Why Defend the Gun Owners?

Earlier this year, I came across an article put out by a publication I had written for in the past. The reason it stood out was because of its title, which is quite atypical for a non-Jewish site. “Thou Shalt Not Tolerate the Quivering Jew”, it proclaimed mockingly, and the piece was a sterling defense of a chareidi Jew who had been the subject of an attack in Haaretz because he had the temerity to ask someone to switch seats with him on a flight out of Tel Aviv. I emailed the author, a man named Michael Hamilton, letting him know how appreciated the article was, pointing out that articles of that sort are much more meaningful and effective when written by a non-Jew. He responded to me by invoking the famous words of Martin Niemoller, who, having seen the silence in Germany in the years leading up to and during the Holocaust, wrote a speech which concludes “…Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

I found myself thinking about this exchange when I sat down to write this column. The subject is one that doesn’t really lend itself to real-world consequences in the frum community. However, as Niemoller pointed out, something’s not having a tangible effect on our own lives is hardly a reason not to have an opinion about it, because there is a second and third level where acceptance of a wrong can come back to haunt anyone who accepts it.

That is why we have a real stake in protesting against wrong-minded attempts to impose gun control on the American people.

It is important to realize that the right of the people to keep and bear arms — which is how it is described in the Second Amendment — is a Constitutional right, not just something some people like. That takes it out of the category of considering whether or not this is something we want as a matter of policy, and makes the consideration into one of whether the proposals infringe upon that right.

It is also important to remember that just because we don’t avail ourselves of that right doesn’t mean we should just let it get run over. The implications of that would be devastating to us as well.

Imagine if only people who were personally affected reacted to defend us every time our religious freedom came under attack. Why should anyone who isn’t frum care about, say, metzitzah b’peh? For more than 99 percent of Americans, the issue is one that will never come up in their lives.

Furthermore, our ability to practice our religion free of government harassment in this great country is entirely derived from that special document. If we are to advocate — or even support other people who advocate — degrading those rights, we are, in essence, allowing for the entire document to be degraded, which would be disastrous to us and our religious practices.

Set aside the fact that almost all the proposals are fantasies both in the sense that they would have no effect and would be impossible to implement (given that there are currently over 300 million civilian guns in America). Just recently, when Marco Rubio said that “none of the major shootings that have occurred in this country over the last few months or years that have outraged us, would gun laws have prevented,” the Washington Post ran a “fact check,” saying it decided to do so after a reporter heard what Rubio said and guessed that “it was almost certainly incorrect.” But after reviewing all the mass shootings over the last three years, and the proposals floated in reaction to them, the Post concluded that the statement was entirely true, without even any “shading of the facts” or “selective telling of the truth,” nor did it contain any “omissions and exaggerations.”

Put simply, gun control would not change anything.

Most egregious, however, is the idea that the government can restrict this right because it says it “suspects” you of being a terrorist. At first blush, this sounds like a very sensible proposal, but when carefully considered it is anything but.

One of the things that makes this country special is the right to due process. This means that the government can’t deprive citizens of their rights unless they committed a crime. This is why you can’t be arrested or detained without cause. Just “suspecting” a person of being a terrorist means that the government, with all its resources, has not been able to prove that the person committed a crime — otherwise he or she would have been arrested. Would we stand for the government depriving anyone of any other right (especially freedom of religion) without due process?

I can be very sympathetic to the idea that not having guns is a good idea. I am, after all, from the school of parents who do not allow their children to play with toy guns. But that does not give me a right to impose my views on others — nor do I think it is a good idea to try. Gun ownership is deeply ingrained in American culture, and there is good reason it is that way. People who want to do away with the gun culture are free to advocate for that as well, but they ought to be honest when they do. It would mean coming out and saying they want to ban all guns and amend the Constitution to allow for a blanket gun ban.

But they know that will never happen, so they resort to disingenuous tactics instead.