When a tragedy struck Rabbi Mimi Ferraro’s community, she was at a loss.
She received a call on a Sunday morning in August from a founding member of her shul, Congregation Tiferes B’nai Israel in Warrington, with devastating news: The woman’s 21-year-old granddaughter shot and killed herself.
“The van was there already [at the home]. It was a crime scene, they had the yellow [tape]. It was like what you see on television — it was horrible,” she recalled. “They were in total shock.”
The young woman obtained the shotgun from a friend of a friend, who had a license for it, so there is no legal liability over her death. She was found by her sister in her bedroom.
But her father is trying to make a petition to regulate the laws so this won’t happen to another individual battling mental health crises.
Ferraro, who joined the congregation three years ago, said the shock over the young woman’s death was heavy.
“This is not the stuff you sign onto to be a rabbi, but,” she paused, “this is the stuff you sign onto when you want to be a rabbi.”
She’s since been an aide to the family, providing emotional support, but she wanted to do something more hands-on.
“There are probably other people in the congregation who are touched by these kinds of tragedies,” she thought to herself. To bring more social justice issues to light in the small 60-family synagogue, she invited CeaseFirePA to speak Jan. 11, moderated by Executive Director Shira Goodman.
Goodman led an open discussion with about a dozen attendees — which consisted of people from both the political right and left — on the legalities and fine print of gun control in the state and the country.
CeaseFirePA’s main focus is expanding the Pennsylvania background check system to cover all firearm sales, requiring people to report lost or stolen guns, and keeping guns out of schools and off college campuses.
A new measure on the background check table might also ask people if they have a medical marijuana card, which would halt the gun-buying process — yet there is no check for prior opioid use.
“It’s overinclusive and underinclusive with mental health,” Goodman said. “So it’s pretty easy to get a gun.”
From 2012 to 2014, Pennsylvania — an open-carry state — ranked eighth for the highest number of guns exported to other states and recovered in crimes, according to CeaseFirePA, totaling 5,844 guns.
Chuckles of disbelief and nods of recognition were steady throughout the talk when Goodman explained in detail where the laws are limited and lacking.
While some attendees were clearly anti-gun — including Republican Rep. Tom Murt of the 152nd Legislative District, who served in Iraq and voiced his support for the Second Amendment but disapproval of civilians owning assault rifles — one other attendee in a red “Make America Great Again” hat said he favored his right to carry for his personal security.
“We always have to be talking to our representatives and the people who want to run and making this an issue not just when there’s a mass shooting, but all the time,” Goodman noted. It’s also a matter of being educated on the facts on national and state levels, she said, through discussions like this one in people’s own communities where they feel more comfortable.
The advocacy group pledges gun lobbying, but Goodman emphasized the organization is not anti-gun, but rather anti-gun violence. And Jews are not immune.
“In the Jewish community especially, people think that’s somebody else’s problem. But then you come to a synagogue and you hear about a suicide or you hear somebody who lost somebody in a crime,” she said. “Then you remember the Kansas City JCC shooting, the Los Angeles day care shooting. You realize as Jews, we’re also targets.”
Though a controversial subject of consistent opposing views, Goodman remains hopeful through discussions like this one, where people may learn facts they weren’t aware of before.
From this meeting, Ferraro plans to get even more involved in the advocacy in a bigger way.
“I would like to see if we can move this to the next level,” Ferraro added, “and start doing some advocacy work, just individuals calling their representatives. Maybe go to Harrisburg for a day. I don’t know where this will take us, but we’ll see. I’m hoping it will ignite some fire under people to get them to want to be more socially involved.”