Car­ol Zoref is the author of Bar­ren Island, which was Longlist­ed for the 2017 Nation­al Book Award for Fic­tion. She is blog­ging here all week as part of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s Vis­it­ing Scribe series.

Every time a mass shoot­ing takes place, great num­bers of Amer­i­cans hope that Con­gress will pass com­mon-sense gun laws.” How could they not? peo­ple ask. These were ele­men­tary school chil­dren. These were peo­ple at a prayer meet­ing, at a dance club, at a movie. Great num­bers of Amer­i­cans also wor­ry that Con­gress will pass gun laws which, they believe, would flout the Sec­ond Amend­ment. It is a vio­la­tion of my con­sti­tu­tion­al rights, peo­ple declare. I have the right to pro­tect my loved ones and myself. I have the right to bear arms.”

On only one thing do all agree: mass mur­ders are a bad thing. Yet, some­how, mas­sacres take place fre­quent­ly, most recent­ly in Las Vegas. In many cas­es, the per­pe­tra­tors acquire their weapons legal­ly. Are these mur­ders, there­fore, the respon­si­bil­i­ty sole­ly of the shoot­ers, or do we, as a nation that aspires to func­tion by the rule of law, some­how bear respon­si­bil­i­ty as well?

Every year at Yom Kip­pur ser­vices, we repeat aloud the Al Chet in the third-per­son plur­al. We have sinned against You… It is tempt­ing to protest that it makes no sense to con­fess to sins we did not com­mit. Why should we con­fess to the sin of swin­dling when we, in fact, have been swin­dled? Wouldn’t it make more sense to acknowl­edge our own actu­al acts of wrong­do­ing? Chant­i­ng the Al Chet, as I’ve come to under­stand it, is our col­lec­tive way of chal­leng­ing our­selves to take respon­si­bil­i­ty for and do bet­ter on behalf of every com­mu­ni­ty to which we belong, regard­less of our per­son­al short­com­ings. I might not have defraud­ed any­one, ever, but have I looked away when some­one else has? Did I, at the very least, tell my rep­re­sen­ta­tives in Con­gress that the TARP bailout in 2008 need­ed to be accom­pa­nied by the pros­e­cu­tion of sub­prime mort­gage sell­ers and oth­ers who will­ing­ly brought our finan­cial sys­tem to its knees? That some­one need­ed to go to jail?

Each group selec­tive­ly empha­sizes the claus­es of the Sec­ond Amend­ment that best sup­ports its posi­tion. The Nation­al Rifle Asso­ci­a­tion and its sup­port­ers, includ­ing some legal schol­ars, focus on the right of the peo­ple to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Mil­lions of oth­ers, includ­ing oth­er legal schol­ars, empha­size the open­ing clause, A well reg­u­lat­ed Mili­tia…,” point­ing out that a mas­sive­ly-armed indi­vid­ual in an expen­sive Las Vegas hotel is nei­ther well-reg­u­lat­ed nor a mili­tia. Regret­tably, pars­ing the lan­guage of the Sec­ond Amend­ment has not brought us any clos­er to com­mon cause or com­mon sense.

Renewed con­ver­sa­tions about the Sec­ond Amend­ment are guar­an­teed to get us nowhere unless we read the text through the lens­es of both com­mon sense and shared respon­si­bil­i­ty. Should peo­ple be able to pur­chase and own guns? While this is not a choice that I would make, I could not object were it done in a well-reg­u­lat­ed fash­ion, mean­ing through com­mon sense gun laws that remove mil­i­tary-grade arms from the pub­lic sphere. And it’s my respon­si­bil­i­ty to make that posi­tion known to every polit­i­cal can­di­date who wants my vote.

The sins of pre­med­i­tat­ed mur­der will nev­er dis­ap­pear. Sins nev­er do, which is why the Al Chet will nev­er be short­er. But few­er mass mur­ders and few­er deaths sound good to me. It’s the respon­si­bil­i­ty of all of us to make cer­tain that we move towards this goal in a man­ner that is respon­si­ble, respect­ful — mean­ing with com­mon cause — and dri­ven by com­mon sense.

Car­ol Zoref’s recent nov­el Bar­ren Island was Longlist­ed for the 2017 Nation­al Book Award for Fic­tion. It received the AWP Award for the Novel.

Orig­i­nal image via Flickr/​Talya Mod­lin

Car­ol Zoref is a fic­tion writer and essay­ist. Her nov­el Bar­ren Island received the A.W.P. Award for the Nov­el (Asso­ci­a­tion of Writer and Writ­ing Pro­grams). Her writ­ing has also appeared in The New York Times The Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor and more. She is on the fac­ul­ty of Sarah Lawrence Col­lege and also teach­es under­grad­u­ate fic­tion writ­ing at New York University.