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Jewish groups renew their call for gun control after L.A. shooting

WASHINGTON, Aug. 11 (JTA) — This week’s shooting rampage at a Jewish community center in California has prompted renewed calls for stricter gun control laws. Although few believe sweeping changes can be enacted, even in the wake of the string of assaults across the country, some U.S. lawmakers and gun control advocates say it is time for Congress to act on pending legislation that would impose some restrictions on gun sales. The Senate has already passed a juvenile justice bill that would subject individuals purchasing guns at gun shows to background checks; ban the import of magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds; and require that trigger locks or other safety devices be sold with handguns. But the House of Representatives, following a fierce lobbying effort by the National Rifle Association, rejected those proposals in June. In the wake of Tuesday’s shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center near Los Angeles, which wounded five, some Jewish activists are taking lawmakers to task. “Congress’ inaction has left loopholes in our gun control laws, but more importantly it has fostered the culture of violence that spawns tragic and potentially tragic events every week,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. “We must both mitigate the availability of guns and work to mend our society, to create a nation where violence is not tolerated,” he added. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, an umbrella body, said in an advisory sent to its member organizations that recent events “underscore the vital importance of enacting vigorous gun control measures to keep arms out of the hands of individuals who threaten the safety of our children and all members of society.” Jewish leaders slated to meet with President Clinton on Thursday are likely to discuss the need for gun control measures, as well as concerns about the recent spate of anti-Semitic attacks from California to Illinois. President Clinton on Tuesday called the California attack “another senseless act of gun violence.” But he stopped short of calling for new gun legislation, saying only, “It calls on all of us not only to give our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, but to intensify our resolve to make America a safe place.” Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said in an interview on the cable network MSNBC, “It’s about time that this nation come to grips with what’s happening. I don’t believe anymore that these are isolated incidents. “What we have seen is a kind of trickle down of a society that is awash in guns, and the guns are riddled throughout our society. They are easy to obtain, and anyone who is deranged or has a grievance can get one of these high powered weapons and go out and do their thing.” Feinstein, who became mayor of San Francisco after Mayor George Moscone was shot dead in 1978, vowed to introduce new legislation to “license every single handgun and every weapon in this nation, much like you would register an automobile.” “We have a crisis on our hands,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.). “The crisis is guns that are too easily obtained by people who shouldn’t get them. These mass shootings used to occur maybe once every few years. Now they occur once every few weeks. I hope we don’t have to start saying once every few days. “I pray that this time Congress wakes up and then stands up to the gun extremists to make this country safe again for children,” he added. Some gun control advocates are not optimistic. “How many of these incidents do we need as a nation to get out of our self-denial?” asked Tom Diaz, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Violence Policy Center and author of “Making a Killing: The Business of Guns in America.” Diaz, a former self-described “gun nut” who has made a 180-degree turn in recent years while also converting to Judaism, said he believes politicians lag behind the public in their attitude toward guns. “Politicians are so paralyzed by indecision because they’re not confident that things have changed, and I think that the people in this country are rapidly changing their view about guns,” he said. “That’s the only hope I see in this.” Meanwhile, even if Congress acts on pending gun legislation after it returns from its August recess, it would not significantly alter the status quo, activists say. “The talk of gun control on Capitol Hill is for minor changes,” said Reva Price, the JCPA’s Washington representative. “If we can’t even get through minor changes, contemplating anything bigger just isn’t going to happen unless people really let their members of Congress know their position on it.” Diaz agreed. “None of the legislation that is pending really takes head-on the question of gun proliferation,” he said. “Until we engage that problem at a much deeper level, we’re doing bells and whistles and little doodad laws.”