Op-Ed: Why gun control is a Jewish issue


The most recent gun-related murderous rampage in our country has been greeted by an outcry from families of the victims regarding the need for saner gun control policy.

We all need to be more passionate about the right of Americans to live in safety and not become innocent victims, murdered in cold blood.

But for Jews who take the Torah and its teachings seriously there is a different and unique argument to put on the table.

One of the most compelling and pragmatic commandments in the Hebrew Bible is found in Leviticus 19:14-18, where we are forbidden to “place a stumbling block before the blind” and we are reminded that we are to “love our fellow man.”

For more than 1,000 years our rabbis and sages have believed this prohibition is a metaphor compelling decent people to be sensitive to those with challenging issues.

Rashi and other great Jewish sages normally speak in terms of the commandment forbidding us from engaging in irresponsible or predatory business practices where we take unfair advantage of our own insights and knowledge and exploit or tempt those who are “blind” in these matters.

For example, according to the commandment, a decent person is not allowed to buy a cocktail for an alcoholic friend who is trying to quit drinking or to encourage a friend to make a risky investment that he is not capable of fully understanding.

Many of the mass murders in recent years have been committed by people who had a history of serious, untreated or undertreated mental illness. It would not be hard to argue that the easy availability of mass killing machines helped them make the transition from being severely troubled persons to mass murderers.

An equally compelling case can be made that the commandment also forbids us to make assault weapons and high-capacity magazines available without stringent background checks on the buyers to make sure they are not impaired or “blind” when it comes to issues of civilized behavior.

The inclusion of the uniquely Jewish commandment would simply add even greater credibility to the arguments made by those of us who seek a saner policy on guns — and further discredit the already bankrupt arguments of those who hide behind a warped interpretation of our constitutional rights to justify arming those who have killed far more Americans than terrorists in recent years.

Most of those who oppose greater gun control are not motivated by Second Amendment rights or issues related to self-defense.

When was the last time anyone ever heard of a person warding off an attacker with an AK-47 or a semi-automatic weapon capable of killing 30 people in 30 seconds?

When people walk into a Walmart or gun show and buy a killing machine and unlimited amounts of ammo and clips — sold without regard to their criminal or psychiatric history — they are never doing it to protect themselves. We all know that. But the National Rifle Association has twisted the narrative and used its immense power in Washington to make those of us who oppose their agenda feel thoroughly beaten.

When my friend Gabby Giffords was gunned down along with 18 other people in Tucson a couple of years ago, there was a man named Joe Zamudio in the crowd who did have a gun. By the time he realized what was going on, raised his weapon, took off the safety and moved in, the killer was already on the ground being subdued and one of the heroic citizens had taken his gun away.

The patriot with the gun came within an inch of shooting one of the heroes who had subdued the killer, mistakenly thinking he was the shooter.

Here in Arizona, the pro-gun crowd had the chutzpah to name a bill after Giffords and her aide Gabe Zimmerman (who died in the attack), which would broaden gun availability and training on the theory that if everyone has a gun in all venues, then there will be fewer victims of the bad guys.

The whole narrative of the NRA and the gun lobby is evil and self-serving. But the Jewish community just hasn’t gotten passionate about it.

The people who support the NRA and those who want to suppress a woman’s right to choose on her own health and reproductive issues are passionate, as are those who support ongoing discrimination against gays and illegal laws trying to keep blacks and Hispanics from voting. They put their money and their power behind their passions.

Isn’t it time for Jews to spend more time, money and energy on gun issues, which are leading to the deaths of dozens of innocent Americans every year? In addition to more than 900 innocent victims of mass shootings in the past seven years, “about 11,000 homicides, 19,000 suicides and more than 2,000 fatal accidents involving guns” take place every year in the United States (Washington Post, April 14, 2014).

Our uniquely Jewish narrative can add to the existing chorus of common sense and life-affirming arguments that should be compelling, but are apparently falling on the deaf ears of so many of our state legislators and members of Congress.

The following news clip should have been the lead of the May 24 Washington Post article about the recent mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif. Instead it was buried at the bottom.

“Elliot Rodger owned three 9mm semiautomatic handguns, all legally purchased in his own name, and he had enough ammunition for a massacre — 41 magazines with 10 rounds each …

“Christopher Ross Martinez, a 20-year-old university student, died after being shot in a deli. His father, Richard Martinez, held a brief, emotional news conference late Saturday.

“‘Our family has a message for every parent out there: You don’t think it’ll happen to your child until it does,’ the grieving father said. ‘His death has left our family lost and broken. Why did Chris die? Chris died because of craven, irresponsible politicians and NRA. They talk about gun rights. What about Chris’s right to live? When will this insanity stop?’”


Larry Gellman is a financial advisor in Tucson. He has written for the Jewish Daily Forward, Jerusalem Post and other publications.