When will the wheels stop spinning?


Five years ago, then-editor of The Jewish Voice Nancy Kirsch wrote a moving editor’s column about the Newtown, Connecticut, school shootings. Her column came to mind after the recent tragedy at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Different target and shooter. But the issues remain the same.

In the years since Kirsch’s column, there have been nearly 1,000  mass shootings, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The archive defines mass shooting as “FOUR or more shot and/or killed in a single event [incident], at the same general time and location not including the shooter.” Since Newtown, several organizations have been tracking shootings, including USA Today; not all of them define mass shootings as broadly. But there’s no disputing the fact that several of the larger incidents have occurred in the years since Newtown: the 2015 San Bernardino attack and the 2013 Navy Yard attack in Washington, D.C.,  and the Aurora, Colorado, attack that same year. Our legislators have done virtually nothing to reign in gun violence in the United States.

Here in Rhode Island, the R.I. Coalition Against Gun Violence is working to reduce gun violence with more than 77 partner organizations, including the Community Relations Council of the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island and the Board of Rabbis of Greater Rhode Island. The coalition works through lobbying and grassroots initiatives. The state legislature has discussed the issue of gun violence but only passed a watered-down bill that affects domestic violence.

Nationally, our leaders have been hopelessly entwined in arguments over how to protect our Second Amendment rights while protecting Americans. Three days after Orlando, Democrats in the Senate started a filibuster that lasted almost 15 hours in an effort to bring gun regulation legislation to the floor. It ended after Republicans agreed to allow votes on four proposed gun-control measures. But on June 20 each one was defeated.

No matter which side of the argument you are on and no matter which political party or candidate you favor, one thing is clear: not much has changed since the Newtown tragedy. There’s been lots of talk, but little action.

It seems like the right time to take another look at Kirsch’s column.


This ends now … or does it?

By Nancy Kirsch


Reprinted from The Jewish Voice, Dec. 21, 2012.

As I write this, on Dec. 14, the day of the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., I heard Jay Carney, President Obama’s press person, say, “I don’t think today is the day” to talk about gun control policies. I got angry.

It was the perfect time to address gun control, to address a better system to identify, evaluate and treat emotionally ill individuals who are predisposed to violence and to address our nation’s fascination with guns, violence and its “shoot ‘em up” mentality.

Since the horrific school massacre, pundits have overtaken the news media with ideas about how to prevent another mass shooting. I’m politically savvy enough to appreciate that many politicians are “in bed” with all-too-powerful entities like the National Rifle Association whose PAC monies help elect said politicians. I’m not wise enough to propose a realistic fix for that incestuous relationship – public financing, perhaps?

Individuals committing massacres in the United States are male, most in their late teens or early 20s, and generally loners. I’m not wise enough to identify any other commonalities; perhaps we should evaluate how effectively we identify and treat emotionally damaged individuals prone to violence. Perhaps we should admit that, absent answers, the United States should consult with experts in highly industrialized countries where mass shootings occur far more rarely. Perhaps the number of “copycat” attacks might decline with a media ban on releasing shooters’ names. Many of these young men – completely isolated and alone – may opt for their “15 minutes of fame” through posthumous infamy. Yes, it’s a First Amendment issue, but other First Amendment limitations have been upheld as constitutional. The release of names via social media is virtually instantaneous – and often incorrect!

Murders of prominent people – JFK, RFK, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X – peppered my youthful years. While each was shocking and traumatic, today’s children are growing up in an era when horrific killings are much too commonplace. If they’re “lucky,” they see the unspeakable carnage only on their iPhones, iPads, TVs or in print – the “unlucky ones,” of course, are those who know, or are, victims of a shooting!

Remember these mass murders? Seattle (March 2006, seven dead); Lancaster, Pa. (October 2006, five Amish children dead); Binghamton, N.Y. (April 2009, 14 dead) … and many more, including the January 2011 murder of six people and wounding of 13 others, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz. It’s horrific to think how many such shootings we’ve experienced since last January. According to thinkprogress.org/justice, the rate of people killed by guns in the United States is 19.5 times higher than in similarly high-income countries.

I’m politically savvy enough to recognize that our elected officials might, just might, declare, “This ends here, this ends now,” but unless they actually do something to address the root causes of this national scourge, I know that we’ll see more lost lives, more grieving families and more pontificating pundits.

President Obama got it half-right: This is not the time for talk about gun control; this is the time to take action.

No wonder I’m angry.

Nancy Kirsch of Providence is now a freelance writer.