Acute Angles. Gun Out Of Their Senses?

Dear Rabbi. Yet another mass shooting has been perpetrated at a school in the USA (at Uvalde, Texas). The Coalition for Jewish Values, an Orthodox, rabbi-led body in the USA propagating the Torah perspective on current issues, has declined to take a stand on the uncontrolled possession of firearms. I am horrified, Rabbi! Is there no clear Torah view on gun control? Yours, Alexis.

Hi Alexis.

You tell me you grew up in neighboring Canada but no doubt you find the Yankee psyche, when it comes to guns, as unfathomable as I do!

Americans are tied to the Second Amendment by an umbilical cord. Much has changed since 1791 when it was first ratified, but “the right to keep and bear arms” is as sacrosanct to Americans now as it was when they were a new, precarious warrior-nation.

I laid out what I believe to be the Torah view on gun control in an essay in my book The Cosmic Diamond. Quite simply: statistics demonstrate unequivocally that the more guns owned, the more lives lost. And the Torah states clearly: Ve-nishmartem me’od le-nafshoteikhem. “Guard well your bodies as well as your souls” (Deut 4:15).

In 2010, the year for which I cited the statistics in Cosmic, 89 civilian firearms were owned per 100 USA residents and 9.960 homicides by firearms were perpetrated. By 2020 the ownership figure rose to 120.5 guns per 100 residents – more than six guns to every five residents – and predictably the homicide figure grew by 43 percent.

79% of all killings in the USA are gun-related as against 37% in your native Canada (also disturbingly featuring in the top ten civilian gun-owning countries), 13% in Australia and just 4% in the UK. In Australia, 14.5 firearms per 100 residents were owned at the most recent survey (slightly down from 2010) and just 6.7 per 100 in Israel despite the fact that Joe Blow in the street will tell you that Israel is a “war zone”.

Following the notorious Port Arthur shooting in 1996, Australian Prime Minister John Howard initiated a sweeping nationwide reform of gun laws. The average firearm homicide rate went down by 42% and the suicide rate by a massive 57%.

Lest one think that the withdrawal of guns may result in a concomitant increase in homicides by other means, let us take a look at the overall homicide rate per 100,000 population in the countries we have cited (latest figures available are for 2018). USA – 4.96. Canada – 1.76 Israel – 1.49. UK – 1.2. Australia – 0.89. Australia’s drastic reforms appear to have paid off big time!

I am as dismayed as you by the CJV’s failure to take a halachic stand on gun control.

I am at one with the CJV’s position on virtually all other moral issues. It is an ideologically-conservative body founded in the Trump era which aligns with the right-wing of American politics. But, contrary to popular opinion, “Right” is not invariably right in Judaism – not on this issue nor, I believe, on prison reform and even perhaps immigration control. (It should be noted that “right-wing” in America on gun ownership would not necessarily be termed “right-wing” elsewhere). Most disappointingly, the USA-based website Chabad,org fails to note the clear statistics and also maintains a puzzling neutral stance. It says a lot for how cultural norms in one’s host society can cloud the thinking of even a Torah Jew.

It would seem that, as I said at the outset, anyone brought up to regard the Second Amendment almost like Torah miSinai will be unable to view gun control as dispassionately as will those of us raised outside the USA.

How many more mass shootings will have to occur in America before the politicians and the lawmakers stop talking or taking baby steps such as are being proposed presently, and start acting on rigorous gun control?

The answer, in the immortal words of Bob Dylan, is still blowing in the wind.

About the Author
Rabbi Chaim Ingram is the author of four books on Judaism and honorary rabbi of Sydney Jewish Centre on Ageing.
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