Repeal the Right to Own Guns?

Last week, in arguing for gun control, Rabbi Shafran brought up many valid points to support his views. However, in advancing the notion of repealing the second amendment, he states that “the Constitution isn’t beyond change — the second amendment after all is itself an amendment to the foundational document.” Or as the subtitle said, “An amendment, after all, isn’t a commandment.”
The fact that the other rights we so cherish — namely, freedom of religion — are backed by similarly flimsy legalities, is also troubling. And if we can subtract the Second, what remains to defend the First (freedom of speech, the press, and religion)? For once the sanctity of the Bill of our Rights is violated, any remaining clause is fair game, and easy prey at that. Absent the 250-year-old stigma of prior laws, an annoying amendment that guarantees vital rights will be… an annoying amendment. Free to be wished away by a future society that deems it expedient to do so.
Rabbi Shafran then questions the effectiveness of a gun versus “the wrath of a gone-insane, malevolent federal force, with arsenals of tanks and rockets.” True, a gun might not defend you in the face of such advanced weaponry, but tyrannical governments rarely utilize said machines to oppress the citizenry. Just ask the Venezuelans or North Koreans, where the state resorts to private arrests conducted by similarly armed commando units to exert control over the populace. Guns, the great equalizer, would be highly effective in the hands of the people to defend themselves. And unless a government indeed resorts to, well, tanks and rockets against civilian targets (such as the Nazi Germans did in the Warsaw ghetto) they will find their ways encumbered by, yes, handguns (such as the Nazi Germans were, in the Warsaw ghetto).
The article further suggests Tasers and pepper spray as an alternative means of self-defense. These devices, however, lack the defensive capabilities that firearms afford: Practically, Tasers lack range and reliability (the reason they are not used by professional criminals). They also lack the ability to penetrate even the flimsiest of body armor. Pepper spray, while useful in many cases, can be easily negated simply by wearing a mask.
And while it is indeed “alluring to imagine an America with a mere fraction of its 393 million civilian-owned firearms,” that is, I believe, contingent on that fraction existing in the hands of the law-abiding.

Yoni Goldsteyn

Rabbi Shafran responds:

Dear Reb Yoni,
Thanks for sharing your perspective. I don’t think it’s reasonable to make a “slippery slope” argument that making gun ownership a privilege rather than a Constitutional right could lead to the curtailing of truly fundamental freedoms. Many other countries, including Israel, protect citizens’ rights to free speech, a free press and free exercise of religion without any right to firearms.
As to the efficacy of guns against a tyrannical government, cases of armed resistance like Ruby Ridge or Waco or the Posse Comitatus shootouts did not prevent the government from asserting its greater power. (And thankfully so, as such rebellions — and the many other American militias that exist — often are rabidly anti-Semitic.) The most effective way to prevent actual government overreach is through invoking the checks and balances of our legislative and court systems, not violence.
The Warsaw ghetto uprising, incidentally, in which only a handful of Nazis were killed, resulted in the deaths of 56,065 Jews and the razing of the ghetto. That might have happened anyway, but guns in the ghetto didn’t save a single Jewish life.
Tasers and pepper spray are indeed not as effective as guns in stopping an attack. But they are still very useful. And, most important, they are incapable of being used to commit suicide, the cause of the majority of the country’s gun deaths.
What’s more, entirely accidental gun deaths are also tragically common. Children in the U.S. were killed more than once a week over the course of 2018. And more than 1.69 million children live in households with loaded and unlocked firearms.
I don’t favor outlawing guns. I only feel that their easy availability in the U.S., largely due to gun ownership being a right rather than a privilege, takes a truly terrible toll in carnage.