The massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater has left Americans stunned, devastated, and once again searching for answers.
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The killings, first and foremost, are a personal tragedy for the families of the victims, and expressions of grief, compassion, and concern were heard from American political and religious leaders of every stripe, including, of course, American Jews.
But in the media and on the Sunday talk shows, attention quickly turned to the what-can-be-done questions that Americans, a practically-minded people, typically ask in these situations.
And almost immediately, liberals, some Democrats, Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City, and even a very few mainstream Republicans demanded to know why laws have not been passed to keep guns out of the hands of those who commit these outrageous crimes.
And Jews were cheering them on.
Americans in general may be divided about gun control, but Jewish Americans are not. They have always been among the most enthusiastic advocates of legislation that will regulate gun ownership in a reasonable way. At the Million Mom March a dozen years ago, the largest gun-control demonstration in American history, Jews attended in droves.
This is because most Jews are still Democrats, and gun control is more of a Democrat issue than a Republican one; this is because Jews are an overwhelmingly urban people who lack a culture of hunting and gun ownership; and this is because the NRA is associated in the minds of many Jews with extremist positions that frighten Jews and from which they instinctively recoil.
American Jews are probably more conservative on economic policy and foreign policy than they were a generation ago, and there is some poll data to support this. But—let’s tell the truth—the NRA supports the right of almost any terrorist suspect, wife-beater and crook to buy almost any weapon at almost any time, no questions asked. And to Jews this just makes no sense.
How will this play out in the upcoming elections?
One might think the most recent trauma in Colorado would draw even more Jews to the Democratic banner.
On Sunday morning, I watched Jennifer Rubin, the conservative blogger for Commentary and the Washington Post, discuss gun control with liberal pundits on ABC’s “This Week.” I have heard her arguments before but, I admit, once again I was stunned.
Over and over, she dismissed every gun control proposal, no matter how modest and commonsensical, as unnecessary and irrelevant; she saw no need for restricting automatic weapons that permit killers to fire a hundred shots in a single minute; she saw no value in laws that would prohibit private citizens from purchasing any weapon with a magazine of more than 8-10 bullets; she saw no purpose in limiting the easy access that allowed the Colorado student to amass the enormous arsenal that he used in his slaughter of innocents.
Jews, intent on stopping the boomerang of bullets that is killing our children, find this both puzzling and abhorrent. But the reality is that conservative obtuseness and extremism on guns will probably not hurt whatever their electoral chances are with Jews in the fall.
In the first place, Republican outreach to Jews avoids mention of gun control. The Republican Jewish Coalition, for example, focuses on Israel, small government, and issues of debt control and taxes. The most that it says about guns is that “there are differences of opinion” on the subject.
In the second place, for more than a decade, Democrats have run from the gun issue, afraid – unjustifiably, in my view – that it will hurt them in swing states. Since Democrats have been almost as spineless as Republicans, they are hardly in a position to appeal for Jewish votes on this basis. And finally, in times of economic distress, all social issues get pushed aside, for Jews as well as everyone else. Israel still resonates in Jewish hearts, of course, but the Jews too will vote their pocketbooks this year.
Eventually, I believe, these massacres will rouse the nation’s conscience. Jewish Americans will be joined by others who are horrified by shootings at schools, universities, and workplaces and the gun extremists will be vanquished. But for now, Jewish idealism will give way to the political realities of the moment, and gun control will have to wait.