The Jewish Belief in Self-Defense and America’s Gun Laws

December 21, 2012 2:42 pm 15 comments

2007 Houston Gun Show. Photo: wiki commons.

What the heck is it going to take to get an America to do something about its guns? For all that, I far prefer living in this dysfunctional society than I ever did in Europe. Still there is something sick and decadent in this country (yes, I agree, everywhere else too, mutatis mutandis).

It used to be said that every great society passes from barbarism to civilization and then decadence. The USA, the Europeans loved to say, was an example of going from barbarism to decadence without the intervening stage of civilization. Of course that’s unfair and wrong. The USA has achieved in most spheres far more than the old civilizations of Europe. But the way in which it has succeeded is different. America has done well, and badly, through a fighting pioneer spirit and a disregard for logic! It has conflicting values and freedoms. Religion and atheism, capitalism and unionism, legal indulgence and legislative restriction all thrive in a free society with rival ethnic communities, languages, and cultural norms.

America is no longer a predominantly white, religious society but it retains a quasi-religious belief in the right to carry guns even when it conflicts with logic and utilitarianism. Three hundred years ago when there was no proper police force, FBI, National Guard, or army on the American continent. People needed to defend themselves. They got around to banning witch-hunts in the seventeenth century, after all. Just because it was part of American life then, it didn’t have to be forever.

The awful killings at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, one more in the terrible list of successive massacres of innocents just continues the insane litany of irrational and preventable gun deaths. It is silly to say “guns do not kill, only people kill”. Of course! People kill with whatever tools are readily available. Americans are addicted to guns. They are everywhere. So people kill with guns. In Japan and China guns are all but unavailable. The day before the Sandy Hook massacre, a man walked into a school in China and stabbed eighteen children. Not one fatality. Can you imagine if he had had a gun?

There are nearly 300 million privately-owned guns in the USA, the highest concentration of private gun ownership in the world. Most are guns designed not for hunting but for killing humans. The per capita rate for murder by gun in America is nearly 100 times that of the United Kingdom. Each year in America, guns are used in approximately 70% of the 17,000 murders, and nearly 19,000 people commit suicide by shooting themselves to death. Almost half of all US households have a gun, and half of those households do not keep their guns locked up.

Children find guns at home and kill other children. Most gun deaths occur in homes and within families. Children die from gunfire in the United States at a rate 25 times higher than that of the 20 next largest industrial countries in the world combined. Since the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King in 1968, well over a million Americans, children and adults, have died from gunshots, and this continues at a rate 80 people per day, including those simply caught in gang warfare crossfire.

There are dangerous, sick, violent people everywhere. No country can claim a monopoly on them. But if you leave guns around they will use guns. And guns, the average American may be surprised to learn, do more damage than knives. Yet America refuses to act to restrict possession and usage. Neither Obama nor Romney campaigned for gun control. The Supreme Court regularly knocks down attempts to limit guns. The mayor of New York City and the governor of New York both plead for new laws, but Washington simply doesn’t care. Why? Is it THAT corrupt? People complain about the Jewish lobby. Some joke. Complain about the gun lobby instead.

After the Dunblane massacre in Scotland in 1996, Britain tightened up on its gun laws (and indeed carrying knives in public) and there has been no repeat. But in the USA after Columbine, even with Michael Moore’s attempt to link it with the National Rifle Association, nothing changed. Nor did it after the Red Lake massacre, the Virginia Tech massacre, the Batman massacre, the Sikh temple massacre, the Oregon Mall massacre, and it won’t change with Sandy Hook, despite Obama’s crocodile tears. He can push through Obamacare, go off a cliff, but he hasn’t had the guts so far to deal with guns. The outcry is such that now for the first time he is calling for a restriction on assault weapons with large magazines and for stricter tests. I guess now that he doesn’t have to face an election he can afford to. But will he really fight for this against the gun lobby, and indeed the Supreme Court? He will as usual say the right things, but actually do something? I have my doubts and I hope I’m wrong.

In Israel there is a justification for carrying guns. The country is still at war with those who continue to call for its destruction. Most men serve in the army and then in the reserves. There is a constant chance of terrorists blowing up children on buses, at cafes, and in their beds. There are indeed examples of guns used in domestic violence, but nothing to compare with the USA. In Israel guns are a necessary evil not a romantic necessity.

We Jews do indeed believe in self-defense, but we also realize how terrible weapons can be. There is a tradition of covering knives at the Shabbat table. The Temple and its altar were built without metal to remind us that tools of war have no place in a spiritual center. It was the role of the “Shoter,” the police force, to protect society. We also have a principle of “Lifnei Iver” (Leviticus 19) “Do not put a stumbling block in front of the blind.” We take this to mean that we should not facilitate crime, accidents, or lunacy by making objects or actions that might facilitate them easily accessible.

In rational, sane countries it is the job of these agencies to protect people, not a gun in every child’s hand! You can only allow a weapon to someone who knows and understands its destructive powers. But America stumbles blindly forward in a river of blood fed by a constant supply of tools of death. Not even the assassinations of presidents, of great leaders, seem able to bring them to their senses.

It’s not sex, drugs, and rock-and-roll, it is sex, drugs, and firing guns that is the preoccupation and favored pastime of much of American life. No wonder religion flourishes here too. When madness is all around you, only the supernatural gives hope for the future.

Happy Holidays. I’m sure Herod would agree.

15 Comments

  • C. Bruce Richardson Jr.

    Rob, actually hollow points are pretty much the standard for police and are generally recommended for concealed carry. Hollow point bullets are less likely to go through the intended target and possibly hurt someone else. It is the military that cannot use them because of the Geneva Convention. Over-penetration isn’t so much of a concern in a military setting. It might even be an advantage.

    • Interesting point about the constitution. So what about California allowing cannabis and the Feds arresting those they catch? Jeremy

  • WELL JEREMY,
    AS USUAL AN EXCELLENT ARTICLE, THIS TIME ON GUNS.

    I’M NO LOVER OF AMERICAN SOCIETY: IN THE BEGINNING
    MOSTLY THE EUROPEAN UNDESIRABLES(RELIGIOUS WISE)CAME TO AMERICA.

    TODAY I FEEL THIS SOCIETY IS RUN BY ALIENATION AND FEAR.

    THEY DO HAVE A BETTER EXAMPLE OF RUNNING A SOCIETY RIGHT
    UP NORTH, CANADA.

    WILL THIS CHANGE ? I DOUBT IT, TOO MUCH MONEY INVOLVED.

    SAD BUT TRUE.

    • Pim
      Nowhere is perfect of course. Even Canada may have certain good qualities, may even be preferable to the USA but it also has its negative sides.I havent lived there so I cannot judge.

      On balance I prefer a society with less interference in private lives than more. But it is true, our preferences derive a great deal from our pasts. And since I was brought up in a very conservative, anal and repressed society in Europe I prefer the looser crazier world of the New World. But of course I am really only talking about New York. I doubt I would feel the same about most other places in the USA.I certainly could not live in Miami!

      And for those very reasons I can understand why some people brought up in the USA might prefer Europe.

      Thanks for your comments
      Jeremy

  • “For all that, I far prefer living in this dysfunctional society than I ever did in Europe.” Funny, that. The Rabbi of our synagogue who is from California, prefers living in the UK. Why? Because his father, a Beverly Hills attorney, was shot in the stomach several times while attending a deposition! He lived in agony for three years before he died. If something like that had happened to Jeremy Rosen, maybe he wouldn’t be so enthusiastic about the United States. I lived in the USA for four years, terrified that I might get sick and had no insurance. The only country in the Western world that has no adequate health care provision covering everyone. How sick is that?

  • C. Bruce Richardson Jr.

    Mr. Rosen, you said that you prefer to living in our “dysfunctional society” rather than in Europe where I assume you think that society is not dysfunctional. Why? I’m just curious.

    • Please see my reply to Pim.
      To adapt Tolstoy, every country I have ever been to is dysfunctional in its own way.
      Jeremy

  • C. Bruce Richardson Jr.

    If there are 300 million guns and there are 11,900 murders committed with guns in the United States that means that in a year, 0.004% of those firearms are used to commit a murder. That’s four thousandths of a percentage point. Looking at it another way, 99.996% of the guns will not be used to commit a murder in a year. It has been estimated that each year there are around 3 million cases (probably more) where citizens use a firearm to defend themselves. In most cases, the weapon is not fired. A criminal will often take his business elsewhere when confronted by prey that are not defenseless.

    Would we really be safer if tbe 2nd Amendment is repealed and the ownership of firearms was limited to the government, the police, and criminals? Criminals aren’t likely to be prevented from having firearms by laws. Criminals tend to not obey laws. Certainly someone willing to commit mass murder would not be likely to worry about the fact that having a gun is illegal. Can we keep criminals from getting guns? Have we kept criminals from getting drugs after years and billions of dollars have been invested in the “war on drugs?”

    In the United States, there are still a fair number of people who believe in self reliance. Self-defense is just one aspect of that. A common expression is that “when seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” Police officers are by and large good people to really try to defend us against people who would hurt us. But they can’t be everywhere all the time. I don’t think that we would want the police state that would be necessary to defend (and control) us.

    Over the years I have talked to a number of police officers. After getting to know an officer, I ask whether their wife has a firearm. So far, the answer was yes in every case. I cannot argue that my “poll” was scientific. But it does suggest to me that rank and file police officers do not oppose private ownership of firearms by people who are not criminals.

    You mentioned a number of mass murders. Were any of those not committed in “gun-free zones?” I avoid gun-free zones because that is exactly where someone would go to commit mass murder. They want fish in a barrel. If they think that there could be someone there at a location that might be able to stop them, they will probably go somewhere else. I feel much safer where folks licensed to carry a concealed weapons (including me) may be able to defend themselves and those people around them that choose to remain defenseless.

    You mention “assault weapons.” I don’t recall that any of the mass murders were committed with “assualt weapons.” The most recent was, if reports are correct, committed with an AR-15 clone. An assult weapon is capable of fully-automatic fire. Probably the confusion is because the AR-15 looks like an M-16. But the AR-15 is not an assault weapon. The standard magazine for an AR-15 has 30 rounds. That’s the “large” magazine. When the “assault weapon” ban was in place, magazines were limited to 10 rounds. Once 10 rounds have been fired, it takes about 5 seconds to replace the empty magazine with a magazine with another 10 rounds. So it might take 10 seconds longer to fire 30 rounds in three 10 round magazines rather than one 30 round magazine. Magazines are relatively easy to manufacture. If 30-round magazines are banned, it is likely that they will still be available to criminals just as street drugs are available.

  • Have you ever wondered if the European Jews could have been as easily marched to the ovens with little real resistance if they had been as able to arm themselves as an American Jew can if so wished. Oh yes I know this is America and agree with the first words about America which will immediately come out of your and everyone’s mouth.

    But before you carry on with your topic I suggest you read Bernd Widdig’s “Culture and Inflation in Weimar Germany”..It will bring understanding to your Tikkun Olam infused soul and help you understand the madness which surrounds Jews today throughout the world.

  • One major reason why “the government” dares not take on gun rights is because they are guaranteed by our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. This right is not only for self-defense against crime, nor for hunting. It is for keeping the government ever mindful of the fact they are our employees and serve at the pleasure of the citizenry. Dictators and mullahs don’t do well when there is an armed citizenry.

    In a country of 330 millions, sometimes a tragedy happens –like a mental patient stealing guns and murdering people. Nothing like that would ever happen if we had draconian gun control, like for example Norway.

  • The author does not realize that Thomas Jefferson stated that the main reason for the second amendment (the right to bear arms) is for citizens to protect themselves from the tyranny of government.

    Hitler, by using his “department of Fatherland security” (sounds familiar, yes?), took the guns away from everyone in Germany. Maybe things would have been different if the Jews of Germany had guns, yes?

    Also, the author obviously trusts the US government a lot more than I do. If the government thinks guns are so bad, why did they just order 1.6 billion hollowpoint bullets for the Dept of Homeland Security, which is only authorized to use them inside the United States. Why does Obama need 5 bullets per citizen? What is he expecting to do?

    • 1.The biggest tyranny is legislation and the USA is imposing more and more. I dont see guns standing in the way of the failed ,legislature’s interferences.

      2. There is no way civilians with guns would have stood up to a massively efficient military machine. Certainly however brave the Warsaw Ghetto fighters were they did not stop the Nazis. Only the Russians with overwhelming numbers and power withstood their full might.

      3. Even the best of Constitutions is rooted in a specific time warp. And the best of Constitutions have learnt to abandon irrelevant or obviously deleterious laws.

      J

      • C. Bruce Richardson Jr.

        Jeremy, our Constitution can be amended. If some part of it has become irrelevant or deleterious, that part can be effectively amended if 3/4 of the states agree. The Supreme Court does not have the authority under our Constitution to effectively amend the Constitution via interpretations. If some action by the federal government is clearly unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court rules that it is constitutional anyway, it is still unconstitutional. The several states should not be party to something that is unconstitutional no matter what Congress or the Supreme Court says.

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