What does the Torah say about gun control? Not much, considering that guns were not invented until thousands of years after the Torah, but the Torah does mention the invention of weapons.
Tuval Kayin was the first sharpener of copper and iron instruments which Rashi tells us were used as weapons for murderers. So the first man-made weapons were for nefarious purposes. However that is not the first mention of weapons in the Torah. The first mention of the sword is after Adam and Chava were expelled from Eden. In order to protect the Tree of Life God placed two cherubs at the entrance of the garden, and these cherubs were armed with swords to threaten anyone who would try to enter.The Torah’s view on weapons is simple. In the hands of bad people they are bad, in the hands of good people they are good. Weapons can be used for murder, but they can also be used to protect the people and the objects that are most valuable to us.Rashi in Parshat Va’eira quotes a passuk from Yeshayahu that gives us an idea as to how Judaism views gun violence. Hayitpaer hagarzon al hachotzeiv bo? Should you glorify the ax over the one who chops with it?In other words, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. As clichéd as it sounds, that is the issue. And I think in America today, there is agreement on both sides of the issue of gun control. Both sides agree that we want to keep guns out of the hands of bad people, and both sides agree that we don’t want to restrict the rights of good people to own guns for protection.But there is a tension. Some people prefer to take extra measures that will keep guns away from bad people by restricting gun rights from law abiding citizens, while others oppose measures that will restrict the rights of law abiding citizens. Where you stand on this issue is largely a reflection of your personal experience and circumstances. President Obama recognizes this. In an interview this past week he mentioned that he has never been inclined to own a gun. But before he was president he and his wife Michelle were campaigning in rural Iowa. They were driving past secluded houses in areas that they had never been to before and Michelle noted how vulnerable these houses would be to an armed intruder. She said to him, “If we lived here, I would want to own a gun.”Individuals have different opinions on this issue based on their own personal history. This is an issue that has truth on both sides. Elu vi’eilu divrei elokim chayim. Both are the words a living God. In a free society the way that we address these issues is by having outspoken advocates on each side that can articulate the truth that exists at both extremes. Like the Rambam says, in this way we can arrive at a golden mean. I want to suggest today that regardless of what an individual Jew’s personal opinion may be on the issue of gun control, as a people we should be strong advocates against restrictions on the second amendment. My argument for why Jews should be against gun control is based on our collective national experience and can be summed up in one word.Pogrom.The New York Times reported in the aftermath of the Kishnev Pogrom of 1903:The anti-Jewish riots in Kishinev, Bessarabia, are worse than the censor will permit to publish. There was a well laid-out plan for the general massacre of Jews on the day following the Russian Easter. The mob was led by priests, and the general cry, “Kill the Jews,” was taken- up all over the city. The Jews were taken wholly unaware and were slaughtered like sheep. The dead number 120 and the injured about 500. The scenes of horror attending this massacre are beyond description. Babes were literally torn to pieces by the frenzied and bloodthirsty mob.The famous poet Chaim Bialik wrote the poem City of Slaughter describing some of the horrors of the massacre. In the poem he emphasized the passivity of the Jewish men as the carnage was being perpetrated against their wives and children.Crushed in their shame, they saw it all; They did not stir nor move; They did not pluck their eyes out; they Beat not their brains against the wall! Perhaps, perhaps, each watcher had it in his heart to pray: A miracle, O Lord,—and spare my skin this day!It seems there was a feeling of contempt for the victims and the survivors. “How could they go like sheep to the slaughter?” Why didn’t the Jews fight back and protect themselves and their families?This contempt for the victims could also be heard after the holocaust. There is a respect for those who fought in the Warsaw ghetto uprising and in other instances where force was used to fight the Nazis, but as for most of the millions of victims, people ask “Why didn’t they resist?” These responses are not only self-righteous, they also display a gross misunderstanding of historical circumstances. Regarding the Kishnev massacre the New York Times reported that the Jews were completely taken by surprise by the massacre because the local police that the Jews were relying on for protection made no attempt to protect them.As for the Holocaust, it was a systematic disarming of Jews and political enemies through gun control laws that laid the groundwork for the eradication of German Jewry. In the case of Kishnev the Jews had outsourced their protection to a police force that proved either unable or unwilling to protect them. In the case of the Holocaust it was a long calculated effort to use laws to disarm Jews and take away their ability to protect themselves.We don’t have to go back in history to see why Jews should be concerned. Just yesterday the Forward had an article about hate crimes statistics from this past year in France.There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that hate crimes were down 5% in 2015. The bad news is that anti-Semitic attacks were up over 100%. France does not have a second amendment and their gun control laws are very strict. But that does not stop the bad guys from getting weapons and targeting innocent people, especially Jews.The Jewish community in France is requesting that the French government ease gun laws for the Jewishcommunity so that they can protect themselves. Thankfully, we do not face the same threats in America as the Jewish communities of Europe are facing, but there is no doubt that Jews in America are specifically targeted by terror groups. When presented with the tension between restricting gun ownership or protecting the freedom to protect ourselves, based on our experiences of the past and of Jewish communities in other parts of the world, Jews in America should stand on the side that allows us to protect ourselves.As someone once said, its fine and well to pray that swords are beaten into plowshares, but as long as the bad guys have swords, I don’t want to be holding a plowshare. When the Jews left Egypt the Torah says, chamushim alu bnei Yisrael mei eretz mitzraim. When the Jews left Egypt they were armed. The freedom to protect ourselves is one of the hallmarks of a free people. The state of Israel and the IDF meant that the Jews would never have to depend on the army of another nation for protection. The freedom to bear arms does for the individual what the IDF does for the nation.We should pray that this discussion of gun control should only be academic. May Hashem bring the day we can confidently and securely beat our swords into plowshares, and may Hashem bring peace and security to Jews around the world.