An article that appeared in the June 15 issue of the NJ Jewish News, “NJ ‘Gun Rabbi’ teaches Torah of self-defense,” received an unusual amount of attention. It concerned a Livingston-based educator who mixes lessons in firearms with a Jewish defense of gun owners’ rights.
Although a few readers were critical, many more thanked us for running what one called an “unbiased” article. “Speaking as [a] gentile I have never understood the Problem that American Jews have with firearms ownership,” wrote one. “Too bad you guys live in the Peoples’ Democratic Republic of New Jersey, where gun owners are frowned upon,” wrote another.
On the whole, Jewish organizations and voters are advocates for more controls on gun ownership, not fewer. Yet the gun owners profiled in the article deserved as much respect as their opponents and any group, really, that sees its Jewish values expressed in their social and political activities.
Where gun owners lose our respect, however, is in championing bad laws that do nothing to protect the rights of responsible, law-abiding gun owners. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, for example, reasonably asks why — when over 32,000 Americans die each year as a result of gun violence — the federal government, since the lapse of the Assault Weapons Ban in 2006, continues to allow the sale of deadly, military-style assault weapons. RAC supports a bill, introduced by our Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D), which would make high capacity ammunition clips illegal.
The New York Times, meanwhile, reported on a “haphazard” process easing the ability of mentally ill people to have their firearms’ rights restored. A prosecutor in Virginia got quickly to the point: “I don’t believe that any reasonable person believes that a mentally ill person needs a firearm. The public has a right to be safe in their community.”
The battle over gun control is often portrayed as a fight between extremes, when in fact a wide and reasonable middle supports both responsible gun ownership and restrictions in the name of public safety. Jews on both sides of the debate should at least agree on this version of Torah: “Her ways are ways of pleasantness and all her paths are peace.”