It’s time to start building fences around our dangerous things

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/CeaseFire Chicago

By Matt Golden
Director, Jewish Community Relations Council

We are in a time of crisis. 

As I write this on, less than two weeks have passed since a man walked into the Old National Bank, here in our hometown, and killed five people. According to news sources, he left two notes, one in his home and one on his person. In those notes, according to the same sources, he wrote that he wanted to demonstrate how easy it was for a mentally ill person to buy a gun.     

That was just a few days after a person walked into a Nashville  school and killed three little children and three adults who worked to educate them. Police authorities indicate that the killer was being treated for an emotional disorder, but no motive has been disclosed. The three children, all age 9, had names: Hallie, Evelyn and William. Their caregivers, all over 60, had names, too: Katherine, Cynthia and Michael. 

Just a week after the killings at the Old National Bank, there was another mass shooting here in Louisville at Chickasaw Park, which left two men dead and four wounded. No motive has been determined and the killer or killers have so far escaped with impunity. The two people killed were named David and Deaji. David was only 17.     

Sara Klein Wagner and I, together with Rabbis Ben Freed and Joshua Corber and several other Jewish folks, joined people from all walks and attended several of the memorials and vigils organized across our city after the Old National Bank killings. We listened to Rabbi Beth Jacowitz Chottiner speak and recite Kaddish. We heard the pain in our city. Then, just five days later on April 15, the Chickasaw Park mass shooting happened. And on that very same day across our country, there were six other mass shootings, leaving 10 dead and 55 wounded. Every person shot or killed had a name.   

In 2023 alone as of April 23, there have been 173 separate “mass shooting” incidents in America. No fewer than 234 people have been killed and 699 others have been wounded. There have been so many of these terrible incidents, it’s difficult to keep track of them without prompting. Do you remember the killings in Monterey Park, California, where 11 mostly elderly Asian people were killed at a dance studio while celebrating the Lunar New Year festival? Or perhaps the Haight family murder in Enoch, Utah where seven people were killed, mostly little children? Or the seven elderly immigrant farm workers killed in Half Moon Bay? Or the shooting spree in Arkabulta, Mississippi where a man, angry at his ex, murdered her and then randomly killed five others who happened to be in his path? Many of these mass shootings were perpetrated by family members who chose to kill their own relatives, including their children. 

And those are just what are categorized as “mass shootings,” typically defined as three or more people killed in a single incident. In 2022, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled data on the previous year’s suicides and homicides by gun. The CDC determined that 26,328 people chose to end their lives with a gun and 20,958 more had their lives ended by a gun. For suicides, according to Everytown Research, a person is three times more likely to kill themselves if they have access to a firearm.   

In America, car accidents used to be the leading cause of death for children under 19. That grim statistic changed in 2020, when gun related deaths took over that unenviable top spot. There are about 250 million cars in our country and 400 million guns. But there is one critical difference between vehicular deaths and homicide deaths: The overwhelming majority of auto related deaths were accidental. The same cannot be said for gun deaths — someone intentionally took their own life or intentionally took the life of another.    

One of my favorite Jewish authors is Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, of blessed memory. He had a habit, when confronted with what he called a great “challenge,” of sitting down with his colleagues and studying Torah together. They let the text speak to them of how to appropriately surmount an obstacle. Now I’m no rabbi, and I’m certainly no Rabbi Sacks, but there is wisdom in his method.   

A text comes to mind:    

“When you build a new house, you shall make a guard rail for your roof, so that you shall not cause blood in your house, that the one who falls should fall from it.” Deut. 22:8.  

Seems pretty logical. If you’re going to have a dangerous thing — and the Torah by implication would say it is acceptable to have dangerous things — make sure that you are building up fences around it so as to not cause unnecessary harm.  

Let’s start small. If we own guns, secure them. Do what the Torah commands and build a fence around them. Lock guns and store them apart from ammunition. According to the same Everytown research quoted above, an estimated 54% of American homes do not secure their firearms. And in 80% of school shootings where the shooter is under 18, the child shooter obtained the unsecured weapon from their family home or the home of a friend. Likewise, child suicides would be reduced if we locked our weapons. A child aged 5-18 is three times more likely to die by gun suicide in a house with unsecured firearms, according to the Society for Research in Child Development. With an estimated 200,000 to 500,000 guns stolen annually – and with a substantial number of these stolen weapons being used in gun crimes — poorly secured weapons are leading to more violence on the street. There is simply no excuse for an unsecured weapon. Let’s make that a rule in our homes and a law on our books. s

  It’s time to start building fences around our dangerous things.   


Matt Golden is a lawyer and the Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.   In his opinion, the JCRC is the most august body in the Jewish Community, seeking justice and doing tikkun olam.  He is admittedly very partial and biased in this regard.  He invites comments, suggestions or good stories at mgolden@jewishlouisville.org.      






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