A Radical Concept: Human Lives Are More Valuable Than Guns

I never thought I would say it, but I am glad my grandfather was not here to see this.

My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor, liberated, along with his brothers, from the concentration camp Buchenwald in Weimar, Germany on April 11, 1945. His mother died in Bergen-Belsen and his sister was murdered in Treblinka, but the rest of his siblings were fortunate enough to survive. Following his liberation he could not return to his native Poland, due to raging violence against Jews at the hands of the far right Polish underground. Despite his original intentions to end up in Palestine, my grandfather soon found himself living in the United States where he grew his family.

 

At the time of my grandfather’s death on June 5, 2018, the United States had seen a resurgence of the Nazi agenda, with so-called neo Nazis marching in the streets of America, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” He died in a time when an American president would make thinly-veiled anti-Semitic remarks. What he did miss, however, was the October 27 shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which claimed the lives of eleven Jews.

 

I never thought I would say it, but I am glad my grandfather was not here to see this.

 

Robert Gregory Bowers allegedly entered the synagogue at 9:50 a.m. and shouted “All Jews must die!” before unloading fire from an AR-15 onto the morning service. Among his victims were cherished community members- a doctor, family members, and a Holocaust survivor.

 

This concept, to me, is baffling. The idea of surviving the worst genocide of Jewish people in our existence, only to be murdered by someone who espoused the same anti-Semitic rhetoric in a country that once seemed a safe haven from the violent opposition of Jews is disturbing and so tragically ironic.

 

This attack on the Jewish community has been an eye-opening realization that anti-Semitism is still alive and well. This in itself comes as no surprise. Anti-Semitism has increased drastically following the post-2016 shift towards election of far right populists.  In a survey carried out by the Anti Defamation League, nearly one on four adults surveyed harbors anti-Semitic beliefs today.

 

An attack on my community, a signifier of the existing hatred that remains prevalent today, left me feeling exhausted and upset, which was only exacerbated by another attack on a different community I hold close to my heart.

 

The city of Thousand Oaks was left reeling after a gunman murdered 12 people inside the Borderline Bar and Grill on November 7. Thousand Oaks, which lies 40 minutes from downtown Los Angeles, is a place I pass every time I drive to and from school. It is how I know I’m almost home. The attack, which was carried out during a college night, and the bar was filled with students from the local universities.

Seeing such frequent episodes of mass gun violence has left me feeling so incredibly disenfranchised, especially attacks against communities that feel so close to me. Mass shootings occur so frequently in the United States that at this point I know multiple people who have lost friends, neighbors and mentors in these highly public mass shootings, like Parkland and Borderline.

 

I have started to notice my ease here in the UK, in places where I would normally feel on edge at home in the US. I don’t feel the compulsive need to stay alert at the movie theater or in the club. I don’t feel the immediate urge to locate every emergency exit or ask myself where the best place to hide would be. Active shooter drills aren’t even a concern.

I really wish I could explain America’s gun culture, and its vehement refusal to value human lives over the right to own a firearm. After a mass shooting in 1996, the UK banned many times of guns and tightened background checks. Today the rate of gun ownership in the UK is 6.5 guns for every 100 people. The US, which has had a mass shooting for nearly every day of the year, has a rate of 101 guns for every 100 people.

 

The toxicity of rallying around the Second Amendment has justified these horrific mass shootings for years. At this point I don’t see the United States willingly making change or pushing for sensible gun laws any time in the near future, but hopefully they will follow the UK’s example.

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