Two Views | America is safe for Jews, but guns make us safer

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two views | Choose life, says Torah — not guns

America is a uniquely safe harbor for Jews, even though we’re less than 2 percent of the population — hardly a large enough tribe to protect itself. Death by violence, including death by firearms, is rare within the Jewish community.

For over 200 years, the constitutional “right to keep and bear arms” has served as the bedrock of American Jewish safety. The founding fathers recognized that there was no greater danger than a government gone mad; the tragic history of Jewish suffering, including the Holocaust, validates this wisdom. Given all this, my gentile “gun nut” friends sometimes ask: “How can the Jews be so anti-gun?”

Jews are a morally sensitive people. We’re still troubled by the first murder, Cain hating and then killing his brother Abel with a rock. With mass media, we’re bombarded with tragic scenes, including shocking acts of domestic terrorism. This media saturation has led to many good-hearted Jews and Jewish organizations joining the chorus in favor of gun prohibition.

It makes complete sense that Jews believe in gun prohibition. We are a people of the book. We intuitively believe that if laws are passed, people will obey them. The reality is that this is magical thinking. Do we really think that terrorists, criminals and the mentally deranged will change their behavior because there’s a gun law?

Let’s look at the success of prohibition. We tried alcohol prohibition, which gave us a black market in bootleg alcohol; where black markets exist, violence thrives. We are still trying drug prohibition, which created an even bigger black market and enormous violence. On what basis do we expect that gun prohibition will be any more successful?

The sad reality is that gun prohibition simply removes guns from the hands of law-abiding citizens who are of no danger to society. But there is a dangerous downside: Americans are more secure in their homes than almost anywhere else in the world, because criminals are loath to break into occupied homes due to their fear of encountering an armed resident. The Talmud addresses this situation, and provides a clear statement on the inherent right to self-defense. The Talmud explains that it is our duty to kill a burglar, as the burglar is likely to attempt to kill because the burglar knows that it is human nature to protect one’s family and property, especially in the sanctity of one’s home (Tractate Sanhedrin 72a).

The Talmud also states that it’s an affirmative duty for bystanders to kill if necessary to prevent a murder or serious violent crime. Given that criminal acts are typically done by the young and strong against the old and weak, a gun can be the great equalizer. The criminal does not need a firearm; a knife, a rock or even bare hands is typically enough to overpower the victim. On the other hand, a 75-year-old senior citizen with a quick wave of a pistol can cause a 200-pound criminal to turn tail. According to a 1997 study, the use of a firearm for self-defense is estimated to occur at least 500,000 times a year, with rarely a shot being fired.

The great irony in the gun debate today is that we have elevated guns to virtual idols. We are told that we must prevent “firearm violence” as if guns had free will and spontaneously discharged. A firearm is a tool, and can be used for good or bad, no different than a match. And no more dangerous than a truck or car speeding down the road.

Manufactured crises usually don’t end well for the Jews. Perspective is needed. While the possession of firearms has skyrocketed in America, violent crime including homicide has dropped to levels not seen in decades. So what is the urgency to pass laws that seriously infringe on the individual right to self-defense, and would fail to prevent any of the recent mass shootings?

The push for gun prohibition broadcasts the wrong message to terrorists, whether domestic or international, that we will abandon one layer of protection in the hope that an already overmatched national security state can save us. Nothing in Jewish history should encourage us to indulge in that reliance.

David Golden is a fourth-generation San Franciscan. He ran the campaign in opposition to the San Francisco Prop H (2005) handgun ban. David lives with his family in the Richmond District of San Francisco.