Five Statements About Gun Violence

1. Firearms are dangerous. The exclusive purpose of a loaded gun is to do damage. While probative reasons can be brought forward regarding the possession of firearms, it remains irrefutable that all they can do is mar, hurt, destroy or kill.

2. The principal beneficiary of limiting restrictions on firearms is not gun owners or collectors, but rather gun manufacturers and dealers. Short of an absolute ban on non-police or military possession of firearms, people who wish to own a gun will do so, and collectors can amass their collection. Anything, however, that makes the possession of certain guns, or guns in general, more difficult simply restrains the market for a manufacturer or dealer. They have the most to lose from such restrictions.

3. The most efficient way to facilitate gun sales is to promote paranoia. All marketing is based on developing or maintaining a need. When an item is a clear (even if marginal) benefit, the task might be straightforward. In the case of items whose disabilities are at least as strong as their benefits, the marketing usually has to be indirect. Cigarettes and beer are (or had been) promoted because they might increase one’s attractiveness or social desirability; gambling, because, as New York Lottery reminds us, “Hey, you never know.” The argument for guns boils down to “they are out to get you.”

This line of argument can be very successful. As the old joke goes, “Just because you are paranoid, that doesn’t mean they are not out to get you.” It is nonetheless in the interest of gun marketers to massage our natural fears regarding loss and injury as much as possible.

4. Few are guilty, but everyone is responsible. Make no mistake about it. Although a single disturbed individual took it upon himself to kill his mother and then to fire multiple times into first and second grade classrooms, everyone of us has some measure of responsibility for the tragedy. A tiny amount of that responsibility is what each of us could have done to prevent it from happening. Much larger, however, is what we do now.

Responsibility does not fall evenly on everyone. I would suggest that the first burden falls on those who feel that current gun control regulations are sufficient or should even be loosened. It is incumbent upon them to show that the deaths of twenty six and seven-year-olds justifies the status quo. If no compelling and empirically sound argument is forthcoming (keep in mind statement 3 above), then they are also have the responsibility to join with the rest of us in thinking about serious changes to the availability of firearms.

* * *

5. The tragic shooting in Newtown, CT, occurred in a week in which the Torah portion was the episode in the book of Genesis in which Joseph is pulled out of the royal prison in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. Rabbinic commentators note that the meaning of the dreams were hardly difficult to discern. They suggest that Pharaoh’s counselors should have had no problem doing so. What was difficult, however, was coming up with a plan to do something about it.

I am quite confident that absolutely nobody is defending the terrible misuse of firearms that happened on that tragic Friday morning, or even the numerous similar, if less horrific, incidents that show up periodically in local and national news. The strongest defenders of gun ownership will often argue that there are already thousands of gun regulations on the books, but that many of them are poorly conceived or erratically enforced. On these points, I believe they are correct. Some regulations are very ineffective in getting firearms out of the hands of those most likely to misuse them.

The debate must then be not on regulation versus no regulation, but rather on what has the best chance of working. On this point, pointing to faults and problems, and not working toward solutions is simply irresponsible. We all know the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams; we all must be like Joseph, and work to ameliorate death and loss.

Rabbi Paul Golomb
December 16, 2012

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