By Rabbi Sharon Brous
What will we do with all this anger?
A few years ago, my family and I were doing home visits with elderly residents of an impoverished neighborhood in Lima, Peru. One evening, as we neared our last visit of the day, the volunteer coordinator told us to make it quick because it was dangerous to be in that neighborhood, rife with violence, at night. In the small home we found an elderly couple and their son, who was incredulous when he learned that we lived in the United States. “Aren’t you afraid?” he asked. “Afraid of what?” we responded. “All the guns!” he said. “Anyone in America who wants a gun can get one!”
Step back half an inch and you realize how insane our normal is.
Yes, I was afraid. But more than afraid, I was outraged. It had been three years since Sandy Hook. The whole world had witnessed how the NRA and their Congressional cronies had manipulated the tragic murder of children into a steadfast commitment to loosen gun restrictions, ensuring that truly, anyone in America who wants a gun can get one. (All while claiming, of course, to be pro-life.)
After another school shooting—the 18th in six weeks—I am again indignant. I’m indignant for the parents who spent hours Wednesday afternoon waiting on a street corner to see if their kids would emerge alive or dead, and those right now nervously pacing the hospital corridors. I’m angry that across the country students are afraid to go to school because they know that sometimes—just about three times a week in the US—a guy walks into a classroom with a gun, they go into lock-down, and not everyone makes it out alive.
I’m indignant witnessing the soul-decay of our nation. Our nation, the most powerful in the world, which teaches its citizens that we are completely powerless to act against the man-made disasters that are destroying us. Our nation, in which we’re forced to sit again through the predictable parade of politicians with A+ ratings from the NRA offering condolences and laying blame anywhere but on the AR-15 and magazine clips used to murder those kids and their teachers.
How can we not be outraged? Another young man with white supremacist leanings and a history of mental illness who abused his girlfriend and posted pictures with firearms on social media was able to legally purchase deadly weapons. I’m angry that lawmakers are using this tragedy as another opportunity to stigmatize those who struggle with mentally illness, while both cutting funding for their care and making it easier for them to purchase guns. I’m angry that this week we had to add another American town to our national map of shame, piled high with stuffed animals and flowers and broken hearts and homes.
I’m a rabbi, in the hope and love business, and here I am, full of fury. Punch the steering wheel and scream at the TV screen fury. But today I’m not afraid of indignation. Anger can disease the soul, or it can liberate it. Anger that’s driven by hope and love can be a tool of transformation.
As much as anger can incite violence, anger can incite change.
I’m not waiting for the Governor, the President, the Speaker or the Majority Leader to find a conscience, to think about those kids—your kids and mine. They didn’t after Sandy Hook; they won’t now. They worship a false god that allows them to justify endangering children for the sake of garnering campaign donations. They abide a depraved moral calculus that protecting unrestricted gun ownership is more inviolate than protecting human life.
But while our elected officials remain willfully asleep at the wheel, the country is waking up. We’re fed up with the desecration of religion through empty prayers and the desecration of patriotism through half-mast flags used as props to distract from criminal political inaction.
Our leaders aren’t leading, so we must. Let our indignation fuel our imagination. Let’s stage a national walk out. Imagine: millions of students around the country—from middle schoolers to grad students—refuse to go to school, until they can be assured that they’ll be safe in their classrooms. Let’s create a war chest—a political fund that supports candidates with an F rating from the NRA. And, speaking of the NRA, isn’t it time we out the criminals who are making billions of dollars manufacturing and selling these weapons? Who are they? Why haven’t they heard from us? Let’s disrupt their safe distance from this issue that has disrupted so many families in America. They need to know that we hold them accountable as long as they continue to profit off our children’s blood.
We need to support the good organizations working on gun violence prevention (check out Everytown, Women Against Gun Violence & the Brady Campaign). They are vastly under resourced, and they’re fighting a behemoth. (Follow Shannon Watts, from Moms Demand Action, on Twitter @shannonrwatts). She’s fierce, and will remind you every day what we’re fighting for.)
We all know that it should not be easier to get a gun than buy a Sudafed. We must push our Federal and State legislatures to reinstate the Assault Weapons Ban, close the gun show loophole, strengthen laws against straw purchases, demand universal background checks, and stop the concealed-carry reciprocity bill in Congress. Now.
On Wednesday, a girl named Hannah texted her sister from school: “I am not joking they just shot through the walls someone in my class is injured I am not joking call mom and dad… tell them I love them so much… I’m so scared… I love you.” This ought not be, in America or anywhere. For Hannah’s sake, and for her classmates who didn’t make it home this week, we’re not giving up on this until we win.
Rabbi Sharon Brous is the Senior and Founding rabbi of IKAR and Senior Fellow at Auburn.