| Washington Wrap |

Gun Control Is Back on the Agenda    

America's deadly gun laws aren't going to change soon 

The massacre of 19 fourth-graders in the Texas school shooting this week shocked and horrified us all. But even more disturbing is the notion that for all the “thoughts and prayers,” nothing will change, no new legislation or regulation on the issue of gun control will come out of this tragedy.

The ease with which one can buy a gun in America is a bone of fierce contention that has divided Congress for years, with the NRA’s aggressive lobbying managing to thwart most proposals for expanding background checks on prospective gun buyers. The last time Congress was brought to a standstill by the issue was after the Orlando nightclub shooting in June 2016. The terrorist, Omar Mateen, was able to purchase his firearms from a local gun shop two weeks before the shooting. The facts of the case sparked controversy, and Senate Democrats filibustered for 15 hours, demanding to change gun laws. But this too resulted in nothing, and reforms that would materially increase the difficulty of buying a firearm seem as unlikely as ever.

For reforms to pass in the Senate and avoid the filibuster would require 60 votes. The Democrats number just 50 senators, and there’s no chance of ten Republicans crossing the aisle—according to the Washington Post, 19 Republican senators received campaign donations from the NRA as of 2019. The result is that no crackdown on the proliferation of firearms is expected. As we confront another gun control stalemate, here are five takeaways.

1. What do gun control advocates want?

Everytown for Gun Safety has proposed the following reforms:

  • background checks on every gun buyer
  • enabling authorities to confiscate the firearm of anyone showing warning signs
  • preventing those with domestic violence records from owning a gun
  • a ban on assault weapons (such as AR-15s) and high-capacity magazines
2. What’s the counterargument?

The NRA and other gun rights advocates have two key responses — one ideological, the other practical.

The ideological point is that the right to bear arms is enshrined in the Constitution, which delineates the powers of the federal government. If the government can bear arms, civilians can too. This is an a priori argument rooted in personal liberties. Many Americans believe that in accordance with the balance of powers laid out in the Constitution, the federal government has no right to infringe on their personal liberties, one of which includes the right to bear arms.

The more practical point made by the NRA is that it isn’t the gun that kills, but the person pulling the trigger. If the right to bear arms is restricted, they say, those seeking to harm others will do so with a car, truck, or knife.

3. Jewish attitudes on gun control may be shifting

Historically, the Jewish community has been seen as staunchly supporting gun control. But this communal consensus is showing signs of breaking down. A JTA report pointed out that many Jewish organizations, including the JFNA (Jewish Federations of North America), made no mention of gun reform in their statements about the Texas shooting. There could be several reasons for this, including America’s growing polarization, which leads to every issue being seen through the lens of partisan politics. In addition, there have been growing calls for Jews to arm themselves in the wake of shootings at shuls in Pittsburgh, Poway, and Coleville, Texas.

4. The problem is not getting better

According to data from Public Citizen, 288 school shootings have occurred in America since 2009. How striking a figure is this? Well, Mexico was in second place with eight shootings. Most countries notched zero cases. Every day, 110 people are killed by guns in the US, an appalling figure by any account. At the same time, the proliferation of firearms in America (with more than one firearm per person) has made any talk of restrictions impractical.

5. How does Israel compare?

In Israel, owning a firearm is not so simple. Unlike in the United States, in Israel the right to bear arms is held exclusively by the government. To buy a gun in Israel, you first need to provide a compelling reason — such as living in a dangerous yishuv, working in a hazardous field of employment, etc. Then you need to get a license, which includes medical checks and a training course involving firing range practice and lessons in gun safety. And after all this, you’ll generally only be allowed to own a single pistol and 50 rounds of ammunition. What’s more, you have to go through the whole process every three years to renew your license. Illegal gun ownership in Israel is punishable by seven years’ incarceration.


Beltway Briefing

What happened in Washington and why it matters


Is this the end of the nuclear deal, or just the beginning?

Rob Malley, US special envoy on Iran, was very hawkish in the Senate hearing last Wednesday, and made several comments worth paying attention to. First, he revealed that the chances of a nuclear deal are now extremely low. Second, he promised that in the event a deal of some sort is reached, Congress will be enabled to review it, even if not to vote on it. Thirdly, he hinted that the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps would not be removed from the United States terrorist list after all. His diplomatic phrasing of this was: “If Iran maintains demands that go beyond the scope of the JCPOA, we will continue to reject them, and there will be no deal.”

This is a dramatic about-face for the administration, which has hitherto been seen as pursuing the Iranians. But does this kill the chances of a nuclear deal once and for all? Washington is far from convinced of this. In their assessment, Iran desperately wants to return to the deal so it can sell its oil to Europe and America and haul in $5 billion a month to save the faltering Iranian economy. Now that the administration has laid down its red lines, some think the Iranians will start pursuing the Americans, as they’ve been counting on sanction relief for some time and can’t afford to forgo it. But in any case, commentators warn that no breakthrough is expected immediately, and talks will remain frozen for the foreseeable future.


Saudi Arabia and Israel: Change on the Way?

Last week something interesting occurred: Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz arrived in Washington to visit National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan, a day after Saudi deputy defense minister Khalid bin Salman Al Saud dropped by to visit Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Many started speculating: Was this a mere coincidence, or something more? Commentators wondered whether this just meant that the two countries wished to express similar concerns to the administration — about Iran, say — or if it meant something more.

Reports by Axios have pointed to US attempts to advance normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia, in the hope of being able to make some announcement during President Biden’s visit to the region next month. And while all parties are keeping their lips sealed for now, twice in recent weeks I’ve heard Israeli ambassador to Washington Mike Herzog saying in public that Israel would like to normalize relations with Saudi Arabia (once at a Hebrew University gala, and again at a Jewish federation event).

Is this also coincidence, or is something happening behind the scenes? We’ll know the answer in a few weeks.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 913)

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