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Jewish religious, lay leaders join call to ban assault weapons

JTA

January 16, 2013 | 10:46 am

Colt AR-15 A3 Tactical Carbine

Colt AR-15 A3 Tactical Carbine

An interfaith alliance including Jewish religious and lay leaders is seeking a ban on assault weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence held a news conference on Jan. 15 calling for the bans, as well as improved background screening of gun buyers. On what would have been civil rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s 84th birthday, the group also urged Americans to work together to help curb gun violence and spoke of the need to improve how the mentally ill are helped.

At the news conference, Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said that there has been “enough pain, enough despair, enough injustice. Let us learn from our grief and the errors of the past, and resolve in this very moment to do better.”

Laser said that religious leaders throughout the country will mobilize their congregants to join in an Interfaith Call to Prevent Gun Violence on Feb. 4. On that day, Americans will call their Congress member and ask that they be “held accountable for the safety of our communities.”

Alliance members also sent a two-page letter to Congress that urged the lawmakers to lead the way toward a safer society that not only protects children in schools against a mass shooter -- a reference to the massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school -- but also stops individual inner-city gun murders as well.

Forty-seven religious leaders from numerous faiths signed on to the letter. The signers included the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism.

On Jan. 14, a similar letter was sent to President Obama and Vice President Joe Biden with an urgent plea to address the subject of gun violence. The letter was spearheaded by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, and organized by Susan Stern of the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center.

“As religious and non-profit leaders, we commit to building consensus and support in our communities for steps that will turn our collective grief into shared hope. We acknowledge that the privilege of American freedom also carries a moral responsibility,” the letter read in part.

Another letter sent to Biden’s gun control task force came from Agudath Israel of America, a national Orthodox organization in New York.

"Violent incidents that have occurred in school settings during the past numberof years have demonstrated that the need for securiy hardware -- cameras, metal detectors, barricades, etc. -- is particularly compelling," Agudah's Rabbi Abba Cohen wrote. "Unforutnately, despite the need for increased school safely -- whether in the realm of disaster preparedness or crisis management -- budgets put forward by the Bush and Obama administrations -- and passed by various Congresses -- have significantly and steadily slashed funding for these purposes -- to the point where meaningful federal school safety assistance is virtually non-existent."

Cohen also pointed out the unique threat facing Jewish schools from terrorism and extremism.

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