Brad Hirschfield Live: What do we need most in the wake of the shootings in Newtown?

Dec 20, 2012

What are the best responses to the mass murder in Connecticut, and subsequent agony we feel as a nation?

The nation is still reeling from the shooting massacre in Newtown, Conn., last week, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Authorities said the gunman Adam Lanza also fatally shot his mother before coming to the school and later killed himself.

Is this a moment for legal action? Political action?

Is this a moment to focus on human healing before we embark on any other responses?

Shouldn't we avoid politicizing these events, at least in the initial days following the tragedy? Or is now the perfect time for politics? Let me know what you think.

Brad Hirschfield will live chat with readers at 1 p.m. ET about this topic.

Submit questions and opinions for Brad to respond to now.

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What do we most need at this moment -- not even a week after the massacre in Newtown, CT?  I find it hard to accept that the answers to that question, can be found in specific policies and regulations. 


Don't get me wrong, I want to see that too, but is now the moment for that conversation?  Based on your initial responses to today's discussion, most of you think that the answer is "yes".  Maybe so.  Either way, we will spend the next hour trying to make some sense of how best to move forward, both as individuals and as a nation.


Let's get started.

some of the billons that have gone down the Homeland Security rabbitt hole can be used to better secure schools and other gov. offices (OK City federal bldg.) we are used to good security at banks, surgical floors, most NYC office lobbies, corporate offices, Congress. it won't terrorize us to face more scrutiny entering schools, and added employment for school officers (and laid-off teachers) is a good place for Homeland's kitty.

That Homeland Security has wasted a great deal of money, is something on which we agree.  That we could do more to secure our schools, is also something about which we agree.  That the kind of security provided at banks, hospitals, and certainly in the NYC office building you mentioned, is any kind of model for securing our schools or preventing last week's massacre, is something about which we do not agree.


None of the examples you sited would be terribly effective in the face of a detrmined murderder armed with multiple semi-automatic weapons equipped with high volume magazines.  Furthermore, the larger, if less obvious, challenge when it comes to securing our schools, lies in the weapons that come in every day -- carreid by students.  But I am not sure that any of that matters right now.


I keep returning to the sense that there is something misguided about policy debates being conducted while many of the dead have yet to be burried.  We will have lot's of that policy conversation today, I can see that, but I hope not at the expense of the compassion that is most centrally needed at this particualr moment.

I feel that reducing access to powerful guns would help solve part of the problem, but that is easier said than done. I read that there were more than 250 million guns owned by US citizens. Making gun ownership or sales illegal would likely NOT be able to reduce the number of guns that people already own. And, I totally disagree with anyone who says we would be better off if more people carried guns. I would be more afraid of walking around if I knew that everyone had a gun. One moment of anger could quickly become deadly. I feel much safter knowing that words and fists are the strongest weapon the average person has on hand.

You are right, on many levels.  Reducing the sale of certain kinds of weapons, while probably helpful, would not address the MORE THAN 250 million guns already on the street.  In fact, there are 89 guns for every 100 Americans.  To put an image with that, you need to picture that there are enough guns so that even most babies could have one in their cribs!  However one feels about gun control, that should be a hard image to make sense of.


We agree about feeling less, not more, safe in a society where everyone walked around armed, but you have pointed out a central feature of the real conversation we need, and it isn't, at least for now, simply about policy or law.  It is about safety, and what makes us feel safe in the world.  Ironically, that is what both many of the most ardent supporters of gun ownership AND most of the most ardent supporters of gun control, both want.


We need to talk about safety, and how we each feel it and need to feel it, and only then can we make policy which will actually have some real impact and have a chance of getting through Congress.

I was struck by the emotion and composure of the family and the rabbi associated with the Rosen boy. That prayer was searing, as were the homilies. Those ppl honored his memory in memorable ways. (Is there a translation for that tone poem or whatever it was....? What was he singing?) Signed - Catholic chick

The famiy to whom you are erefering is named Pozner, not Rosen.  And believe me, I am not trying to be picky.  I just think that getting their name right, given the loss of one who carries their name, is important.


You are right about the composure and dignity they displayed, but I would not confuse that with what was going on on the inside, nor would I say that composure is necessarilly more dignified than screaming out in utter agony, or any response in between.


The prayer you mentioned is called in Hebrew, El Malei Rahamim, or in English, God Full of Compassion.  It is the traditonal memorial prayer chanted at Jewish funerals and on the anniversary of a loved one's death.  It's generally hard for me to expeerience God as merciful at a funeral, and pretty darn near impossible when the casket is so tiny, but I think of it as a prayer that we experience Divine compassion at exactly the moment we need it most.

I'm lost -- I don't think I have had the same gut-wrenching, laying awake at night, nauseous feeling since 9/11. Every time I try to wrap a present, or want to yell at my kids, or want to complain about something tears come to my eyes. What the heck is it going to take to change this world?

I am with you.  For me, now is a moment to hold those we love close, to expand the circle of those who feel our love, to offer a sense of security to those who are scared, and compassion to those who are wounded.  That, much more than policy debate, is where we need to be -- at least until all of the dead are burried.


If it is true, and I think it is, that all it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, then I believe it is also true that decency can win out if good people simply commit to do something.  There is no act to small or insigificant when it comes to making a difference, not over the long haul, and certainly not for the one person that is touched by that supposedly small act.  My experiecne is that for the one who is positively impacted, the act is quite large.

I feel that we need to find ways to report and offer support to people who seem dangerous or unstable before they commit such a terrible act. All too often, it seems that there are stories of someone who tried to obtain a restraining order being killed because the other person had not yet committed a crime. While I would hate to see someone detained after being falsely accused, there needs to be a way to let people report their suspicions.

You are right, both to feel that more could be done to head off some of these tragedies before they occur, and you are right about the serious downsides of creating a culture of guilt by suspicion and ending our premise that people are innocent until proven guilty.  At such moments it is tempting to minimize those downsides, but I pray that in our panic and pain we do not do so.

These shootings didn't happen when there was prayer in school. I recognize that there are extremists on both sides of this issue, those on the right believe in mandatory prayer, those on the left would expel children for praying, but couldn't those of us in teh middle settle on a plan for school prayer that would make us all safer?

These shootings didn't happen when we had racial segragation either, would you like to bring that back as well?  I assume that the answer is "no", and that the larger point you are making is that we need schools to be places which do more than simply transmit information -- that they be places which nurture kids spirits and cultivate compassion and virtue.  About that we agree.  I am not at all certain that public school prayer is the best way to do that, but I appreciate your larger concern.

You've asked this question, implying that we do not need a policy discussion, but something else. Yet, most of your writers, myself included, feel we do need a policy discussion. I fully respect that family members, friends, and others -- you included -- might need something else. A moment of silence. Prayer. A renewed commitment to our fellow man and woman. All valid for each individual. But for society, we do not need a kumbaya moment. We need action.

This has nothing to do with what you call a "kumbaya moment".  though how anyone can so quickly dismiss the centrality of comforting each other in the face of such horror is itself pretty disturbing. 


Your sense that renewed committment to each other is a purely individual act is simply wrong.  That ability is every bit as much a societal and cultural issure as the "action" for which you advocate.  What you fail to realize, I think is that your advocacy is simply another way to comfort yourself.  We need them all, but the order in which we do them can make all of the difference in the world.

What we need is going to be a difficult thing to accomplish in our society. The easy solution that the President and others are leaning toward is not going to work. We somehow have to deal with mental health issues and somehow change the privacy laws. Each of these killings has had a mentally ill shooter and they were known to have problems. Our laws make it impossible to get them help if the do not want it; don’t know if Mrs. Lanza tried to get her son help, however it is next to impossible. He was an adult and you can’t force treatment. We have people living in the streets, many of them again would be able to function if they were force to get treatment.

You are certainly right about the importance of addressing mental health issues, but it's not either/or, as I think the President has made very clear.  And in all candor, since nobody knows what legislation would actually make us any safer, at least in the short run, all forms of advocacy are simply using this moment to propell a view which the advocate held prior to the murders last week. 


In other words, the more clear you are about what needs to be done now, the less impact the killings actually had on you.  If your really felt any measure of pain about what happened, then you would have to feel even a little bit frozen an uncertain about how to act, what new laws we need, etc.  Anything short of that, from either side of those who are most certain about what to do, sees the murders as a moment of political opportunity, and that is just not right.

I have never owned a gun, so I'm completely biased. But what I see from the NRA folks is a complete lack of trust in the government. They fear that if they ever let one single gun be banned, someday the government will ban them all. So as a result, they support guns (assault weapons) than can not be supported. (If you know a deer hunter that needs 50 rounds to kill a deer, let me know.) Finally reasonable gun owners (Joe Manchin, senator from West Virginia) have stepped up to help the cause. We need more people like him if we are ever to get rid of these killing machines.

I am biased too.  I think gun-ownership in this country is beyond out of control.  I think that we have come to confuse the preservation of a Constitutional right, with the preservation of forms of entertainment.  I think that in a country in which almost 9,000 people died because of gun violence last year alone, the problem we have is far bigger than assault weapons and mass murder, as horrific as that is.


But at the end of the day, if we do not address the animating fears on both sides of this issue, we will never make real progress in solving it.  Fighting about whcih policy can be pushed through at any given moment, and then typically allowed to fall by the wayside when THAT is the politcally expedient thing to do, gets us nowhere.  We need to re-think how we think about these issues, invite people to put their real fears and suspicions on the table, and start addressing them. 


Like you, I belive that if the fears were better addressed, the resulting policies would be both more durable and more impactful.

I will be expansive and say that beyond the 27 families directly affected, there are literally thousands of people in Newtown and via the extended networks of families and friends who are in need of healing and our support. For them, yes, allow, in your words, "a moment to focus on human healing." But for the rest of us -- oh, about 330 million -- it is time for action. In fact, given that this is the faith and morality chat, I am betting there is something in the Bible, Torah, or Koran that says something akin to, "If you see a crime and do nothing to stop its recurrence, you are complicit in the future crime." Action. Our moral responsibility is to take action. Political action.

You are simply mistaken about the clean division that you imagine exists between the personal and the socio-politcal.  Think I am wrong?  How many people are more sympathetic to gun control today than they were a week ago?  Answer, lots.  By the same token, the NRA signs up thousands of new members in the wake of these events and the call for greater gun controll which follows them.  In other words, we are all emotionally effected by such evetns, and in our emotion take politcal action -- a process which has accomplished little. 


As far as quoting sacred texts, my in box has become filled with messages from people quoting texts which justify gun control, and just about as many from other people quoting texts which demand that we not control individuals' access to weapons. 


Even the text you quote, which appears in the Hebrew Bible as "Do not stand by the blood of your brother, or it is upon you as well", gets used by both sides.  One, to proove that we must intervene and take weapons out of peoples' hands, and the other to proove that if we were all better armed, we could protect each other from criminals.


My experience is that moral action can only be taken when there is whole lot less of the morally sanctimony which animates the claimes of too many of those on each side of this issue.  Though to be clear, I do not mean you, or place anything you wrote in that category.

A five day waiting period for media grandstanding. If media outlets--and by this I really mean broadcast and cable TV news channels--agreed to only report absolutely confirmed facts and not interpret or allow others to interpret on their air, perhaps we could evolve the discourse with a little perspective. As long as we're dreaming...

Thank you for those words.  And in the words of a great politcal organizer from the 19th century, "If you will it, it is no dream". 

In other words, if enough of us would take your suggestion to heart, and really only pay attention to those in the media who followed them, the culture would change.  I hope that in today's conversation, I have lived up to the standard you suggested.

Well, it's been an emotional hour, and I don't see how it could have been otherwise.  I appreciate all your comments and questions, and whether we agree or not, think that especially at moments like this, we need to hear them all.  So, even more than as I always am, I am grateful for your participation.


We can continue the conversation if you friend me on facebook or follow me on twitter @bradhirschfield.


"Till next week,


In This Chat
Brad Hirschfield
Rabbi Brad Hirschfield is an author, radio and TV talk show host, and President of CLAL-The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. His On Faith blog, For God's Sake, explores the uses and abuses of religion in politics and pop culture. He wrote "You Don't Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism." Named as one of the nation's 50 most influential rabbis in Newsweek, and one of the top 30 "Preachers and Teachers" by, he is the creator of the popular series, Building Bridges, airing on Bridges TV, and co-host of the weekly radio show, Hirschfield and Kula: Intelligent Talk Radio. For more information see
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