Like every parent, like President Obama and his wife, I gave my kids an extra hug and kiss goodnight as I tucked them into their beds on Friday night and as I went to sleep, I thought of my father.
My late father was a pacifist; a real, honest pacifism that grew out of the generation of the Vietnam War and the Kennedy assassination. He was also an obstetrician who delivered some 10,000 babies in his lifetime. It made sense; he was in the business of saving lives and bringing new lives into the world. Growing up in Australia, we never had anything even remotely resembling a weapon in the house; no toy guns, no plastic knives, not even a wooden sword. I remember once, as a teenager, I challenged my father on his pacifist stance, asking him, “Dad, if someone broke into the house and was going to rape me, and you had a gun, would you shoot him?” To which he answered, “I wouldn’t have a gun in the house.” The conversation always stuck with me because the answer I had wanted to hear was obvious and it wasn’t the answer I received.
Then I moved to Israel and suddenly there were guns everywhere. I took the requisite photographs of soldiers with M16’s slung over their shoulders as they ordered their burgers at MacDonald’s, photos of me with an army beret touting a Galil. In time, we had a gun in our home and it didn’t bother me when it was thrown down on the sideboard or chucked on top of the fridge (and later locked safely in the safe, when the children came along.) Guns in Israel made me feel safe knowing that the chance of there being someone around with a gun to protect me when I needed it was fairly high.
My father passed away suddenly in 1996, while I was studying in Israel. The week before his death, a madman murdered 35 people in the quiet tourist town of Port Arthur in Tasmania, Australia. I remember it because we prayed for the families of the victims at his funeral. The massacre had a huge impact on Australia. The government responded swiftly, implementing a National Firearms Agreement; banning semi-automatic rifles and pump-action shotguns from civilians, licensing laws were introduced, and a genuine reason was required for the purchase by civilians of all other firearms. Some 650,000 guns were taken off the streets in a government-sponsored buy-back campaign. The results speak for themselves: in the eighteen years before the Agreement, Australia had 13 mass shootings. Sixteen years later and there had not been a single mass shooting incident and the laws have also helped reduce firearm suicide and non-mass shooting firearm homicide.
I don’t claim to be an expert on gun control but one thing I understand, the right to bear arms only works if there is a reason to bear arms. In Israel, we unfortunately have good reason to bear arms: the ongoing threat of terror in a hostile neighborhood. Time after time, innocent citizens have been saved by the fact that a gun-touting hero has been around to take down a terrorist with massacre on their agenda. In Australia, there is no real reason to bear arms, no obvious threat that requires citizens to be running around with guns. After several horrific gun massacres, Australians understood this and translated it into the negation of the right to bear arms to a large degree. In both countries it works, both of them with gun violence levels dramatically lower than those of the United States.
In the United States it doesn’t work. The right to bear arms should not mean the right to bear arms against your neighbors, against children, against your community or against those who disagree with your ideology.
As I went to sleep on Friday night, I prayed that my children would be safe; I prayed for the mothers in Newtown who didn’t get to take their children home from school that day, and I prayed that the Americans will have the strength to empower their government to make the courageous decisions needed to change the gun laws in their country.