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    Gun control – Ask the Rabbi

    Q. Should people be prohibited from having guns?

    A. Guns have wrought immense harm in the United States and elsewhere in the hands of people on a rampage. Hundreds of innocent victims have been killed and hundreds wounded.

    Whatever the perpetrators’ motives they have made normal life like going to school and shule vulnerable and unsafe.

    There can be no justification for imperiling or destroying human life: everyone, young or old, must be able to “sit under their vine or fig tree with none to make them afraid” (Micah 4:4). Wanton killing is the worst crime there is (Exodus 20:13), even if it is unpremeditated (Numbers 35:11).

    The problem with guns is threefold:

    1. The gun, which is the symbol of all means of doing harm.

    In Jewish law a person must not own a dangerous dog (Bava Kamma 79a). If one owns a dangerous dog it must be kept under restraint at all times (Choshen Mishpat 409:3). Even a dog that is unlikely to do harm must be kept under restraint because it can frighten people (Shabbat 63b).

    Hence it is best that nobody should own a gun and if they do they must keep it under restraint. Not only guns but all potential means of harm must be identified and dealt with as if they were guns, though it is admitted that guns seem to have a worse potential for harm than many other means of damage.

    2. The motivation: society must train its members to be law-abiding and peaceful and not use violence even if they are aggrieved or angry. In the long term, therefore, moral education must aim for good citizenship.

    In the meantime perpetrators of harm must be harshly punished in order to deter themselves and others from acts of violence. The suggestion made below that gun-owners should voluntarily discipline themselves by means of regular checks will enhance this deterrence.

    3. The potential victim: A person must not place him- or herself in a position of danger (Deuteronomy 22:8) and since schoolchildren are now seen to be specially vulnerable, society must protect them as firmly as possible (e.g. by security measures). Society must remove or prevent any safety hazard (Bava Kamma 15b).

    The community as a whole has this responsibility because no-one should “stand idly by when your fellow’s blood is shed” (Leviticus 19:16). This recommendation does not imply that teachers should be armed. That would be an irrelevant “quick fix”.

    Some gun owners will insist that they have valid reasons to possess weapons. This may have an element of validity but there is still something that they can do.

    Acknowledging that other gun owners are a threat to others, “decent” gun owners must exercise self-discipline and allow themselves and their genuine motives to be placed on a register and be regularly monitored. Fair’s fair and this is something they can do to alleviate the problem.

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