Before our son Ariel Chaim ZT”L passed away, age twenty-two, in 2003, we spent a good deal of time discussing the Second Amendment, the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
Ariel was amazed that so many American Jews–overwhelmingly liberal and secular–aligned themselves with the advocates of gun control, in reality a movement to banish the private ownership of guns by lawful citizens.
During the Los Angeles riots of 1992, my wife Karen and I, Ariel and Offspring #2, were inside a film theater. Abruptly, an angry mob congregated outside; soon they were trying to break down the doors. Trapped inside, we were all terrified. I held Offspring#2 in my arms; she shivered like a frightened rabbit. Karen gripped Ariel’s hand.
“Don’t worry,” we were assured, “the police will be here soon.”
But the police did not arrive that night, nor did they protect the city from arson, looting and murder. In fact, we watched in disbelief as news cameras captured images of police officers standing idly by while looters gleefully committed their crimes.
A few days later, I purchased a pistol, a 1911 .45 ACP.
I bought a gun because I realized that the day will most certainly again arrive when civil order breaks down and we are flung into a cruel Hobbesian landscape.
Here’s my three part series on the LA Riots, Jew Without a Gun.
As Ariel’s conservative political opinions took form, he logically and ethically fell on the side of legal gun ownership. But because he was first and foremost a Torah Jew, first and foremost a Talmudic scholar, Ariel placed gun ownership into the framework of Jewish law, halacha.
Ariel wanted to put down his ideas on paper. Unfortunately, he never had the opportunity to write an article on halacha and gun ownership.
And so I humbly jot down a few of Ariel’s ideas. This is not meant to be a definitive essay on the topic. Any mistakes in this article are mine and mine alone. I write from an imperfect memory, from conversations with my beloved son held years ago, and from the few notes he managed to scribble while sick and undergoing chemotherapy and radiation.
The Sword is Not the Cause
Ariel pointed out that in his commentary on Genesis 4:23, Ramban, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman, the towering medieval scholar, writes with refreshing clarity:
“The sword is not the cause of murder, and there is no sin upon him who made it.”
In other words, a weapon, be it a sword or a gun, is neutral. It can be used for good or evil. Thus to label a gun as “bad” makes no sense, for a gun can be used in self-defense which the Torah sees as an obligation.
The Torah (Exodus 22.2) teaches that, when necessary a householder may kill a burglar to save his own life.
“He who rises to kill you, you must kill first.”
It seems odd to have to defend the most basic notion of self-defense, but in America today, the shrill and self-righteous voices of pacifism and appeasement have become alarmingly prominent.
Ariel and I agreed that if gun control advocates had their way, the only people with access to guns would be the police, who cannot be counted on for security, and criminals, who can be counted on to be, well, criminals, with no respect for the hundreds of firearm laws already on the books.
Tyrants Ban Gun Ownership to Secure Their Power Base
Ariel also pointed out that in the story of Purim the Jews were granted royal permission to defend their lives. The King’s edict did not order the army to protect the Jews. Instead, the Jews were permitted to purchase arms in order to defend themselves.
Obviously, as a minority in the Persian Empire, Jews were forbidden weapon ownership.
This is not unique in Jewish history. During the Roman occupation of Judea, Jews were forbidden to own swords, spears or any implements of war. What better way for a ruling empire to control an unruly and rebellious population?
And of course, in Europe, one of the first laws that Hitler imposed was an all-encompassing weapons ban. Imagine how different Jewish history would be if every Jewish family in Europe owned at least one gun that had six bullets in the chamber.
Surprise Folks, Evil Exists
One of the hallmarks of postmodernism—the denial of absolute truths—is an astonishing inability to recognize, much less confront, evil. Therefore it becomes psychologically necessary for the liberal to place the blame on an inanimate object–the gun–rather than on the person who pulls the trigger. It is easier to fault the gun manufacturer for the horror at Columbine, rather than admit that two sixteen-year-old boys are evil.
The Jewish attitude, Ariel maintained, is to place the blame where it squarely belongs: on the two young men; to declare their evil, and never again utter their names. For just as goodness is a reality, so is evil.
Try and imagine, said Ariel, if one or two Columbine teachers had guns with them. Imagine if these armed teachers had been able to protect the students who were massacred.
There was another aspect to these stories that Ariel detected and deeply troubled him. The media invariably referred to Columbine and 9-11 as “tragedies.”
“They are not tragedies,” Ariel insisted. “They are atrocities.”
A tragedy is when people are killed in a flood, a fire or an earthquake. But when people are murdered in cold blood, it is an atrocity. Again, Ariel pointed out, the media–overwhelmingly liberal and marinated in moral equivalence–is unable to distinguish malevolent acts from natural disasters because their moral compass is broken.
Ariel concluded that Jews in America should be at the forefront of the right to keep and bear arms. For Jews to rely on the power of the state for protection is sheer foolishness. Time and again, Jewish history reveals governments cruelly betraying their Jewish citizens.
And though Ariel felt that America was “different,” he maintained that allowing the state to make ownership of weapons illegal is a dangerous policy that opens the door to tyranny in the name of “social justice.”
Further, pointed out Ariel, there is no such thing as social justice. There is only justice.
But like so much else in American Jewish life, liberal/progressive/postmodern Jews have signed on to aggressively utopian ideologies that go against their self-interest. Instead, countless Jews espouse principles that feed their need to feel virtuous. But in the end, these beliefs defy common sense and display an appalling ignorance of Jewish history, halacha, and human nature.
And finally, this powerful quote from the Book of Joel:
“Announce this among the nations:prepare for war; arouse the mighty; let all the soldiers approach and ascend. Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning forks into spears; the weak shall say, I am strong.” Joel 3:9