This evening, in synagogue, I will be offering prayers for the healing of Rep. Steve Scalise, critically wounded as he was playing softball on a field in Alexandria, Virginia, as well as others who were wounded.
But, I am tired of praying those prayers.
Can we talk about the bullets that entered his body, and have forced him to undergo a series of harrowing operations?
Those bullets came from a semiautomatic assault rifle. The shooters at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, and the shooters at the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., San Bernardino and Aurora used the same artillery.
In the words of Leana Wen, writing in The New York Times:
Trauma doctors and nurses who treated patients in these tragedies and medical examiners who investigated the aftermath, all commented on the unbelievable devastation resulting from the bullet wounds. Indeed, this is the intended consequence of assault rifles. They are designed to be weapons of war. The bullets they discharge don’t follow a straight line through the body; they fragment and explode, destroying as much living tissue as possible.
There are estimates that the annual society cost of gun violence exceeds $229 billion. What I see are the human costs, not only of death but also of survival. Because of spinal damage, my patients become paralyzed, unable to walk and sometimes unable to move anything from the neck down. Because of blood loss and infections, they have their leg bones removed and undergo limb amputations. Because of intestinal perforations, they wear colostomy bags to reroute feces to a bag over their skin. Many require multiple surgeries, followed by a lifetime of hospitalizations from antibiotic-resistant infections and chronic, unremitting pain. Some become addicted to painkillers; they face a downward spiral of unemployment and poverty, homelessness and hopelessness.
I can see why people might want pistols to protect themselves, especially in various urban areas (the thought has passed through my mind, as well).
Though I am not a fan of hunting, and espouse a religious tradition that abhors it, I understand why people might want to hunt.
But, what I cannot understand is why people need semiautomatic rifles, complete with over-the-top destructive ammo.
You want to stop a burglar? Fine. So would I.
A rifle to take into the Pennsylvania woods to kill deer?
Again – not my thing, but as my Yiddish speaking grandmother would have said: gei gezunt. Go in good health.
But, ammunition that liquefies bodily organs, and reduces bone to powder?
Why do we “need” that?
Do other kinds of ammo not effectively deter, stop, wound or even kill intruders?
Does a deer or a moose need to be deader?
Do other kinds of ammo not kill enough? Isn’t dead, well, dead?
Wait a second, Jeff. You said the word “need.” That is an emotional argument. It doesn’t matter what gun owners “need.” They have a right to bear arms.
Now, far be it from me to tell people that they cannot use their constitutional rights.
But, here is something that I know about rights. There is a rabbinic text that says that Jerusalem was destroyed “because people insisted on exercising the full extent of their rights.”
In other words, there are “rights,” and there are “obligations.” Most conservatives that I know are usually farbrent (Yiddish for “burning up with passion”) in dismay over a rights-oriented society, in which people forget that there are also obligations.
I agree with them. That is the kind of world that I envision – a communitarian vision, in which people focus on their obligations to each other.
But, no. No talk of obligations to the general public, so that people might be safe. I have no expectations that this most recent shooting will significantly change the American conversation about guns. None. Even after a left-leaning miscreant deliberately shot at Republicans.
“But now that it overtakes you, it is too much; it reaches you, and you are unnerved.” (Job 4:5). The gun culture has now overtaken the Republicans; they are now its victims. They should be unnerved; apparently, they are not.
So, yes. I believe in rights.
You have a right to bear arms.
I have a right to live in safety.
Oh, one last thought.
It’s about that whole right to life thing.
Many conservative Republicans believe that fetuses have a right to life. Without getting into a lengthy discussion about abortion, I believe that they are right – certainly for fetuses beyond a certain gestation point, absent good reasons for abortion. We can talk about that another time.
But here is what I do not understand.
It seems to me that there are many people in this country who care more about tissue that is potential life – than about tissue, muscle, bone, and organs in live people who have already emerged from the womb.
So, who is really pro-life here?