Catalyst for Change or Bucket of Cold Water?
OpinionFrom Where I Sit

Catalyst for Change or Bucket of Cold Water?

History suggests that the passion after the Parkland school shooting will fade before much happens.

Dave Schechter

Dave Schechter is a veteran journalist whose career includes writing and producing reports from Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The prevailing sentiment on a network conference call after the December 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was that revulsion at this particular slaughter of innocents — the dead included 20 boys and girls ages 6 and 7 — would compel Congress to pass legislation to restrict Americans’ access to guns.

The bucket of cold water was thrown by the Washington bureau chief, who said, “Folks, that’s just not going to happen.”

He was right.

Cartoon by RJ Matson, CQ Roll Call

In time, the public fervor faded and — impassioned advocates aside — the nation moved on, as it has after every mass casualty shooting, including those in schools.

Will the bloodshed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., be a catalyst for change?

If the faces of those slain first-graders in Connecticut didn’t move the needle, I’m not sure what will.

The number of guns in this country approaches (and by some estimates exceeds) the U.S. population, currently pegged at 323 million.

Countless millions of words have been written in the aftermath of Parkland. I expect to read many of them again because, as sure as I write this column, another school and another community will be added to the roll.

At Stoneman Douglas, five of the 17 killed — four students and a teacher — were Jewish.

“I think you can say that the whole area is like one big shiva house right now,” a local rabbi said at the start of his sermon.

That feeling extended beyond Florida.

My brother the rabbi reports that turnout for the Friday night service at his Conservative congregation in New Jersey was larger than usual and that, especially among the parents of school-age children, the Parkland tragedy was the subject of conversation before and after worship.

Rabbi Brad Levenberg, Camp Coleman Director Bobby Harris and Bunzl Family Cantorial Chair Beth Schafer lead a Facebook Live healing service Thursday night, Feb. 15, in response to the Parkland shooting. (Screen grab from Facebook)

The grief is acute for the Camp Coleman community, as 14-year-old Alyssa Alhadeff had attended the Reform movement’s camp in Cleveland, Ga., last summer and planned to return this year.

Every conceivable measure of pain and anguish was visible and audible in an interview Alyssa’s mother, Lori Alhadeff, gave to CNN.

“President Trump, you say what can you do. You can stop the guns from getting into these children’s hands! Put metal detectors at every entrance to the schools!” Alhadeff pleaded. “This is not fair to our families when our children go to school and have to get killed. I just spent the last two hours (making) the burial arrangements for my daughter’s funeral, who’s 14! President Trump, please do something. Do something! Action! We need it now. These kids need safety now.”

I reached out to Michael Balaban, the former chief development officer for the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, who has been the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Broward County for two years.

“It’s too soon to respond to the question of how the community is faring,” Balaban said midway through a weekend of funerals. “It is heartbreaking. While the community is providing counseling and tending to the grieving, perhaps the best therapy is converting the anger we feel into action. The loudest voices are coming from the survivors — the students who were witness to this horror. Our generation — our politicians, community leaders and each of us — have failed them. We failed to keep them safe, and they rightfully won’t stand for it anymore. They are standing up and demanding justice for the victims. They are demanding that their school won’t be known as a statistic but as the place where we moved from words like hope and prayers to actions that finally put an end to these horrific tragedies.”

Having seen their classmates gunned down and watched them die, the survivors at Stoneman Douglas have no patience for the “thoughts and prayers” of the drive-by political class.

In that vein, numerous people online have cited a New Testament verse from James 2:17, to the effect that faith, without works, is dead.

Maybe the teens in Parkland — and their peers around the country — can move the needle. But history suggests that they watch out for that bucket of cold water.

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