Nearly 30 years ago, as a teenager at Camp Moshava in Northern Pennsylvania, I laid down on my stomach with a loaded rifle — don’t ask me what kind — pressed firmly against my shoulder. But as I squeezed the trigger — on the exhale, per the Israeli riflery instructor — I flinched and the bullet completely missed the target.
The instructor, a former IDF soldier most would describe as “a badass,” was confused. “Why did you jump?” he asked.
“Because I could kill someone with this thing,” I responded.
To hold such power in my arms seemed too heavy a responsibility for me to ever bear. Of course, there are many who feel differently, and I respect that.
Wait, no. I take that back.
I know whenever the subject of common-sense gun reform comes up, we’re supposed to say we respect those with other views, but I just can’t do it. Fact is, I don’t respect any of it — not the desire to use them, not the so-called need to have them for “protection,” and not even the portion of the hallowed parchment on which the Second Amendment is written on.
First, the legal rationale: The framers’ intention for including the Second Amendment — “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” — no longer applies. After all, when the Constitution was ratified at the end of the 18th century, our Founding Fathers believed local militias, not an army, would protect our shores. Today, a free-standing army has replaced militias, so if a well-regulated militia is no longer necessary to the security of a free state, why can’t we infringe on the right to bear arms?
The heart of the Constitution is a collection of laws designed to ensure that the “unalienable Rights” expressed in the Declaration of Independence, namely “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness,” are protected. The Declaration of Independence also allows for reparation of ends that are deemed “destructive” of these rights. Don’t tens of thousands of unprovoked gun deaths each year qualify?
I’ll let the historians and constitutional lawyers go back and forth on that one. But our argument, as Jews, ought to depend on the moral implications. Therefore, the right for anyone to own a gun should never infringe upon anyone else’s right to live.
Virtually every authoritative study on gun ownership in the United States indicates that the supposed right to bear arms is far more damaging to American lives than anything it does to save them. There are so many statistics to prove this, but I’ll just quote the conclusion found by the American Journal of Public Health in its 2013 study on gun ownership in the United States:
We observed a robust correlation between higher levels of gun ownership and higher firearm homicide rates. Although we could not determine causation, we found that states with higher rates of gun ownership had disproportionately large numbers of deaths from firearm-related homicides.
The NRA would have you believe these numbers are incorrect, biased, cherry-picked, or nothing more than a coincidence. But take your blinders off and use some sechel: more guns means more death.
In case you’re wondering, New Jersey was ranked second in the country based on the strength of gun control laws by the Giffords Law Center’s Annual Gun Law Scorecard, and the gun death rate per capita placed it at 45 out of all 50 states. You should also read our coverage about all that our local teens are doing to fight for commonsense gun reform on the cover and on page six.
Young people across the country have had more success in landing body blows against the NRA than almost anyone. But I’m still skeptical that their noble efforts will result in more than lip service by lawmakers about keeping guns away from criminals. I assumed the tipping point on guns would come after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012 in which 26 people — 20 of them children under the age of 8 — were murdered. Yet since that awful day, 1,800 people have been killed in mass shootings, there are almost 30 homicides by firearms per 1 million people in the U.S., and just a month ago, 17 students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., were shot dead.
It’s not just because the AR-15, “America’s Rifle,” is available — according to the FBI, 374 people were killed with a rifle, compared to 7,105 with a handgun in 2016. It’s not just because we need to keep weapons away from the mentally ill — research strongly indicates that only about a quarter of violent crimes are committed by those with mental illness. And it’s not a necessary evil so we can protect ourselves — the Violence Policy Center found that in 2012, 34 innocents were murdered with a gun for every justifiable homicide, meaning one in which a criminal was killed with a gun.
We all know the real reason, whether we admit it or not: Thousands of innocent people are shot and killed because Americans sanctify a document that originally counted slaves as three-fifths of a white person. We found the inner fortitude to change that when we realized it was doing more harm than good to our union. Why can’t we do the same for the Second Amendment?