With each new volley of gunfire that occurs at a college campus, concert, or office building, the debate over whether to restrict gun possession begins anew.
Some people want the government to keep its hands off the Second Amendment; others want to get rid of civilian access to guns altogether. Then there are those who seek a compromise they hope could stem these senseless mass shoot|ooting is defined by the FBI as the shooting of four or more people in one incident with no “cooling-off period” in between. By this metric, there were 273 mass shootings in the U.S. between Jan. 1 and Oct. 3 of this year according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Within the Jewish community, opinions on gun control are as mixed as they are as within the general American population.
The right to bear arms is spelled out in the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which states that “A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” In 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to joining a militia.
But Randi Adleberg, of Springfield, Virginia, questioned the perceived unassailability of the amendment. “People tend to forget it’s made by humans and it can be changed by humans,” she said of the Constitution.
Adelberg, a retired public school teacher, said she was tired of hearing that guns aren’t the problem, mental health is. While acknowledging that people with mental health issues are a problem, she believes that too often what a judge calls a mental health issue is “just out and out rage” and not temporary insanity.
"In Virginia, legislators even fight keeping guns away from people involved in domestic violence," she said. “There is no common sense.”
“I do blame the National Rifle Association (NRA), because they used to be a voice of reason in the sixties. The NRA was the organization that taught gun safety,” but now it, along with gun manufacturers, are only concerned with their industry, she said.
People would be safer if no one had guns, she declared.
But Reka Von Fegyverneky of Bethesda, Maryland, feels differently. “Growing up in a Communist country with no rights, I just feel it’s so easy to give up your rights.” People are the problem, not guns, she said.
“As a Hungarian Jew, I don’t forget what Hitler did. Anti-Semitism is still so strong in Europe. If G-d forbid, should anything happen, I want to be able to protect my family,” said the mother of four children. “This is my right to protect my family. The Constitution is just for this reason.”
Rather than restricting gun possession, the government should “spend more money on mental health. That’s swept under the rug now,” she added.
Von Fegyverneky is a gun owner. “Do I use them? Never. Not a single time,” but she sleeps easier knowing her gun is nearby, she said.
David Berkowitz, who described himself as “a white male over 50” from Springfield, Virginia, believes “individuals have the right to bear arms” but there could still be some controls in place. He favors stronger background checks before someone can obtain a gun, denying people with criminal records or mental health problems.
“I am not a hunter, but I don’t believe a hunter needs an automatic weapon,” he also said. “In my mind, you must not be a very good hunter if you need a machine gun.”
Berkowitz, who works in sales, believes that those who want to carry a concealed weapon should first have “proper training and be certified.”
Overall, Berkowitz said, “I am for the right to bear arms, but there have to be some kind of limits and guidelines.” While he said that there will always be an uncontrolled black market, some basic limits “can help deter” mass murders.
Stronger gun control was supported by several people who were shopping at Moti’s Market in the Randolph Hills Shopping Center in Rockville last week.
Jen of Rockville, who asked that her last name not be used, said there “absolutely should be more regulations.” While she said she understood the purpose of the Constitution, she called it “a little dated.”
A husband and wife from Leisureworld, who wouldn’t give their names, said everyone but the police should be checked before having a gun. They favored gun control and “more control over the NRA. They pay too much money lobbying,” the husband said.
Chen, a financial planner from Bethesda who asked that his last name not be used, described himself as a conservative Republican who favors leaving the Second Amendment alone, although he personally doesn’t own a gun and has no plans to purchase one. The Second Amendment “is part of the reason this country has remained free for 240 years,” he said.
“I don’t trust the government,” he said. He predicts that one restriction will lead to another, and then another. “You already have rules on the table, and those weren’t followed, so why create more?”
A legal ban on handguns is “never going to happen,” said a DC attorney with a background on the subject, who asked that his name not be used.
The right to bear arms can only be altered if the Constitution is changed, he said, which is technically not impossible. But, “if the mass shootings at Sandy Hook and Las Vegas, to name a few, only spurred momentary conversations on mental health and the possibility of banning a gun accessory,” he said, “then those who believe the next mass shooting or guilting Congress will somehow result in serious gun legislation are, unfortunately for all of us, chasing a pipe dream.”
He does believe, however, that there is a way to reduce the murder rate without touching the Second Amendment: if ammunition were taxed at a high rate — he suggested 400 percent — fewer people would be able to afford them. He cited the Las Vegas shooter, who he said, “should have had to take out a loan” to have all that ammunition.
“A change in course on gun legislation is necessary to effect change,” he said.
By Suzanne Pollak
Suzanne Pollak is the senior writer/editor at Jewish Council for the Aging of Greater Washington. She was a reporter at The Courier Post in New Jersey and The Washington Jewish Week, and she now writes for The Montgomery Sentinel.