Wethersfield, the unsafe side of Wethersfield. This moment also made me reflect on one of the most horrific events in recent history, the Sandy Hook shooting. 26 people were brutally murdered, with 20 of those being children between the ages of 6 and 7. The remaining 6 were all staff members that died trying to save their student’s lives. Even the shooter’s own mother was killed in the massacre.
This tragic day will always live with me. One of my friends was in the school at the time of the shooting. We’ve been friends for about 3 years and in that time we´ve become very close. Many people have asked her about what happened, and it’s apparent that she is extraordinarily uncomfortable speaking about her experience. However, she is resilient. She keeps speaking about what happened because she realizes that if she can keep speaking, she can change the world.
As representatives of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, much of our passion against these rampant acts of gun violence is fueled by Jewish values and teachings. Our most sacred texts, dating all the way back to the Ten Commandments, clearly and irrefutably opposes extreme violence. The sixth commandment states, “Thou shalt not murder.” This fundamental law stands in stark contrast of the current firearms purchasing process. The sole purpose of guns is to murder, yet despite their immense capabilities, almost nothing is stopping the average unvetted American from purchasing and using a gun as they wish. This commandment emphasizes the sanctity and value of human life. If we live in a world where human lives come second to the right to bear arms, the reform movement’s most fundamental belief is disobeyed. Furthermore, the Talmud teaches us that “he who takes one life, it is as though he has destroyed the universe, and he who saves one life, it is as though he has saved the universe.” The value that we, as reform Jews, place on the lives of each and every human being sets a perfect example for the future of gun legislation. When the teachings of the Torah regarding gun reform are reflected by the laws of our nation, American citizens may finally rest peacefully, knowing they will no longer be plagued by gun violence. With your support, this future is just around the corner.
Senator Murphy, we are grateful for the work that you have done to provide safety from the irresponsible use of guns by specific individuals in the United States. You have made a serious and recognized effort to keep assault weapons from getting in the hands of the wrong people. In doing so, you are attempting to create a safe and fair environment for us, as human beings, to live in. Introducing The Background Check Expansion Act (S.42) will eliminate any chance of the twenty-two percent of guns being sold by unlicensed sellers to continue harming others, both directly and indirectly. We sincerely thank you for your efforts, and we stand by you in your future endeavors. With your dedication for safer regulations on gun purchasing, you have given us the chance, as teenagers and Jews, to live in a world where gun violence is non-existent, and where kids do not grow up tolerant to the injustice that is occurring in this country that we call home."