June 6, 2022
Sondra Oster Baras
I recently returned from a visit to the US and while I was there, a terrible attack took place against school children in Texas. A young man, 18 years of age, had purchased two semi-automatic rifles. He entered an elementary school, opened the door to a 4th grade classroom, and proceeded to mow down students and teachers alike. Nineteen children and two teachers were murdered in the Uvalde, Texas school.
Whenever I had a free moment, I was glued to the television, trying to process the terrible tragedy that had just taken place. I watched devastated parents struggling with the fact that their little girl or boy, who had left happily that morning to go to school, would never come back. One mother shared a photo of her son who had just won an award in the honors assembly that had taken place just before the attack. That was the last time she saw her child.
As always and as is the case all over the world, when tragedy strikes, the news stations provide details of the event, trying to gather information as well as commentary as the event unfolds. Participants and bystanders alike are interviewed, law enforcement officials and political leaders are invited to give their comments. Of course, the overwhelming response was of grief and shock at the terrible tragedy. But shortly after the initial responses, the political commentaries kicked in. And the main topic of political debate was gun control.
As I listened to both sides of the debate, Republicans largely in favor of unlimited gun access and Democrats in favor of strict gun control, I also heard many compromise suggestions. And I heard parents begging their legislators to “do something” and that call to action was interpreted on every news station as a call for greater gun control. But what puzzled me was the seeming lack of willingness on the part of the politicians to seek compromise. I could not understand how any politician could condone a mentally unstable 18 year old purchasing a semi-automatic weapon. But, sadly, I did not see much movement towards compromise that might have prevented this attack.
But more importantly, I did not hear any discussion of the underlying cause for this attack or for the many attacks that have occurred in the US in recent years. Just a few days before this attack against school children, there had been an armed attack against shoppers in a supermarket in New York. In fact, if I have to characterize the news headlines I heard from the moment I landed in the US until the moment I left, it went from the shooting in New York to the shooting in Texas. And throughout the discussion, I heard highly politicized and accusatory statements about gun control and racism, both polarizing issues in the US. But I didn’t hear any discussion about the violence itself.
As an Israeli who does not live in the US, I asked a question that was repeated by individuals all over the globe — what is it about American society that has bred such terrible violence against innocent people? Every country is challenged by crime — there are robberies where people are shot, there are gang fights and organized crime violence. There is reckless driving and other reckless behaviors that often result in deaths. But I have not heard of any other country where there are ongoing shooting sprees against innocent individuals, seemingly for no reason.
I kept asking myself what kind of individual gets up in the morning, takes a gun and decides to shoot children? Or shoppers? Or young people enjoying an evening in a club? Where have these people been raised? What kind of values have they been taught? What kind of moral compass do they have? If this had only happened this one time, we could all put it down to one crazy individual. But there is a pattern here and it is a pattern that Americans dare not ignore. And what disturbed me more than anything, was that throughout the two weeks that I was in the US, no one on any of the news stations that I was watching asked that question. No one even tried to launch a serious, thoughtful discussion that would help us understand what had gone wrong.
While I understand the controversial nature of the gun control debate, I truly do not believe it is the main issue. While stricter gun laws may prevent some disturbed or criminal elements from possessing a gun, gun control just goes to the symptom — the vehicle for the violent act. But there is always the possibility that if you remove one vehicle, someone bent on killing will simply find an alternative vehicle. But what truly needs to be addressed is this: What causes someone to murder children?
Many comment on the visibility of guns in Israel, as many civilians do carry weapons. But in fact there is very strict gun control in Israel. A full background check including a psychological evaluation is required before a license is issued. And the gun owner must demonstrate, on an ongoing basis, his ability to shoot well and handle the gun properly. Most gun owners have military background. But a gun owner must prove a need for the gun — living in a dangerous area, working in security or a similar need. And the gun owner is legally responsible for any misuse of the gun. Owning a gun is a heavy responsibility indeed.
But despite the fact that you will see people carrying guns openly all over Israel, it would be unheard of for an Israeli to walk into a classroom and start murdering children. Yes, there are terrorists and they have aimed their weapons at children way too many times. But these people are our enemies. They are not part of our society. They stop at nothing to destroy us and for that reason, we must be armed and ready to defend ourselves at every opportunity.
But for a member of Israeli society to walk into a school and shoot children — this is unheard of! And I hope this terrible behavior is one commodity that will never be imported from America.
Has America lost its way? When I was growing up in the US, it was a beacon of freedom, morality and human rights that shined its light all over the world. No more. What happened to the righteous values of its founders? What happened to the fundamental respect for human life? Something terrible has happened and I hope it does not spread to other countries. And I pray to G-d that America finds its way back. That the people take a good look at the soul of their country and seek a way back to a kinder, gentler place. Americans deserve better