On Tuesday June 3rd, the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Safety held a hearing on House Speaker DeLeo’s gun violence prevention bill. Large numbers of supporters and opponents of the bill packed the auditorium.  JCRC – which has dedicated significant staff resources to support organizing and advocacy efforts this year – was there to support the bill along with our partners in the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.

Testimony was presented by many of JCRC’s members and partners including families impacted by gun violence, JALSA director Sheila Decter, and synagogue organizing leaders.  I had the privilege of being on a panel with leaders from faith communities including our partners at Greater Boston Interfaith Organization and from the Episcopal Diocese.  The following is excerpted from my testimony:

My name is Jeremy Burton and I am the Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.  JCRC represents a network of forty-two organizations that together, with some 130 synagogues and our members, comprises the organized Jewish community in greater Boston.  Over the past few years our community has, together with our partners here today, seen a groundswell of support for meaningful action to prevent gun violence.

We are grateful to the chairmen, Representative Naughton and Senator Timilty, and to Speaker DeLeo, for the time you and the committee have given over the past year to listening and to studying this issue and to presenting a thoughtful bill.

Much has been said by some during today’s hearing about the idea of freedom.

I am reminded that the last time we gathered together in this room for a hearing on gun violence prevention, it was the eve of Yom Kippur last September.  Note was made of the significance of that timing.  This afternoon we again gather on the eve of a Jewish holiday and as our community prepares to mark Shavuot this evening, I am mindful of the lessons of this day for understanding the idea of freedom.

Shavuot marks the receiving of the law at Sinai by Moses and the people. It is a celebration of the rule of law and the social contract that binds a society. This holiday is also called the Feast of Weeks, a name that connects it to Passover, seven weeks ago, when we celebrated freedom.  Our perception of this connection, between social contract and freedom, between two ideas at the core of a civil society, is explained by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks (former chief rabbi of England). He writes:

“If freedom means only that I can do what I want, then my freedom will inevitably conflict with yours.”

“Rules and institutions aim at creating a social order of independent human beings linked by kinship and compassion.”

Ladies and gentlemen: Our freedoms cannot be understood without connecting them to the social contract and the laws that you write in this building.

My freedom to own a gun cannot be held outside of a relationship to your freedom to walk the streets of Boston free from fear and violence. My Second Amendment rights cannot exist without a social order connecting to all the other rights and freedoms in our Constitution.

The freedoms that we experience in our society, that are protected by the laws you write, these freedoms can only be protected through a social contract between us all.  We need you to act to preserve and protect all our freedoms so that we can walk the streets in safety, so that we can realize the promise of a civil society where we are not just free individuals but where we can live together.

JCRC supports the Speakers’ bill that is before you. We urge you to bring this bill to the floor and we look forward to supporting its passage and to the Governor signing it. We thank you for your continued leadership to help prevent gun violence in our communities and to ensure all of our freedoms.

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