Culture, Justice, Politics, Religion, Uncategorized

Is There a Jewish Position on Gun Control?

For the last couple of weeks, as the fallout from Newtown continues, as the NRA displays its absolute contempt for anyone who finds anything other than guns of value, Jews have also been participating in the conversation about gun control in the US.
While Jews tend toward the liberal positions about guns, Judaism does not, in reality, always correspond with American 21st century liberal politics. Does Judaism have a position on gun control? Rabbi Aaron Alexander of AJU’s Ziegler school, writes a commentary in HuffPo that, although it focuses on one aspect and one commentator that gets at the crux of the Jewish view.
There is simply no rational way of escaping the fact – not opinion- that gun ownership raises risks of death and injury for everyone in the house where the gun is owned. Nor is there any credible evidence that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress. Jewishly, significantly increasing safety risks to oneself without showing a significant benefit to offset it would require a ban on gun ownership.
Secondarily, hunting for sport, as Rabbi Landau says (the commentator that Alexander is writing about) is considered negatively by Jewish sources. Taking pleasure in something that causes pain is contrary to Jewish values. Even when we eat meat, we are required by Jewish law to slaughter it in a way that causes no pain to the animal (that is why an animal whose slaughter is performed with a knife that has even a single nick in it is considered treif). Arguments aside about whether or not such a death is truly painless (and there are certainly those who advocated vegetarianism – such as the gadol hador – the great one of his generation, Rabbi Soloveitchik), the value is clear: Jews are not supposed to engage in such behavior, except if there is no other option – in other words, one may stave off starvation by hunting, but it’s not something Jews should do if there are other sources of food.
Finally, it is worth knowing that the ban on Jewish hunting is not merely a halachic matter (matter of Jewish law) custom too has long viewed the hunter as a negative character. Those who make their living by killing are considered the very height of what my mother would have called “a goyishe kop” (please excuse, non-Jewish friends). If one looks through old haggadot, the wicked son, the rasha is often portrayed as a soldier or a hunter.
Sport hunting is not a value. Hunting for food – outside of a starvation case- is not a value. Safety for one’s family is a value, and the evidence is that having guns in the home not only does not protect one from intruders, but increases risks of accidental shootings, suicide deaths, and deliberate shootings, particularly in cases of domestic violence. Societally, then, there is one last case to be made. Many people argue that the case for owning guns is that the second amendment is determined to let us protect ourselves from a tyrannous government. God knows the Jews know from tyrannous governments.
To consider this rationally: does the possibility that a bunch of neighbors with assault weapons might gather together to fend off the United States government when it comes for us to send us to the camps balance out the overwhelming numbers of American gun deaths, and the evidence that very tight gun control, or even banning guns would reduce (not eliminate, of course, but reduce) gun deaths. That leaves us two questions actually. First, would those assault weapons stave off tanks, rockets and the very latest in military technology? Not likely. Second. If by some miracle there was a chance that it did, would it be worth it? I suppose that is a calculus that in general society could be argued, but Jewishly, I would say that the decisive view is no. The risks are too clear, and the protection far, far too little – if there is indeed any at all.

24 thoughts on “Is There a Jewish Position on Gun Control?

  1. Why do some people go on and on about the second amendment as if it were sacrosanct? It’s just an amendments to just a constitution. The originals (and amendments) were drafted by people who didn’t have the historical perspective of people around today: and they were no smarter or better than people around today. If you have a majority then amend it again. The Egyptians just revised their whole constitution and the majority have accepted it. Constitutions and amendments are made to be amended from time to time. I’m sure if the people who drafted it knew it would lead to massacres of school children with automatic weapons, they would have been horrified and changed the wording to prevent that.

  2. You article link pretends that owning a gun “dramatically increases the risk of death and injury” if a fact but the studies that “prove it” have been proven to be incorrect. Simply repeating mistakes (or lies) over and over doesn’t make them true.
    There are approximately 38000 murders in the US every year. A firearm is used for self defence approximately 300000 to 1000000 time per year.
    If firearms were banned how many murders would there be if people couldn’t defend themselves? Criminals would still be able to get guns just the same way they get drugs. Not only would law abiding citizens be at the mercy of criminals we would also be at the mercy of our government. Certainly Jewish people are in a position to know what all to often happens in that case.

  3. Many of the opinions expressed in this piece could be refuted point by point. I don’t have the time nor inclination to do so. Please visit the JPFO site Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership to consider other viewpoints.

  4. “The point is that owning a gun won’t save you from killers either.”
    Wow! No perspective coming from the Holocaust?
    Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership
    Never Forget
    Are you saying if you had access to or a gun in your hand and the first of many were murdered, you would do nothing?
    What a paradise you live in.

  5. Really, gun control will reduce their numbers? Did you stop to think about that statement before you wrote it?
    I hope this isn’t news to you, but a killer will kill no matter the tool of choice. That’s nothing more than a simple definition of the word killer. By simply preventing access to a gun, do you honestly believe that a killer will not kill? What about a knife? A chainsaw? How about a car? Or worse yet, how about a car filled with explosives? Perhaps you should learn about what happened in Bath, Michigan on May 18th, 1927.
    Should we ban knives, chainsaws, cars, fertilizer? When do we stop? Shall we round up everyone who looks like they might commit a crime at some point in the future, put them in a cage, and throw away the key? And who will make this decision? Our exalted and morally upstanding politicians? Lord knows they do no evil (never mind Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, etc… and those lovely freedom bearing drones).
    Here’s a suggestion: how about we stop concentrating on the tool and look to the morality of today’s society. Rather than immediately placing blame on a piece of steel and plastic, is it not too much that we stop and ask why these people exist in their defective state? Any good doctor will stop and determine the root cause of an illness rather than just treating the symptoms. Unfortunately, our society seems to be one of just treating the symptoms and continually ignoring the causes. This gun-control hysteria is a fine example indeed.
    And for those that retort that evil just exists in this world, then I’m sorry to say that even if you somehow managed to remove every gun in the entire world, there will be just as much violence and killing, maybe even more than what currently exists.

  6. If you were to factor in historical precedence…then this conclusion would likely be different. You seem to conclude that because guns are harmful to society at large…then a gun ban would be kosher. So if logic applies to us, then it surely would have applied to the Jews who were killed in the holocaust? They didn’t even have a fighting chance to prove your arguement wrong. Unfortunately…Tyranny is a reality…Utopias of multicultural citizens coexisting peacefully and in harmony, are pure fantasy. That’s why the Founder’s were such geniuses, because they realized the dangers in a government unchecked by it’s citizens (aka tyranny). And no, an AR-15 won’t necessarily deter a tank nor a cruise missile…but last time I checked the, the taliban don’t have those high tech weapons either….and they are clearly defeating us in Afghanistan. Come to think of it…during the American revolution…the British miltary was head and shoulders above us, they had a vastly superior force…and they were defeated!

  7. This may be apocryphal, but here goes:
    Rav Dovid Weiss Halivni was once asked whether it is permissible for a Jew to hunt. He replied in the affirmative and added “but what kind of Jew kills another living creature for pleasure?”

  8. “Judaism does not, in reality, always correspond with American 21st century liberal politics.”
    You would never know that reading this blog…

  9. Matt, Nice statistics, but as far as I can tell, completely made up.
    Bo, gun control will cut dramatically the number of people one person can kill at a time. Killers kill people in other countries, too, but their fatalities are much smaller, in general, because they have significantly more limitation on what kinds of weapons they have access to. Yes, killers will kill with a knife, but it’s a lot more difficult to do. I can actually disarm most knife bearers, with no weapon of my own.I can run faster than the knife wielder – and that’s all I need to do. Moreover, guns -when they’re around- are often weapons of chance – guns kill lots more people than just the lunatic mass murderers do – they also are a weapon of choice for suicide (and in that case, completed suicides are more likely) and guns are also cause for lots of accidental deaths – of family members, neighbors, and what the hell, let’s throw in Trayvon Martins for fun, since probably if that fool hadn’t had a gun easily to hand, Martin would still be alive today. Angel, counterfactuals are not logical arguments, but in any case, considering the entire allied force had some difficulty winning that war, do you really think that would have made a difference? In any case I addressed the” we need it to fight off the tyrannous government argument.” And… as far as I can tell from the few pieces forwarded to me, JFPO is about as sane as the NRA. Which is to say, lacking a great number of functional widgets. Here’s the final point: How is your desire to lull your own anxiety against something that is not currently happening, more important than the clear path to save the thousands of people who die every year at the hands of people who simply should not have guns? Stick to milchemet torah, or don’t call your attitude a Jewish one. The weapons of the Jews are Torah, not swords or guns.

  10. “Please visit the JPFO site Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership to consider other viewpoints.
    —Aharon · December 26th, 2012 at 12:49 am”
    I was completely unaware of the existence of this organization – and it claims to have been in existence for 23 years.
    There are moments in life in which one confronts something so completely psychotic, so utterly at odds with what one thought was consensual reality that words fail one. This is such a moment.
    Aharon, I want to thank you. I am 56 years of age, have been struggling for decades to feel some sort of connection to the Jewish people, and frankly, it’s been a losing battle. You have finally pushed me over the edge. I give up.
    And yes, I’m fully aware that if you read this, your reaction will be, “Good riddance.”

  11. @Jeff, if you’re going to act like a child at least save us the drama. If your connection to yiddishkeit is that tenuous after 56 years on this earth, that it can be disturbed by Jews advocating gun ownership… Get a life. I don’t mean that rhetorically.
    Regarding hunting… It may be forbidden for Jews, and to be considered bad midos to boot, and I accept and abide by those rulings, but that’s for Jews. Holding non-Jews to the level of Jewish divine service is not a Jewish value. There are plenty of things which Jews are instructed to do which non-Jews are discouraged and even forbidden from participating in. Non-Jews are not forbidden to hunt, period. Even those who do so for sport donate the meat. It’s part of the culture of hunting and hunters, at least in America. There are organizations which receive that meat and feed poor people with it. Moreover, this is not really hunting, it is culling. In the case of deer, for example, professional government agencies issue tags for how many deer to remove from the environment to prevent any ecological imbalance. If private hunters did not do so, publicly hired hunters would, and in some cases must, because not enough tags were “taken”.
    Second, there is a spiritual issue with taking any life, even for nourishment, even plant life. The only defense for doing so, within the context of Jewish law, is to to provide sustenance for a Jew to continue their divine service. This is not a level of sensitivity and understanding that is relevant to a contemporary policy discussion. Bringing in narrow excerpts of the opinions of rabonnim and gaonim, without any context, and relying on the general ignorance of one’s audience in these matters, is manipulative.
    If the point is to decrease gun violence, then we should be fearless in where the data leads us. Outside of accidents and suicides, most gun violence is not committed by legal guns or legal owners of guns. Most of this violence occurs in inner city America. Instead of confiscating guns from harmless, law abiding people who filed all the right paperwork and never hurt anyone, why not surround every American urban ghetto, Fallujah style, and go house to house, bed to bed, person to person, and confiscate all illegally owners weapons and imprison everyone with such weapons on their person? If we’re so worried about gun violence that we’re willing to shred the constitution, why limit ourselves to the second amendment. Unreasonable search and seizure is not so unreasonable when you consider how many human beings, many of them innocents and children, we’re murdered this year on Chicago’s south side alone (500+?). The same arguments would apply: unreasonable search and seizure is just a “rule” we can do away with if we all agree to it, right? It’s not written in stone. And if anyone protests, we’ll maybe they shouldn’t have the right to protest what’s clearly good for them. Wouldn’t it be easier to suspend the first amendment while we’re at it? After all, the pen is mightier than the sword. Plenty of men are radicalized into violence by hip hop and rap, and tarantino movies. And let’s be honest, if we were to do all this in the inner cities, gun violence would plummet, at least in the short term, as the gangs take time to restock. Isn’t the goal to save lives? Who needs these theoretical ideas and ideals when people are dying? Right? Be careful not to answer the wrong way.
    How about it? I’m sure someone somewhere can find a “jewish” backing for all this, and we’ll live happily in our gulag.

  12. Victor, I appreciate the love.
    In Moore’s movie about Columbine, he addresses your last point by showing how the folks in rural/suburban American are actually the ones feeding guns into urban zones where guns are owned illegally. It makes no sense to artificially divide gun owners in this way.
    That said, I support a massive encirclement of American inner cities. Encircle them with love, jobs, respect, quality education, options, a sense of agency. Guns won’t matter then.

  13. The comments about stopping shooting deaths by giving everyone an automatic weapon are nonsense. It will only increase such massacres.
    In Australia it was easy to own an automatic gun and in the decade to 1996 we had over a dozen gun massacres culminating in the Port Arthur massacre in which a young man with automatic weapons shot 35 people, more than your worst gun massacre ever, Virginia.
    The government immediately banned semiautomatic rifles and shotguns, spent over half a billion on a massive buyback, and increased vetting for potential owners. Since then, in 16 years, we haven’t had a single massacre!!! Explain that you gun supporters!
    Our law doesn’t stop people from owning a gun, just the sort of guns that can kill dozens of people in a few seconds. Why would anyone want such a gun? You don’t need them for hunting, or target shooting, or even defending yourself against a killer or two, all they are good for is mass murder.

  14. Or a prolonged civil war. Just saying. That’s what those weapons are good for.
    Oh, and fighting zombies.

  15. If we’ve learned anything from “I am Legend”, the “28 Days/Weeks Later” franchise or the various excellent shows devoted to a post-apocalyptic future, it’s that killing zombies is no joke.
    JG, I don’t think inner city gangs need much encouragement from “rural/suburban” types to make sure they’re adequately armed. If you think surrounding the inner cities with love is going to solve anything, you clearly have never spent time around drug addicts. The gangs kill for turf. Turf is needed to move product. Product feeds the addicts. It doesn’t matter how much love you throw at this equation. So long as illicit drugs are both illicit and available, people will kill to sell more of them. Of course, if we really want to get into it, we can start a conversation about the breakdown of the black family, and how 95% of those who join inner city gangs join up because they lack a father figure. I just saw a promo for a new reality show where a guy flaunts having had like 8 or 10 kids with as many women. This is not ostracized? This is acceptable?
    But I don’t think any of us are willing to start that conversation, because blah blah blah, we’re not black, we’re not a poor minority facing social, political and economic discrimination, we don’t understand, it’s not our place to judge.

  16. “””Nor is there any credible evidence that gun ownership deters crime or stops crimes in progress “”
    What total nonsense! How did that idea work for you when Hitler came and took your grand parents away to be slaughtered? Break into my home and you’ll find credible evidence that gun ownership will produce credible evidence of me stopping further crimes, possibly the murders of my family. Sorry, but that statement is as foolish as it gets, and if leaders are being followed who say such things then I can understand why so many walked into the cattle cars when told to, like sheep to the slaughter. Any ‘teacher’ who told their people such things are just as guilty for the deaths of millions as Hitler, you left them defenseless.

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