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Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun Epidemic

Looking Down the Barrel of a Gun Epidemic, The Board of Rabbis addresses firearm violence

by Michael Aushenker

October 7, 1999 | 8:00 pm

The statistics are shocking. Last year, more than 1 million children carried a concealed pistol to school. In 1997, 32,436 people died because of firearm violence. And of that number, only 268 deaths could be categorized as "justifiable homicides."

These are just some of the reasons the Board of Rabbis of Southern California held "Call to Action against Gun Violence," a community gathering at Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. In what organizer Rabbi Laura Geller of Temple Emanuel deemed "a very good beginning," Monday night's event -- devised in the wake of the Aug. 10 North Valley Jewish Community Center shooting -- attracted more than 250 congregants and leaders from institutions of all denominations.

Los Angeles Police Department Chief Bernard Parks, who supports a ban on all assault weapons and Saturday night specials, retraced the evolving trends of gun-related crime over the last three decades and encouraged people to work toward countering the proliferation of arms "for the long-term health of your community."

Following a panel discussion that included Parks, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and Valley Beth Shalom's Rabbi Harold Schulweis, attendees were directed to a series of workshops designed to educate citizens on specific gun violence issues. At a workshop titled "Projects for High School Youth: Developing a Regional Approach," Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rabbi Dan Moskowitz of Kol Tikvah in Woodland Hills met with high-schoolers to inspire some student social action. At the exchange, Yaroslavsky told his young audience that the recent North Valley shooting became the catalyst to ratify legislation banning gun shows -- home to unregulated suppliers of firearms, as well as hotbeds of anti-Semitic and racist liturgy -- from Los Angeles County property.

Elsewhere at the "Call to Action" event, state Sen. Tom Hayden and Rabbi Haim Beliak discussed "Guns, Hate Groups and the Holocaust"; Councilmember Michael Feuer and Ann Reiss Lane, chair of Women Against Gun Violence, handed out a list of gun control legislature and phone numbers of politicians to contact; and state Sen. Adam Schiff and Assemblyman Wally Knox lectured on the fine points of California's gun control and firearms laws.

Geller's gun violence conference is only the latest in a grass-roots movement growing in the wake of the JCC incident: the aforementioned passing of local legislature to ban gun sales on county property; Bay Area philanthropist Richard Goldman's recent $4.3 million bankrolling of the Bell Campaign, a San Francisco General Hospital-based lobby group of people whose lives have been directly affected by gun violence; and the American Jewish Congress's recent campaign urging Congress to strengthen gun regulation.

After the Board of Rabbis' event, Geller told The Journal, "My hope is that in my own congregation...people will meet and form a core in an effort to educate the rest of the congregation about the issue."

The next step ahead for the Board of Rabbis will be to meet with members of the various congregations and explore additional measures. And while the North Valley JCC tragedy might have spurred the group to rally the community against firearms proliferation, Geller does not see the gun violence issue making a quick fade any time soon.

"It is so much an issue all around the country," says the rabbi, "that it, unfortunately, will not go away. It becomes an issue that Jews have to respond to simply because it's become so pervasive."

For more information on issues related to gun violence, contact Women Against Gun Violence at (310) 204-2348. For more information on getting involved in community action supporting gun control, contact the Board of Rabbis at (323) 761-8600.


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