A Jewish View of Gun Control

A Summary of My Talk on Shabbat - June 18, 2016

As with most Jewish topics there isn't unanimity of opinion on this crucial issue or most Jewish ethical principles. In the 1840s and 1850s for example rabbis of synagogues in the South were mostly pro-slavery while rabbis of synagogues in the North were abolitionists. Both sides could use the Torah as a guide with very strong textual support. So too with gun control. Just as there is an organization called Rabbis Against Gun Violence, there is also a Jewish organization that supports gun ownership. 

In my view Judaism teaches us to love our fellow human being. Yet we understand that not all people are loving nor are they law abiding. Judaism is a practical religion, providing us with a moral and ethical guideline to navigate real life. Though of course we pray every day for the arrival of the Messiah and the transformation that new era will offer, we recognize that until the Messiah comes we have to do our part to make this world better and safer. 

The sixth commandment states "thou shalt not murder" implying that killing may be okay in certain circumstances. In fact the rabbis teach us that if it is certain that someone is coming to kill you, you have the right to kill him first. Killing in self defense is ethically and morally justifiable. Which by the way assumes that one would have an implement handy in order to kill someone.

At the same time the rabbis taught - in Shabbat 63a - that one must not go out of one's home on Shabbat carrying a sword, a bow, a triangular shield or with a spear. If one does then one is liable to bring a sin offering because the weapons are a stigma for it is written in Isaiah "they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks..." This rabbinic statement is one of many which highlight the majority opinion that weaponry smacks of idolatry and barbarism. Weapons are associated with the Romans and not with higher religious ideals.

It seems clear to me that a legitimate if not required Jewish perspective today is to advocate for extensive gun control in America. Gun ownership needs to be highly regulated with extensive background checks, training and limitations on what kind of guns should be sold. Assault weapons and other army grade ammunition should not be sold in gun shops or gun shows. The average citizen should only be able to buy a simple hunting rifle. 

Our tradition should guide us not only in our own daily living but in how we can do "tikun olam" - making the world a better place. We "should not stand idly by" as people continue to get killed. We need to do our part, no matter how frustrating it may be, to advocate for gun control.