Breaking the Silence of Good People: Taking Action to Reduce Gun Violence

04/10/2013 11:13 am ET Updated Jun 10, 2013
U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to speak during a memorial service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shoot
U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to speak during a memorial service for victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting at Newtown High School in Newtown, Connecticut, U.S., on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. Obama said that the nation was 'left with some hard questions' in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, while promising the community to help itself heal. Photographer: Olivier Douliery/Pool via Bloomberg

Monday marked the 70th anniversary of the Holocaust. I was 12 years old when this horrific event occurred. During the ensuing years, like some other persons, I have had difficulty understanding why so many "good" people of Germany said they did not know at the time about Hitler's policy and actual state action to exterminate Jews. It still remains a perplexing question to me.

What did older German people tell their grandchildren, if they were asked whether they knew about the Holocaust? What did they to say to their children or grandchildren? What did they say they did or said when asked if they knew that Hitler was engaged in efforts to exterminate Jews from their communities in Germany?

These thoughts were prompted also by my memory of what Rabbi Joachim Prinz said during his speech at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, whose 50th anniversary we will be commemorate this August 28th, 2013.

Rabbi Prinz was president of the American Jewish Congress, one of the sponsoring and participating organizations in the March. He was the speaker who was introduced immediately before Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr's delivered his "I Have a Dream" speech. Among the words spoken by Rabbi Prinz on that beautiful Wednesday afternoon were:

"When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

A great people, which had created a great civilization, had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder.

America must not become a nation of onlookers. America must not remain silent."

So, what are we grandparents and parents today, going to say to our children and grandchildren if we are asked what did we do in the aftermath of the massacre of 20 children and six adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, CT?

What are going to say to them when, all reliable polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of the American people favor background checks for prospective purchasers of guns? Are we doing anything to try to make a difference?

What do we say to our children and grandchildren to indicate that we did something to actively indicate to our representatives in Congress that a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazines should at least be the subject of debate in Congress? We cannot say honestly that there is nothing we could do.

For example, we can stop sitting silently on the sidelines and join with persons in the newly created non-partisan citizens efforts of EVOLVE. EVOLVE seeks to organize grass roots support for the smart and responsible ownership and use of guns. It is dedicated to creating behavior change among gun owners that make the world a safer place for all of us.

EVOLVE believes that "the casualness towards guns and responsibilities are at an all-time high in America." It is committed to elevating the standards of gun responsibility in America through creating a new cultural norm.

Similar to what MADD did for irresponsible drinking and driving: stigmatize bad gun responsibility behavior and normalizing good behavior.

Every once and a while in a generation there is an event that is a "game changer"; so unique it summons us a nation to re-examine just what kind of nation we are. The attack on our country on Sept 11, 2001 was such an event. In 1963, the killing of four young black girls by dynamite on a Sunday morning September 15th, while attending Sunday school in Birmingham, AL was also such an event.

President Obama, after the almost fatal shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the killing of several other people in Tucson, Arizona, said:

"Rather than pointing the fingers and assigning blame, let us use this occasion to expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are drawn together."

Virginia Tech, Tucson, like Aurora, and other previous venues of mass killings by guns made us pause for a moment and ask: Aren't we as a nation better than this?

Some who oppose any limitations on the purchase and use of guns frame the issue as only a Second Amendment issue. We fully support the Second Amendment and honor and respect our Supreme Court's latest decision interpreting the purchase and use of guns under the Amendment. The overarching issue, however, is not a Second Amendment issue. It is moral issue: What are we in this generation going to do protect children from pre-mature death from the irresponsible purchase and use of firearms and ammunition?

I have quoted Bob Dylan in previous blogs, from his lyrics of the "Blowin' in the Wind":


How many ears must one man have?

Before he can hear people cry?

Yes, how many deaths will it take till he knows?

That too many people have died?"

For more information about the efforts of EVOLVE to reduce gun violence, visit its website.