Making Sense of the Senseless

on Thursday, 20 December 2012.

Not "Why did this happen? But "Why could this happen?"

This has been an awful week for America, watching the news coverage of police and coroner's reports and then seeing footage of funerals—the Jewish kid first, since we bury faster than others, followed by so many more small coffins going into the ground...

A very, very tough week. Like everyone in this country, and many around the world, I have been trying to find some coherent response to the terrible events in that Newtown, Connecticut elementary school last Friday. And that hasn't just been hard for me, as a rabbi and a father and an American and a radio host. It has been very difficult thing for all of us.

How do we make any sense of the senseless? When twenty 1st Graders have been shot to death by a 20 year old man using a high-powered Bushmaster semi-automatic assault rifle, each little girl and boy shot at least three times and some as many as 11 times? When the high caliber bullets often went right through one child and then another and then another? 12 little girls and 8 little boys, all between 6 and 7 years old, are dead just because they went to Sandy Hook Elementary school that morning. 6 adult women, including the principal and school psychologist, were murdered, some while trying heroically to stop the killer, who had already murdered his own mother that day in her apartment and then moved on to the school. How do you make sense of that?

Everyone wants to know why this happened, and some have said that it is the natural result of our addiction to firearms, our national obsession with guns and gun-related experiences and games. And they are probably partially correct. And some have said it is our pitiful lack of commitment to a coherent mental health infrastructure, for affordable state-supported in-patient availability for those who are clearly in need of psychiatric care. Also partially correct. But I think we need to move beyond the why, because there is no explanation that can possibly make sense of the deaths of 26 completely innocent people.

The real question is not why did this happen; it is why could this happen. And that requires short-cutting our troubling national, psychological addiction to guns and firearms of any and every description and simply taking action to make it much, much harder for this, or Aurora, Colorado, or Tucson, Arizona, ever to happen again.

My friends, America is supposedly a civilized nation. Yet 12,000 people are murdered in the United States with guns every year, compared with just 35 people in Britain, where there are strong gun laws. England is often compared to America for our shared languages, our special political relationship, our close alliance and many similar cultural tendencies. Yet in the area of guns and murder that's a ratio of 340:1 murdered by guns in which America "leads" England. And while it's true that there are 313 million Americans and only 60 million of the British, adjusting for population still makes it patently obvious that we have 70 times as many people murdered by guns as they do.

I have lots of friends who are gun owners, hunters, and even gun collectors. I respect them and their responsible approach to exercising what they view as their constitutional rights. But I am unaware that any of them, at any time, have the need to own or operate a weapon that can fire 42 rounds a minute and be used to shoot through a solid door.

I do not know what can possibly explain this horrific tragedy. But I do know one way to start preventing the next Newtown, Connecticut, the next Aurora, Colorado, the next Tucson, Arizona is to ban assault weapons permanently from the general public. No one should have access to these kinds of armaments except the military and some trained and guided law-enforcement personnel. No one needs a machine gun to shoot quail, or deer, or even burglars.

America may been built by the gun, but it's moral fiber is now being tested, and perhaps destroyed, by a strange, disturbed obsession with it, and with the most lethal, least responsible form of firearm.

Let's just ban assault weapons now, going forward, and set up a program to buy back all the assault weapons that are out there already prior to a date in the not-too-distant future, after which it will be a federal offense to own an assault weapon. That's what we need to do right now. But we must do it.

The highest Jewish value of all is pikuach nefesh, the saving of a life. The Talmud teaches us that if we save one life we save an entire world. What would we give to save the lives of 20 children and 6 adults? Let alone 12,000 human beings each and ever year?

And the comments that some people have been making should only deepen our commitment to preventing this kind of insanity.

I don't know why this is, but somehow great tragedy brings out the kooks, anti-Semites, conspiracy nuts, and Israel haters—and sometimes they are all the same. An Iranian state-run media outlet reported an Arizona man's claim that Israel is behind the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School... there is clearly nothing these creeps won't stoop to saying, now is there?

PressTV, Iran's 24-hour English language news network, their effort at an English "Al-Jazeera", quoted an interview on a neo-Nazi web-based show with Michael Harris, who apparently ran and lost badly in the Arizona Republican gubernatorial primary in 2006—at least we agree that there is actually somebody too incompetent to be governor of our state. This low-life Harris said that the horrible elementary school massacre at Newtown was an Israeli mission to teach President Obama a lesson. Adam Lanza, the man police have identified as the killer, was made the "fall guy."

Harris, of course, publicly associates with neo-Nazi groups.

He said, "The facts are now becoming obvious. This is another case where Israel has chosen violence and terrorism where their bullying in Washington has failed. Israel believes the U.S. 'threw them under the bus,' particularly after the recent Gaza war, allowing Israel to be humiliated in the United Nations. Their response was to stage a terror attack, targeting America in the most hideous and brutal way possible, in fact, an Israeli 'signature attack,' one that butchers children, one reminiscent of the attacks that killed so many children in Gaza?"

Nothing too low for this creep, is there? But wait, there's more!

Harris also pinned other massacres by lone gunmen on Israel: "This is exactly what Israel did in Norway; the political party that voted sanctions against Israel was retaliated against by a 'lone gunman' who killed 77 children. This is what Israel always does, they go after the children. It is what they do in Gaza every day. It is what was done in Norway. It is what happened at Sandy Hook. Nobody buys the 'lone gunman' story anymore, not with the Gabby Giffords' shooting, not with the Aurora 'Batman' shooting, certainly not with Breveik, and certainly not in Connecticut."

The neo-Nazi idiot also said Israel was behind 9/11, the assassinations of Presidents John F. Kennedy, William McKinley, and Abraham Lincoln, and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941... and probably shot JR, too.

Look, these bottom-scraping anti-Semites have been around for a very long time, and the only thing that really shocks us anymore is seeing how entirely insensitive they are to the enormous pain that parents, grandparents, family, and friends are experiencing right now. They are, of course, sad and disgusting. But you cannot expect more from such low-life losers.

The frightening part about the immediate response to the horrible events in Connecticut is that supposedly intelligent, compassionate, and successful people sometimes say things that are nearly as stupid.

Mike Huckabee, the TV and radio commentator, former long-time governor of Arkansas—you may remember, he ran 2nd in delegate count to John McCain in the run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008—a former president of the National Governor's Association and an accomplished Baptist minister, was particularly stupid. Within hours of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting Mike Huckabee made headlines all over the world for saying on Fox News "we ask why there is violence in our schools, but we have systematically removed God from our schools," and added, "Should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" James Dobson and Joseph Farah, two other prominent radio and website hosts on the religious right, also made statements that essentially blamed the horrible attack on elementary school children on flaws in American social character, Dobson, inanely, blaming abortion rights and gay marriage and Farah, stunningly, blaming the slaughter of innocents on—get this now—restrictions on guns.

Grown-up, seemingly intelligent people with actual college and graduate degrees and good families are blaming the mass slaughter of children and women in Newtown, wrought by a 20 year-old using an assault rifle and carrying semi-automatic pistols on restrictions on guns? On secularism? On gay marriage? On abortion rights?

What, sunspots weren't available as a convenient excuse?

I think the actual solution to these kinds of horrible events is pretty darned simple. Keep assault weapons out of the hands of maniacs, whether they attack a grade school or a movie theater or a congresswoman at a supermarket. Better yet, keep all guns away from them, and then it will be a whole lot harder for them to slaughter innocent people who are going about their daily lives.

And then, one day we may be able to celebrate a land that lives up to the prophet Micah's Biblical dream: On that day "everyone shall sit under his vine and fig tree and none shall make them afraid."

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