Monday, June 2, 2014

Why Gun Control Should Be a Jewish Issue

The most recent gun-related murderous rampage in our country has been greeted by the predictable outcry from families of the victims regarding the need for a more sane gun control policy.

The pleas about the rights of Americans to live in safety and not become innocent victims not to be murdered in cold blood are the most common.

But for Jews who take the Torah and its teachings seriously there should be a different and unique argument put on the table.

One of the most compelling and pragmatic commandments in the Hebrew Bible is found in Leviticus (Kedoshim) where were are forbidden to "place a stumbling block before the blind"  and we are reminded that we are to "love our fellow man."

For more than a thousand years our rabbis and sages have believed this prohibition is a metaphor compelling decent people to be  sensitive to the weaknesses and pathology of people who are challenged or have issues with self control or adequate intelligence to make responsible decisions.

The majority of mass murders in recent years have been committed by people who had a history of issues which were very challenging.  It would be hard to argue that the easy availability of mass killing machines helped them make the transition from being a troubled person to a mass murderer.

Rashi and other great Jewish sages normally speak in terms of this commandment forbidding us from engaging in irresponsible or predatory business practices where we take unfair advantage of our own insights and knowledge and exploit or tempt those who are "blind" in these matters.  

For example, according to the commandment a decent person is not allowed to buy a free cocktail for an alcoholic friend who is trying to quit drinking or to encourage an ignorant or unsophisticated friend to make a risky investment that he is not capable of fully understanding.

But an equally compelling case can be made that it also forbids us to make assault weapons and high-capacity magazines available without stringent background checks on the buyers to make sure they are not impaired or "blind" when it comes to issues of self control and civilized behavior.

The inclusion of the uniquely Jewish commandment would simply add even greater credibility to the arguments made by those of us who seek a saner policy and further discredit the already bankrupt arguments of those who hide behind a self-serving interpretation of our Constitutional rights to justify arming those who have killed far more Americans than terrorists in recent years.

As we know, most of those who oppose greater gun control are not motivated by Second Amendment rights or issues related to self defense.

When was the last time anyone ever heard of a person warding off an attacker with an AK-47 or a semi-automatic weapon capable of killing 30 people in 30 seconds?  

When people walk into a Wal Mart or gun show and buy a killing machine and unlimited amounts of ammo and clips capable of firing 30 shots in 30 seconds without regard to their psychiatric or behavioral history, they are never doing it to protect themselves.  We all know that.  But the NRA has twisted the narrative and used its immense power in Washington to make those of us who oppose their agenda feel thoroughly beaten.

When my friend Gabby Giffords was gunned down along with 18 other people in Tucson a couple of years ago, there was a man named Joe Zamudio in the crowd who did have a gun.  By the time he realized what was going on, raised his weapon, took off the safety and moved in, the killer was already on the ground being subdued and one of the heroes had taken his gun away.  

Here in Arizona, the pro-gun crowd had the chutzpah to name a bill after Giffords and her Jewish aide Gabe Zimmerman (who died in the attack) that would broaden gun availability and training on the theory that if everyone has a gun in all venues then there will be fewer victims of the bad guys.

The whole narrative of the NRA and the gun lobby is evil and self-serving and we all know it and hate it.  But the Jewish community just hasn't gotten passionate about it. 

The people who support the NRA and those who want to suppress a woman's right to choose on her own health and reproductive issues and ongoing discrimination against gays and illegal laws trying to keep Blacks and Hispanics from voting are passionate and they put their money and their power behind their passions. 

Isn't it time for Jews to go to spend more time, money, and energy on gun issues which are leading to the deaths of dozens of innocent Americans every year.  It sure seems like it is time to change or at least expand our priorities and change our behavior in this area.

Particularly in view of the uniquely Jewish narrative that we can add to the existing chorus of common sense and life-affirming arguments that should be compelling but are apparently falling on the deaf ears of so many of our legislators and Congressmen.  

The following news clip should have been the lead of the Washington Post article about the incident.  Instead it was buried at the bottom.

"Elliot Rodger owned three 9mm semiautomatic handguns, all legally purchased in his own name, and he had enough ammunition for a massacre — 41 magazines with 10 rounds each, Brown said. Two of the guns were Sig Sauer P226s and one was a Glock 34. 

Christopher Ross Martinez, a 20-year-old university student, died after being shot in the deli. His father, Richard Martinez, held a brief, emotional news conference late Saturday.

“Our family has a message for every parent out there: You don’t think it’ll happen to your child until it does,” the grieving father said. “His death has left our family lost and broken. Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop?"
For Jews, one could argue that we have lost sight of our Jewish responsibility to each other as well.

No comments: