Rabbi Shaul Marshall Praver (opinion): What I learned after the shooting in Newtown – Danbury News Times


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I learned something in my days advocating on the hill after Sandy Hook. Republicans in general live by a political ethos that is not against gun regulation. Those who don’t speak with them or try to understand them, often miss the hidden impasse — it’s not regulation itself to which they object, but who is doing the regulating. Conservatives are thinking “Hunger Games,” and make an argument based on a pattern of nations who disarm their citizens and subsequently plunder and exploit them.

As a Jew, I imagine myself armed in Poland’s forests in 1944. Personalizing it enables me to see the appeal of the argument. If you yourself don’t find it appealing, try to see why so many others do.

The federal government is the last party conservatives want to be the regulator. They make some arguments that liberals can agree with too. For instance, they detest when police start using military surplus weapons in civilian settings. They say it’s only human nature for the police to eventually want to play with their new lethal weapons and us liberals agree.

Then there is the California/Wyoming problem and the power structure in the U.S. Senate. Gun laws can pass in the House with 435 seats but not in the Senate with 100 seats. Sixteen rural states such as Wyoming can always be relied upon for both senators voting down any gun reform bill every time. This gives the conservatives 32 votes right out the gate. Even if they win only half of the remaining votes, they carry it. Unfortunately, they win even more.

I am therefore saddened when people like my own community in Newtown and the kids in Parkland cry out in pain in public hearings and invest so much effort believing they can win the Senate this way. I believed it too! But all we won and ever win is the moral victory and the opportunity to be heard. I learned from my mentors: Elliot Fineman from the left, and Ralph Benko from the right, that we’ve been putting our energy into a losing strategy. I’ve grown tired of feel good strategies that treat the trauma and pain but fail to deliver the political goods. It’s time for real politic.

The problem with the liberal side is that we also have our measure of fundamentalists in our ranks. By this I mean, we have a favored method of solving gun violence which looks primarily to the federal government for solutions. There is however, an alternative that I floated to senators I know. And while I am not yet being followed, I have been heard and continue to be heard. The idea caught them by surprise. It felt like they kept it in the back of their minds for further consideration.

It’s a simple elegant idea that is challenging to both sides, but is a plan both liberals and conservatives could embrace, and it could work. I have people who can deliver it to the conservatives, but I do not yet have people who could deliver it to the liberals. Are you ready for it? It’s so short and elegant you could miss it, so please pay attention. I will unveil it in one sentence.

Put the training and regulation of firearms in the hands of the National Guard who report to governors of states.

Don’t confuse the word national with federal. The National Guard may get money from the federal government like any other state entity but they are governed by the state in which they operate. Their boss is the governor. All states can fashion training and regulations of firearms in their own image. And because it is not the federal government, conservatives would allow for higher training standards and dynamic robust regulation like the Israeli and Switzerland models that have lots of guns and little domestic gun violence.

Whereas, illegal guns are a different issue altogether and can be solved with educational/vocational/ opportunities returned to inner cities post systemic racist red lining that ripped these opportunities away decades ago. Rebuild the inner cities so people have good jobs, housing, education and health care and the illegal guns will go away. I work in Connecticut’s prisons, and have spoken with hundreds of perpetrators of gun violence. I know this is true.

Rabbi Dr. Shaul Marshall Praver, a Fairfield resident, is the former Congregational Rabbi of Newtown and “spiritual first responder” to the Dec. 14, 2012 tragedy. He serves as a prison chaplain and is the author of “The Love Zap: Harnessing the Power of Love to Transform the World.”

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