The young man who killed 31 people at Virginia Tech was a paranoid delusional psychotic. But there is something equally sick about a society that allows such a person to walk into a gun shop and buy two deadly firearms as easily as he would a candy bar.
According to my spiritual tradition, the most sacrosanct religious value is something we call Pikuach Nefesh – “Saving a Life.” Pikuach Nefesh means that saving lives is absolutely paramount in our world. Halacha, or Jewish law, stipulates that Pikuach Nefesh trumps virtually every commandment, obligation (or even “right,” as we would say in America.) Yes, it might be argued that according to this principle handgun ownership is a personal safety issue – but on a much more fundamental level, it also means that gun control is an absolute necessity in order to keep guns out of the hands of those who might present a threat to public safety.
Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Steinmetz, in an important discussion of the Jewish legal approach to gun control writes,
(Because) a gun is a dangerous object, halacha (like many current gun control laws) requires that owners and vendors of guns take all possible precautions to prevent their guns from causing any harm.
Even by this benchmark, our nation’s gun control laws are failing us miserably. In Virginia, it is easier to obtain a Glock than it is to get a driver’s license.
Like many illnesses, this national sickness of ours’ only manages to catch our attention when it actually presents itself in an overt way. Shame on us. Shame on us that even though over 10,000 people die every year in our country from gun inflicted homicides, it has taken a singular tragedy of such proportions to put this epidemic back in the national spotlight.
The answers are as plain to us as they have always been. We know that there is much we can do to keep guns out of the hands of people such as Cho Seung-Hui. Please, please visit the websites of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence or the Brady Campaign. It will give you more information about how you can easily contact our nation’s leaders and contribute to a real and lasting solution.
For the sake of Pikuach Nefesh, it’s time to treat our national sickness once and for all.