Gun Violence: A Jewish Issue, a Student Issue

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At least one member of the New Voices editorial board sat in a meeting of their Hillel board this week at which a discussion of security spontaneously took its place on top of the agenda. We assure you it was not the first such discussion in a Jewish organization this week, nor the first on a college campus, nor the first in a Hillel board meeting – nor will it be the last. In light of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last Friday, a new discourse about security, mental health policy and gun control grips the nation.

We limit these editorials to subjects that matter to Jews and to college students. We believe that an editorial about the tragedy in Newtown is not out of place here because we believe the issues of mental health and gun violence raised by these killings are Jewish issues as well as student issues.

The tragedy of Newtown is a Jewish issue.

It’s not a Jewish issue just because we Jews know what it’s like to live in fear of random acts of mass violence. It’s not a Jewish issue because the youngest child murdered in Newtown, 6-year-old Noah Pozner, was a Jew. And it’s not a Jewish issue because Rabbi Saul Praver of Newtown has been visibly active in his efforts to support the grieving families of Newtown.

It’s a Jewish issue because taking the life of another is our most basic sin. Our tradition tells us that God’s creation of humanity began with the creation of one single human being to teach us that taking the life of one person is like destroying an entire world. Last Friday, 27 worlds were destroyed. As the Jewish community of America, preventing more destruction is incumbent upon us. (And if you turned up your nose as you read this paragraph because you think it an oversimplification of Judaism, consider that some elements of Judaism may be just that simple.)

The tragedy of Newtown is a student issue.

It’s not a student issue just because these shootings disproportionately take place at educational institutions, from Columbine High School to Northern Illinois University. It’s not a student issue just because students are often the ones committing the murders. It’s not a student issue just because continuing to see fellow students cut down early, their lives so full of potential, is just unbearable.

The tragedy of Newtown is a student issue for reasons beyond the obvious. Nine out of 62 mass shootings outlined recently by Mother Jones, about 14.5 percent, took place at schools. It’s a student issue because people are being shot in their schools. It’s a student issue because the freedom to receive an education without fear is a basic right that America should be able to guarantee in the 21st century.

And it’s a student issue because school faculty members are often the only other adults in the lives of children who can’t go directly to their parents with their problems. It’s a student issue because our college years span the part of our lives when many lasting mental health conditions first appear. It’s a student issue because schools are often the first line of defense against mental illness and emotional anguish. While we can complain about the rising cost of college with the best of them, we are glad to say that amenities like counseling centers are part of the reason for the increase.

The tragedy of Newtown is a Jewish issue and the tragedy of Newtown is a student issue. And because of that, we — as Jews, as students, as Jewish students — must confront a few important issues. First, there’s gun control. Yep. We said it. Gun control. Crimes committed with guns could be prevented if Americans did not have quite so many guns. We apologize for our radical leftism, but unnecessary murders of school children have the tendency to provoke that sentiment in us.

That gun control’s effect on violent crimes is the subject of a legitimate debate in this country is a national shame. Countries with more gun control laws have less gun violence. We also apologize for our naiveté, as demonstrated by our skepticism with regard to the specious notion that putting guns into the hands of public school teachers is the answer. Tempting as it is to put more firearms in close proximity to young children after the horrors of Newtown, we are not convinced that infusing our schools with weapons will solve our problems.

School is hard for students of all levels. Kids can be mean, middle and high school can be full of bullies and college can be a powerfully alienating experience. Providing adequate care for students who struggle with these aspects of school is vital.

Every issue of significance becomes intensely politicized. Our collective reaction to the tragedy of Newtown has been no different. Everyone agrees that horrific events such as the one that visited Sandy Hook Elementary last week cannot continue. Let us not shy away from politicizing it. The political process is how we come together to solve the seemingly insurmountable issues that confront us. As Jews, as students and as Jewish students, let us be bold enough to suggest real solutions without being afraid of offending someone.

(And, just to recap: We are certain that the real solution to gun violence is gun control.)

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