I dropped off my daughter at middle school and drove to work -- just like any other day. At about 1 p.m. a staff member told me to turn on the radio when to my horror I listened to a report of a seventh-grade student sitting in a class at my daughter's school, brandishing his father's .22-caliber pistol with 50 rounds of ammunition. He also brought, according to news reports, a will he wrote for himself and a list of eight school officials whom he allegedly planned to shoot.
The teacher in this seventh-grade science class left the students by themselves with the boy threatening to shoot. A school security official, who was also an off-duty deputy sheriff, entered the classroom and persuaded the 12-year-old boy to let go of the gun. The newspaper report quoted the student as saying he was "tired of authority."
No one was injured that day, but the memory of the incident has and will remain in our minds. This situation pales in comparison with what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., or at any other school where a student or intruder has taken human life, and these crimes continue to threaten our children and teachers.
What happened at my daughter's school was in 2002, yet the passage of time has not made our children safer. The question is whether there will be a ground swell to address the school security issue, the issue of gun owners whose children are able to get hold of their guns or the mental health issues that play a critical role in these kinds of unspeakable crimes. The NRA's decree of adding police officers to every school in America and arming teachers and administrators is not the way to go. This strategy only raises the stakes of gun violence and increases the risk of further chaos and more death.
But what is the answer to create a psychologically safe environment for students, teachers and staff in America's schools?
This is a complex question and will require communities to discuss these issues frankly. America has an opportunity to decide whether we are pro-life, after all. Yes, this is a pro-life issue. The Torah, in the book of Genesis, speaks of an act of senseless violence when a boy named Cain murdered his brother Abel, and the violence continues to this very day. Imagine the pain in the hearts of Adam and Eve. Sadly, violence is part of the human condition, but our challenge as people of religion is to stop the violence and not enable it. Does putting a gun in the hands of teachers really solve the problem or increase the risk of more violence?
I support legislation to prohibit access to military weapons and clips that can fire scores of bullets within a minute. But the bottom-line questions in this debate are how much do we value life and how many more young lives are we willing to accept as victims of gun violence in schools before we are prepared to take decisive action to protect children and adult lives versus cherishing the constitutionally guaranteed freedom to own and carry guns?
We are living in an era of American life when we, along with our nation's leaders, are making all kinds of difficult choices about our finances, our military commitments and the safety of our schools. Is it not time to make those hard choices? We need new ideas, and we need parties on all sides of the question to sit together and be open to what is best for the children. One suggestion I have is to speak to the clergy who have had to sit with distraught families in the unthinkable situation of learning that their children had been shot and killed in a school. The clergy of Newtown, in particular, worked together and distinguished themselves in providing the steady presence and support to these bereaved families. How would they answer this vexing question of choosing life?
It is clear there are enough advocates for guns because of the Second Amendment, but where are the voices for children and teachers? In Deuteronomy, God instructed Moses to charge the Israelites to "choose life' in accepting the covenant between God and Israel.
Are we ready to make a choice and guide public policy on the value that preserving the lives of children and teachers in schools is of greater value than owning a .22-caliber pistol or a semiautomatic Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle?
I urge us all to pray on this matter and make a choice: Is there really a middle ground in this question when it comes to saving lives?
Columnist Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.