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Gunmakers could make 'tremendous difference'

One year after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, US gun violence continues unabated. European manufacturers compound the problem. Rabbi Joel Mosbacher talks to DW about his mission for change.

The father of Joel Mosbacher, a rabbi from New Jersey, was shot dead in a petty robbery in 1999. The anger stayed with his son, but he decided to use it wisely and got involved in the citizens' organizing network Metro IAF.

This year, he and other clergy from New Jersey started the "Do not stand idly by" initiative to reduce gun violence. A key demand is to get gunmakers to accept responsibility, and act accordingly.

The top manufacturers fueling US gun culture are all European. Mosbacher and other local clergy have therefore decided to raise awareness and confront the manufacturers in Europe. DW talked to Rabbi Mosbacher about his visit.

DW: Tell us what prompted you to start the campaign.

Joel Mosbacher: We need to act, in America and perhaps the rest of the world, on the issue of gun violence. We're losing 30,000 people a year to gun violence.

As we approach the anniversary of the Newtown massacre in Connecticut, these issues of gun violence affect us everyday. There's the equivalent of a Newtown massacre every day in the US, but most of those stories don't make the news.

Your campaign attempts to involve all sides, including the makers of guns, in the debate. Does that makes it unique?

Our organization, Metro IAF, has been looking for a different way to go at this issue. We see that Congress could certainly make a difference, but we also saw that gun manufacturers could make a tremendous difference.

Some states have very lax laws, and some have very restrictive laws. That's why we need a national campaign in the US. I'm from New Jersey, which has incredibly tough gun laws, but 90 percent of the guns used in crimes in New Jersey come from other states that don't have such tough gun laws.

Certain congresspeople seem to believe it would be okay for Americans to own rocket-propelled grenade launchers, others believe we should be taking back all 300 million guns in America. We think neither of those is a realistic prospect.

Gunmakers are there to make guns, so how can they contribute to reducing gun violence?

Rabbi Joel Mosbacher aus New Jersey

Mosbacher is seeking middle way to reduce gun crime

What we realized was that 40 percent of the guns purchased in the US are bought by the military and police. We've been trying to invite them into this campaign, to get them to purchase weapons in a different way.

In other words, they would be willing to say to the manufacturers, "we care about the social quality of the weapons we purchase."

Since 40 percent of weapons are purchased with our tax dollars, we are the customers, and we want better customer service.

What exactly would that entail?

We want [gunmakers] to distribute their products only through licensed dealers. It happens automatically with a lot of products in the US, but not with guns. Congress could require that to happen.

They could invest in research and development of smarter, safer gun technology. As we're going around Europe, we hear that technology exists already.

For example, I just bought a new cell phone, which can only be activated with my thumb prints. If it works for phones, it should certainly work for guns, so that someone like Adam Lanza, who was the perpetrator in Newtown, couldn't have been able to fire his mother's weapon.

Most of the weapons used in the US come from European companies - that is why you came to Europe this week.

Yes, Glock in Austria, Sig Sauer in Germany and Beretta in Italy are the providers of the vast majority of police and military weapons in the US. We've come to Europe to get meetings with these manufacturers.

What kind of response have you gotten from the gunmakers?

We didn't hear at all from Sig Sauer or Beretta. We have a team [this week] in Brescia in Italy, where Beretta is located, to deliver by hand a copy of the letter that we sent weeks ago asking for a meeting.

Glock sent us to their American lobbying organization, they said that's who we should speak to. They referred us specifically to the National Sports Shooting Foundation [NSSF - the trade association for America's firearms industry], which is Glock's lobbying arm in the US.

We've had no meetings so far. Glock says they don't need to do anything, they are following state law already.

One issue is surely costs?

We heard an interesting fact from the EU [during a meeting], that there are funds available to do research and development.

You met with EU officials, local religious leaders and mayors here in Europe - how was your campaign received?

Everywhere we've been - in Berlin, in Strasbourg, in Italy - the reception has been one of interest; of shock, frankly, that American police and military buy most of their weapons from Europe.

That's a surprising fact to most of the official faith leaders and there's interest - that we're onto something that could be viable, that could be a middle way.

You also had a meeting at the German Foreign Ministry and the Chancellery?

Yes, both representatives we talked to were sensitive to the ways and the locations to which guns are exported from Germany. Although, classically, America is not considered a country of crisis [which would give Germany reservations about exporting to], we began to help them see that there is a role for Germany to play in the ways it exports to us.

Germany is Europe's largest exporter, and the most powerful country, so we believe Chancellor Merkel could take a leading role among those who recognize the problems and act on them.

Overall, did you get the impression that gun violence concerns Europeans, or do they think it's an American issue?

We've heard from faith leaders and EU officials that gun violence is a rising issue here in Europe, they don't see it as an American issue, they see it as an international, moral issue.

There's also a kind of embarrassment that we've encountered from folks here about the depths to which European products are used - in some cases, for mass murder.

Joel Mosbacher was born and raised in suburban Chicago. He studied philosophy and Hebrew and Semitic studies at the University of Wisconsin. He was ordained as a rabbi in 1998 and served at temples in Atlanta, and has served in New Jersey since 2001. In 2006, he earned a doctorate of ministry with a focus on pastoral counseling.

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