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July 3, 2016 6:11 am

The Insanity of Guns in America

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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A vigil in Washington, DC for the Orlando massacre victims. Photo: Wikipedia.

A vigil in Washington, DC for the Orlando massacre victims. Photo: Wikipedia.

I know I am expected to write about Brexit this week — a classic conflict between a great concept and a corrupt, incompetent, bureaucratic misexecution of it. But I won’t, because it’s too early to know how it is going to play out.

Instead I turn to another issue of conflicting worldviews. I have written before that I simply do not understand America’s attitude toward guns. There are certain American loves, like capital punishment, that a Brit does not get. I know it is a cultural dissonance, and I do not expect my gun-loving friends to understand my position either. Whatever weird justifications are offered — it’s the American constitution; right to self-defense; guns don’t kill, people do — nothing I have heard brings me any closer to understanding the lunacy that leads to so many deaths each year (the majority of which are caused by people they know and often by accidents).

Anyone familiar with the issue in halacha (Talmud Avodah Zara 15b-16a, Rambam Hilchot Rotzeach, etc.) will know that the dominant position is that one does not distribute dangerous weapons to people who may misuse them. A human is always regarded as potentially dangerous. The counterargument of self-defense only pertains where there is no reliable system of law and order, and that’s the exception that all vigilantes claim. So there’s a screw loose in my brain, but I am in good company.

The National Rifle Association is one of the most powerful lobby groups in the USA, and it has almost every Republican senator in its pocket. Every time there is a mass murder, outrage explodes; presidents promise, huff and puff, beg, and even cry for limited restrictions. The NRA turns its back and ensures that no law is passed. The gun lobby blocks any reasonable proposal on principle.

Once again, after Orlando, there was another drive to contain this madness.

You won’t believe this, but the law in the US allows someone who is banned from flying because he or she is regarded as a security risk to buy a high-powered multi-magazine weapon. Now you would have thought the NRA, made up largely of xenophobic, backwoods, reactionary yahoos, might just get a wee bit worked up if a jihad-proclaiming supporter of ISIS would be allowed to buy a weapon of mass murder. But no. The fanatics of the NRA won’t even change that. Because they fear that if you give an inch the crazy leftist anti-gun lobby will take the whole of your arm and your genitals too!

From a BBC report on June 21:

The US Senate has rejected plans to tighten gun controls, including the restriction of weapons sales to people on terrorism watch lists. Four proposals were brought before the Senate after 49 people died in an attack on a gay nightclub in Florida. Democratic and Republican senators voted along party lines, blocking each other’s bills.

Senators strongly disagreed about how to prevent more attacks happening in future.

Republican Senator John Cornyn said: “Our colleagues want to make this about gun control when what we should be making this about is the fight to eliminate the Islamic extremism that is the root cause for what happened in Orlando. My colleagues in many ways want to treat the symptoms without fighting the disease.”

For her part, Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski said: “Why is it we would go through such incredible scrutiny to board an airplane to protect me against terrorist, and yet we have no scrutiny of the people on the terrorist watch list to be able to buy a gun?”

Republicans and members of the National Rifle Association (NRA) complained that the bills put forward by the Democrats violated the constitutional right to bear arms. They are concerned that without enough “due process,” law-abiding Americans wrongly named on watch lists would be prevented from buying weapons. Democrats said the Republican proposals were too weak.

In the US, gun dealers are licensed by the federal government. People can be prevented from buying weapons if they have mental health problems or are guilty of serious crimes, but there is no specific prohibition for those on the terrorism watch list. There are currently about one million people on that list. Besides, there are other ways to buy guns — at gun shows, or from a private vendor online — that do not require any background checks altogether.

The Senate voted down legislation that would have closed a gun show loophole and expanded background checks to cover private sales.

Also rejected were:

A bill to ban suspects on terrorism watch lists from buying guns;

A bill (backed by the NRA) that would allow the US attorney general to delay a gun purchase by a known or suspected terrorist, but prosecutors would need to convince a judge of the would-be-buyer’s connection to terrorism within three days;

A bill that would alert the FBI to terrorism suspects who have purchased a gun, without blocking the purchase outright.

Now, I ask you, who is mad? How can a country as dysfunctional and a legislatively as paralyzed as this survive? It really makes one wonder whether democracy must be one of the worst forms of government ever invented. But for all of this, America is still one of, if not the place in the world where most others would like to live. Even those who want to blow us up would rather be here than there, if we let them choose!

Democracy is a mess, but it’s a better mess than some other forms of either incompetent or venal rule. So I guess I just have to put up with all these crazy, gun-loving, Montana backwoodsmen and -women. Which is, after all, what a truly democratic society must allow for, even when it does make crazy decisions.

Which leads me back to Brexit, of course.

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  • Erin Kaye

    Self-defense is a positive obligation, אם בא להורגך השכם להורגו.

    Imagine what Kristallnacht would have looked like if the Jewish business owners had been up on their roofs with long guns like the Koreans in the L.A. riots…

  • And no Rosen does not speak for all Jews

    And no Rosen does not speak for all Jews

  • Ditto on what Hughes said the 2nd amendment is the guarantor for the guardians of liberty not only in the US but should be in every country including Israel

    Ditto on what Hughes said the 2nd amendment is the guarantor for the guardians of liberty not only in the US but should be in every country including Israel

  • Israel

    Jeremy, Perhaps your dilemma over Americans love for guns can be explained by your introductory remarks. There are certain American loves …. that a Brit does not get. As we approach the 4th of July you might note that once America was a series of 13 colonies distributed along the Atlantic coast of North America. They were controlled by the Brits. Americans cherish their freedom which was won by individuals who had their own guns. According to George Washington one of the leaders of that revolution “A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own goverment.” That said Enjoy your Brexit!!! and freedom from Europe.

  • Really, Mr Rosen? So, as I read about a Rabbi murder in front of his family, I can only help but too think how that may had been prevented if they had carry guns.

  • Just go around gun laws and gun control by having and carrying a Jo staff as a weapon. If the cops asks, say it’s a walking stick.

  • You know little about firearm ownership in America. The States and communities with the most restrictive gun laws have the highest rates of murder and crime . People like you think the answer to everything is removing the right for Americans to own firearms. This is no different than saying the 30,000 people killed last year by drunk drivers is the motor vehicle fault not the drunk. Over simplification, unfounded and not based on fact.
    To Keep And Bear Arms
    In U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez, the U.S. Supreme Court observed, “The Second Amendment protects ‘the right of the people to keep and bear Arms.`”
    Right To Carry
    People who carry firearms as provided for by state right-to-carry laws are statistically more law-abiding than the public as a whole.
    Right To Carry States Have Lower Violent Crime Rates
    In 2007, RTC states had lower violent crime rates, on average, compared to the rest of the country (total violent crime by 24%; murder, 28%; robbery, 50%; and aggravated assault, 11%).
    NRA And Law Enforcement
    NRA`s Law Enforcement Activities Division (LEAD) trains more than 1,300 law enforcement officers a year in marksmanship and gun handling so that they may, in turn, instruct members of their departments.
    Violent Crime
    Three out of four violent crimes committed in the U.S. do not involve firearms. Since 1991, the number of privately owned firearms in the U.S. has increased by 70-75 million, and the nation’s murder rate has decreased 43%. (BATFE and FBI)
    Firearms Regulations
    Since 1968, virtually every aspect of lawful firearms commerce from manufacture to retail sales has been strictly controlled, regulated and licensed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury through its Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Few products have the oversight of nearly an entire federal agency. Most states also have a corresponding “BATF” regulatory and law enforcement agency that oversees firearms and enforces state firearms laws. Firearms also fall under all laws relating to negligent manufacture. Any manufacturer who sells an inherently unsafe firearm will very quickly find itself in court. Lastly, firearms are the only product for which an American citizen needs to receive the FBI’s permission-through the NICS-before making a retail purchase. For more information see Fables, Myths & Other Tall Tales about Gun Laws, Crime and Constitutional Rights.

  • rbockman

    At age 74, I’ve owned guns all my life, never committed a crime.

  • Gee

    Why do leftist have this obsession with stealing rights from the average American?

    The sole reason that the US still has free speech whereas there is no rights especially the right of free speech in the UK is because the people are armed.

    The government exists to answer to the people not the other way around

  • Jay Lavine

    It’s not just guns, but also an infatuation with killing. Killing seems to be the answer to every problem in American society. The news media are obsessed with the death penalty. Whenever a person is charged with a crime for which the death penalty may apply, the headlines scream, “Death penalty possible!”

    When doctors think about treating illness, they search for the “magic bullet.” They use their “armamentarium,” the weapons at their disposal, to “fight off” disease; to “conquer,” “beat,” or “win the war on” cancer; and to “defeat” heart disease. If someone, God forbid, dies of cancer, the news media always have to state that he “fought a brave battle.” There is an alternative way, a positive way, the Jewish way, to think about medicine and healing.

    While we’re on the topic of medicine, we would do well to discuss the comment “My colleagues in many ways want to treat the symptoms without fighting the disease” (yes, here again we have “fighting”). Everyone is a medical expert. Doctors do indeed try to discover the cause of disease so they can better treat it. But sometimes the causes, if they are even found, are not so easily treatable. Whether the causes are treatable or not, treatment of the symptoms, that is to say, alleviation of pain and suffering, are important aspects of medical care. As so well stated by the 19th century physician Dr. Edward Trudeau, the goal is “to cure sometimes, to relieve often, to comfort always.” Therefore, seeking to limit access to guns to mitigate the suffering they cause is most definitely a worthy endeavor.

    We don’t necessarily have to accept democracy as it’s now generally practiced. When the majority fail to respect the minority, thereby rejecting democratic values, we have “the tyranny of democracy,” which is not much different from an autocratic state. When well-funded special interest groups buy off politicians, that is a perversion of democracy as well. Was there anything so wrong with the post-exilic ancient Jewish communities, where the democratically elected council might have its enactments overturned by the community’s rabbinic authority, who could, in effect, nullify any law found to be “unconstitutional,” that is to say, contrary to Torah? To have that kind of democratic society, you have to have, for one thing, a community with shared values. Obviously, you also have to have a rabbinate that is not corrupt. But, under the right circumstances, such a society could exist.

    • Israel

      @ Jay Lavine
      Jay you are incorrect on one major point in your discourse.
      The United States is NOT a democracy it is a Republic.
      Such a Utopian Democratic Society as you describe only exists in some people’s minds. Progress towards it would be impossible if you help the bad guys kill off the good guys by disarming the good guys. You will never disarm the bad guys. The good guys need to be able to defend themselves and their progeny. Unfortunately many behavioral traits are genentic.

  • What you are overlooking and why the NRA is so protective of gun rights is that regulation is insidious and if not resisted with vigor then sportsman, company executives like myself, and of course your characterization of us as backwoods, toothless idiots, will lose their right to responsibly own guns. Your myopic thinking is is reflected in your myopic views.