Thoughts, Prayers and Action

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With numbing certainty, more mass shootings of innocent men, women and children will occur in more American cities, many of them at the hands of highly unstable people who bought into vicious screeds on various websites.  

In El Paso, Texas, it was in a gunman in a crowded Walmart who had posted a hate-filled manifesto railing against immigrants and “the Hispanic invasion of Texas.” He killed 22 people, including a couple shielding their 2-month-old baby, and injured more than two dozen. Before that atrocity could be processed came news of another bloodbath, in an entertainment district of Dayton, Ohio, where nine people died and a score were wounded before fast-acting first responders shot and killed the gunman.

This year and last, more than 400 mass shootings have shattered the peaceful expectations of Americans. Some targeted specific groups, such as the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, where 11 worshippers died on a Shabbat in October. Another fatal anti-Semitic attack took place in late April at the Chabad synagogue in Poway, Calif., where one person was killed and three were injured.

Closer to home, in April 2014, a 73-year-old shooter killed three people at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City and Village Shalom, both in Overland Park, Kan. Although none of the victims was Jewish, the shooter said he wanted to kill Jewish people before he died.

Just last week, shoppers at a\Walmart in Springfield, Mo., feared for the worst when\a man entered the store with a rifle, body armor and 100 rounds of ammunition. Police arrested\the man, whoclaimed he was trying to test the limits of the Second Amendment. In the current tense atmosphere, just days after the mass shooting at the El Paso Walmart, he chose a terrible way to do it.

With each new attack come the same feckless calls for action to help curb the violence. Yet, after a short time, the funerals are over and life — and death — go on. The White House and Congress would be wise to heed the simple message on signs held by many of the demonstrators in Dayton and El Paso: “Do something.”

That’s what about 200 mayors across the United States, including Lyda Krewson of St. Louis, urged in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer. They want to block deadly firearms from the hands of people whose behavior has shown they have no right to such weapons.

In St. Louis, the clergy of Congregation Shaare Emeth published a heartfelt plea, saying that “as we hear more and more stories of precious lives that were senselessly lost, we feel compelled to action. … If you, like us, feel compelled to action now, we encourage you to join with Reform Jews around the country in advocating for common-sense gun violence prevention legislation.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said in a statement: “As those on the extremist fringe seek to sow division and discord, we must respond. We know what values and principles our nation should stand for. We know that our vigilance is essential.”

With Congress in its August recess and President Donald Trump headed for vacation, will the reaction to El Paso and Dayton be any different from what happened after earlier massacres? There are some hopeful signs. The president expressed support for legislation to expand federal background checks. McConnell, a Republican, who had bottled up a bill on gun safety that passed the House, now says he wants Congress to consider background checks when it reconvenes in September.

It’s long past time to approve sensible gun violence prevention measures. A good start would be universal background checks, reinstatement of the assault weapons ban that appears to have been successful before it was repealed in 1994, and “red flag” provisions that would let family and friends report dangerous actions or beliefs that go beyond mere opinion. The gunmen in El Paso and Dayton had caused concern among their own family members and friends that they could be contemplating a mass shooting.

Instead of stirring up opposition with more divisive rhetoric, leaders on all sides need to show true concern for vulnerable Americans, a vulnerability that has shown no preference for region, race or religion. 

Mere thoughts and prayers are not enough. Leaders of both parties must put aside their differences and take meaningful, immediate action before one more life is lost.