October 2013 Gun Safety
The Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) believes that the level of gun violence in America is unacceptable. While the JCRC supports the Second Amendment and the rights therein, such as the right to individual gun ownership and the right to self-defense, it also recognizes that said rights are not unlimited, and supports reasonable measures to ensure greater safety in the ownership, procurement and use of guns in our society. This belief is grounded in Jewish tradition and a respect for the laws of the United States.
Judaism teaches that we should not sell weapons to anyone who we fear will use them inappropriately (Avodah Zarah 15b). For example, the Torah states, “Take utmost care and watch yourself scrupulously,” (Deuteronomy 4:9). Indeed, the Torah not only allows people to protect themselves and their homes with deadly force, if necessary, but in fact mandates that potential victims or even bystanders protect others from those who might seek to commit murder (rodef). “Do not stand by the bloodshed of your fellow.” (Leviticus 19:16). The JCRC firmly believes that all humans have a sacred duty to save lives when they have the ability to do so.
The JCRC respects both the sanctity of life and the duty to protect against evil acts, and supports a balanced approach to protecting individual liberties and safeguarding society. The JCRC supports significant enhancements to the current gun purchase background check system to ensure that guns do not fall into the hands of criminals and those ineligible to purchase firearms. The current system is lacking because it is only enforced against federally licensed dealers.
The National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), mandated by the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993, and launched by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in November, 1998, is currently used by federal firearms licensees to instantly determine whether a prospective buyer is eligible to buy firearms or explosives. The NICS requires licensees to check with the FBI or other designated agencies to ensure that customers do not have a criminal record or are not otherwise ineligible to make a purchase. More than 100 million such checks have been conducted in the last decade alone with more than 700,000 denials.
A sensible comprehensive expansion of the NICS applying to secondary and private markets, such as gun shows and internet sales, for the purposes of imposing an additional and significant layer of protection against guns ending up in the wrong hands, would go a long way toward closing the loopholes in the current system. In supporting expansion of the NICS to secondary and private markets, the current federal policy against creating a firearms registry would remain. The addition of strict penalties against sellers for violations of this policy should be included.
More than $1 billion in federal taxes is spent every year on maintaining the NICS. Such funds are seemingly wasted if a criminal or an ineligible buyer is able to easily avoid a background check by merely going to the local gun show or internet, as opposed to the local gun store to procure firearms. An expanded NICS to the secondary and private markets would allow for greater fiscal responsibility in the current spending on the NICS.
The JCRC recognizes that sales of guns to and use by those who are otherwise prohibited from owning guns are a problem. Far too many incidents of gun violence in America are caused by the use of legally owned guns obtained by those who should not have access to them, such as repeat offenders, children or those with mental illness. Therefore, the JCRC believes increasing penalties for gun owners if their guns are used in the commission of a crime would likely heighten awareness and lead to greater gun safeguards.
The JCRC recognizes that multiple factors influence gun violence (including mental health problems, pervasive exposure to violence, and acceptance of violence as a means of solving disputes, amongst others), and, thus, supports mental health education, anger management, and suicide and violence prevention programs.
In addition to expanding the current NICS background check system to establish a comprehensive background check policy on secondary and private gun purchases, the JCRC supports the more stringent enforcement of current federal and state laws regulating illegal gun trafficking to stem and reverse the tide of illegal guns and resulting gun crimes in the United States. Greater action must be taken to prevent illegal gun trafficking and other methods of furthering the illegal gun trade, such as “straw purchases,” where individuals with clean records purchase guns with the express intent of giving or selling them to those who otherwise are unauthorized to have them. By enforcing the current laws and instituting severe penalties against those whose guns are used in the commission of a crime, illegal gun trafficking can be diminished.
The JCRC supports current federal laws regarding gun safety and deplores efforts by the Missouri General Assembly to nullify federal gun laws, in many cases, even before such federal laws exist.
Therefore, the St. Louis Jewish Community Relations Council supports taking the following action steps:
• Support legislation and ballot initiatives that would enhance comprehensive background checks.
• Oppose efforts by the Missouri legislature to nullify federal gun laws consistent with this statement.
• Work with organizations and coalition partners in supporting gun safety efforts consistent with this statement.