Urgent And Imperative

Vincent DeMarco addresses  congregants at Temple Solel in Bowie. The anti-gun advocate wants to see the state ban on assault weapons reinstated.  (Leon Steinberg)

Vincent DeMarco addresses
congregants at Temple Solel in Bowie. The anti-gun advocate wants to see the state ban on assault weapons reinstated.
(Leon Steinberg)

Vincent “Vinny” DeMarco likes to tell the story of his upbringing in an Italian-Jewish neighborhood in New Jersey, where he gained entrance into an AZA function by saying he was Vinny DeMarcowitz. But when he recounted this recently while talking about gun-violence prevention at Bowie’s Temple Solel, he did not need to “Judaicize” his Italian moniker before his audience of about 40 congregants.

DeMarco, a Baltimore resident, is already well known to lawmakers and political activists for his work as a health advocate through Maryland Health Care for All: The Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative and as a proponent of using proceeds from tobacco taxes to curtail smoking. But the purpose of his talk earlier this month was not about health care but about gun violence and the legislation needed to prevent it.

Most guns used in street crimes and violence, DeMarco said, were recently purchased, and by making it harder for more guns to get out on the streets “you turn off or turn down the spigot and you save lives.”

DeMarco wants the state ban on assault weapons, which expired in 2004, reinstated. He also wants a restriction on the capacity of ammunition clips and an expansion of background checks to gun shows and private sales.

DeMarco’s talk came just days before Gov. Martin O’Malley introduced legislation to ban assault weapons and large-capacity magazines and enact a comprehensive licensing system for handgun buyers. He recently joined New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a two-day conference on gun violence at Johns Hopkins University that called for similar initiatives along with expanding conditions for firearms purchase and funding research.

At the same time, two new statewide campaigns were launched to urge Maryland legislators to curb gun violence. One of them, Smart Gun Laws Maryland, will advance the governor’s agenda.

“These are reasonable and common-sense measures,” said Ed Hatcher, director of the new group. “We want to build the political will so that these proposals do not get watered down and are passed into law.”

DeMarco is leading Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence, a broad-based coalition that includes faith-based, public health and public safety officials to advocate for comprehensive measures aimed at preventing gun violence. The coalition will support what it calls “common-sense measures to reduce gun violence,” which essentially mirror O’Malley’s proposals.

Baltimore Jewish Council’s Dr. Arthur Abramson is a board member of the group. He told the JT, “Gun violence is one of the most pressing problems facing this country and certainly the citizens of Maryland. We must make sure that our citizens are safe. … I believe strongly that there is more to do, and we can do it. Staying within the parameters of the courts and the Second Amendment, we believe that the legislative package offered by Gov. O’Malley to stem gun violence is a superb beginning.”

Other Jewish leaders feel similarly and plan to take action this legislative session. Some already have.

On Jan. 14, a group of faith leaders sent a plea to both President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden to address gun violence. The plea, which came in the form of a letter, stated: “We endorse reasonable steps taken to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of dangerous people through measures such as ensuring and enforcing universal background checks for gun purchases, collection and publication of relevant data on gun violence, and other constructive measures that will limit gun violence.”

The letter was spearheaded by the Rabbinical Assembly’s Rabbi Julie Schonfeld and organized by Susan Stern of the Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and Rabbi David Saperstein of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

A letter sent to Vice President Biden’s task force on guns by Rabbi Abba Cohen of Agudath Israel of America supported the need for security hardware such as cameras, metal detectors and barricades. Cohen said that budget cuts have made federal school safety assistance “virtually nonexistent.”

Also on Jan. 14, B’nai B’rith’s International Executive Committee passed a formal resolution that called for a ban on assault weapons, as well as a limit on ammunition magazine capacity. The group also issued a statement praising President Obama for his plans to introduce a legislative package to reduce gun violence.

The next day, 47 religious leaders gathered in Washington as Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence. Those who turned out included representatives from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Jewish Reconstructionist Movement, the Rabbinical Assembly, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and Women of Reform Judaism. They called for similar legislative action and spoke of a need to improve the way people with mental illnesses are helped.

“Gun-violence prevention is a moral issue,” said DeMarco. “There is power here to get it done. We are going to succeed.

Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence represents 80 million Americans.

On Jan. 16, Lori Weinstein, executive director of Jewish Women International, issued a statement in support of “President Obama’s bold leadership on reforming gun laws in an effort to reduce gun violence in our nation.”

Rachel Laser, deputy director of the Religious Action Center, said that there has been “enough pain, enough despair, enough injustice. Let us learn from our grief and the errors of the past and resolve in this very moment to do better.”

Religious leaders will mobilize congregants to join in an Interfaith Call to Prevent Gun Violence on Feb. 4. Citizens are being asked to call their representatives in Congress and ask that they be “held accountable for the safety of our communities.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) expressed his support for an assault-weapons ban and prohibition of high-capacity ammunition clips. He said he will be an original co-sponsor of the Assault Weapons Regulatory Act of 2013, which Sen. Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) plans to introduce.

“Despite lobbying efforts to the contrary, we can protect our children while still protecting the Constitutional rights of legitimate hunters and existing gun owners,” Cardin said.

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