One of the most contentious — and perennial — arguments in American political discourse is over the issue of gun control (or, to opponents of limitations on gun ownership, “gun rights”).
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, as is well known, refers to the need for a “well-regulated militia” to ensure “the security of a free state,” and prohibits infringement on “the right of the people to keep and bear arms.” The U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the amendment as providing the right to own and bear arms not only by collective militias but individuals. At the same time, the High Court has also ruled that that right is not unlimited and does not prohibit all regulation of firearms or other weapons.
Over the years, high-profile shootings and massacres, most disturbingly of schoolchildren and college students, have galvanized many citizens and political leaders, including President Obama, to demand that Congress pass legislation to limit — to the extent legally possible — the types of weapons that can be purchased in America, and to do all that is legally possible to make ownership of firearms difficult. The National Rifle Association (NRA), a well-heeled and thus powerful anti-gun control lobbying organization, has opposed many such efforts, often successfully. Over its history, the organization has influenced legislation, participated in or initiated lawsuits and endorsed or opposed candidates on the basis of their views about gun control.
One rather reasonable curb on gun ownership is the background check, a requirement that gun dealers, before selling weapons, consult a database to ascertain that a potential customer does not have a criminal record or certain forms of mental illness that would render him or her unsuited to have access to lethal weapons. It would seem to be the sort of regulation that is colloquially called a “no-brainer.” And a federal law requiring such background checks in fact exists. But it contains what is called the “gun show loophole,” which exempts “private sales,” by gun hobbyists or anyone not making a living from selling guns from the requirement to run a background check on a gun buyer.
Many states have acted to close that loophole in their own laws, to the ire of the NRA. Recently, a proposal in Washington State to expand required background checks to all guns was likened by a lobbyist for the NRA to the policies of the Third Reich.
The group’s Washington State representative, Brian Judy, was heard telling opponents of the state’s background check proposal that one of its primary supporters, who is Jewish, is “stupid” because “he’s put half-a-million dollars toward this policy, the same policy that led to his family getting run out of Germany by the Nazis,” implying that had Jews in Germany had access to weapons, the Holocaust could have been prevented. Apparently oblivious to the ludicrousness of that fantasy, Mr. Judy went on to mock the intelligence of Jewish individuals who support gun safety.
Further raising the bar on offensiveness, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) and the chairman of the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms (CCRKBA), when asked about Mr. Judy’s comments, said: “I don’t see anything wrong with those remarks,” and then compared firearm registration to the “registration” of Jews with number tattoos during the Holocaust.
“Gun owners,” he told an interviewer, “don’t like the idea that Jewish people had to have, you know, numbers tattooed and registered on their arms. They don’t like the fact that they have gun owners that get registered, either.”
Leave aside the fact that the background check initiative in Washington State does not include the registration of firearms. Calling a proposal to prevent the sale of guns to people who are reasonably considered dangerous the equivalent of Nazi oppression is — or should be — beyond the pale of civil discourse.
There may well be valid arguments against tightening restrictions on who may legally own lethal weaponry. True, most religious Jews choose to control their own gun ownership, mindful of our mesorah’s prohibition against keeping dangerous animals or objects in one’s possession. And most of us would like to see fewer guns in the hands of others, too, if only in the hope that the next would-be mass murderer might find himself limited to the use of a knife or car — dangerous enough, of course, but unlikely to result in the sort of carnage yielded by the use of an assault rifle or other automatic weapon capable of shooting hundreds of bullets relatively effortlessly.
Still and all, the right to own guns is enshrined in United States law, and cherished by many Americans who consider weapons not only a hobby or a means of hunting but an important barrier to crime — since criminals are less likely to attack a person if they think their intended victim is lethally armed.
But defending the right to own firearms should never entail the wrong of comparing gun control to Nazism.