President’s Gun Control Legislation Resonates With Local Jewish Community

Newly elected Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney commended President Barack Obama’s Jan. 5 executive order to enforce stricter gun regulations.


In the aftermath of President Barack Obama’s Jan. 5 executive order to enforce stricter gun regulations — including background checks for all firearms — members of the Philadelphia Jewish community lauded the president’s efforts to employ common-sense safeguards to stem the tide of deadly shootings in the United States.
President Obama’s executive order is meant to improve background checks on gun buyers, while boosting resources in community safety, mental health treatment and smart gun technology. The Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) is finalizing a rule requiring background checks for individuals trying to buy some of the most lethal weapons and other items through trusts, corporations or other legal entities.
Under current federal law, only federally licensed dealers must conduct background checks on buyers. There is no specification whether this applies to online sales or those trading guns in an informal setting.
Newly elected Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney commended Obama’s stance on gun control.
“He’s incredibly gratified to see the president doing something on this issue,” said Kenney spokesperson Lauren Hitt. “He was devastated in the days after Newtown” — on Dec. 14, 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. — “when Congress failed to take action. He feels this has given us all hope that change can happen. Illegal guns and a lack of meaningful gun control is a huge part of the reason there’s a shooting every six hours in Philadelphia.”
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, who attended the White House press conference, described it as an emotional event. The organization, which started in 2012, is a statewide coalition of mayors, police chiefs, faith leaders, community organizations and individual Pennsylvanians working together to take a stand against gun violence. Goodman and her colleagues have lobbied for stricter gun control. She feels this is a step in the right direction.
“It doesn’t solve all the problems,” she cautioned. “We’re excited about the idea to expand and improve the background system. I think the people felt inspired and energized and this is a great beginning.”
While praising Obama’s efforts, she said that more needs to be done at the state level. Pennsylvania, where people can buy a long gun — a category that includes shotguns and rifles — without a background check, is the perfect example. Goodman strongly believes this needs to be addressed.
“You’re never going to stop every person who wants to get a gun from getting one,” Goodman said. “Why should we make it easy for guys to get guns? We know we have a problem. We know how to solve it. We just need the courage to do it.”
She noted the new regulations would not reduce purchases, but would ideally keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people.
Rabbi Greg Marx, of Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, has worked with CeaseFirePA. He agrees that Pennsylvania needs to limit the ability for people to purchase rifles.
“I think that it is time for some sensible gun legislation to try to limit the devastation that is being wrought on this country,” he said.
Another organization that works closely with CeaseFirePA is the Jewish Social Policy Action Network, comprised of activists fighting for change and social action.
“We’ve long had a policy on gun violence and felt that the kinds of initiatives that the president took are in line with the things that we have been saying,” said JSPAN executive director George Stern. “We’ve been frustrated by the fact that Congress has not done anything on this.”
The key components of Obama’s executive order:
Background Checks 
  • Attorney General Loretta Lynch has sent a letter to states highlighting the importance of receiving complete criminal history records and criminal dispositions, information on persons disqualified because of a mental illness, and qualifying crimes of domestic violence.
  • The FBI is overhauling the background check system to make it more effective and efficient. The envisioned improvements include processing background checks 24 hours a day, seven days a week and improving notification of local authorities when certain prohibited persons unlawfully attempt to buy a gun. The FBI will hire more than 230 additional examiners and other staff to help process these background checks.
Making communities safer 
  • The attorney general convened a call with U.S. Attorneys General around the country to direct federal prosecutors to continue to focus on smart and effective enforcement of our gun laws.
  • The president’s 2017 budget proposal will include funding for 200 new ATF agents and investigators to help enforce gun laws.
  • ATF has established an Internet Investigation Center to track illegal online firearms trafficking. It is dedicating $4 million and additional personnel to enhance the National Integrated Ballistics Information Network.
  • ATF is finalizing a rule to ensure that dealers who ship firearms notify law enforcement if their guns are lost or stolen in transit.
Mental health treatment 
  • The Social Security Administration has indicated that it will begin the rulemaking process to include information in the background check system about beneficiaries who are prohibited from possessing a firearm for mental health reasons.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services is finalizing a rule to remove unnecessary legal barriers preventing States from reporting relevant information about people prohibited from possessing a gun for specific mental health reasons.
Gun Safety Technology 
  • President Obama has directed the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security to conduct or sponsor research into gun safety technology. He has also directed the departments to review the availability of smart gun technology on a regular basis, and to explore potential ways to further its use and development to more broadly improve gun safety.

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