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Guns, God, and Freedom

Guns and gun violence are a huge part of our society. If you work in the life insurance business long enough, and you handle enough different cases, you will come across them. I have seen firsthand the trouble they can bring.

I have seen how innocent people can get hurt by drive-by shooting. I have seen how suicide can be enabled with guns in the home. I have seen how wayward juveniles can ruin their lives through armed robbery. It’s almost enough to run to the government and plead with it to save us from ourselves. “Please! Take our guns. Just don’t let bad things happen to us.”

But then horrors like the Kansas City murders remind us to never go down that road. A closer look at what happened here will tell us why.

A White Supremacist went on a shooting spree and took three innocent lives. He is an Anti-Semite and chose to take out his hatred of Jews on the eve of Passover. The fact that non-Jews were killed is beside the point: you can look at his decades of spouting racism, and his choice of target sites, and you know who were his intended victims. Plus, Passover is a time when Jew-hatred peaks.

The Passover connection here is very instructive. As the story is told on this holiday, the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, and were being severely oppressed by Pharaoh. They finally had enough, and called out to God for salvation. He responded by liberating them from their bondage and giving them the Torah – the model for right living. They would have an opportunity to form their own nation based on freedom, and to help other nations do the same.

Why did Pharoah crack down on the Hebrews? Because he felt their growing numbers were a threat to his power. He wanted to secure his tyranny. Why did God intervene? To show Pharoah – and all other human kings – that He was in charge, not they; and that human society must promote freedom, not oppression. This was the lesson from God: totalitarianism is unacceptable. (1) But it was a once-in-a-lifetime lesson: He took history into His “own hands” once to set us politically straight; hereafter, we will need to govern ourselves. (2)

This is a Biblical basis for the idea that it is morally wrong to ask the government to take over our lives. Even when we feel threatened, it is primarily up to us to protect ourselves. Government can help in a supportive role, but absolutely not in a dominant role. Political commentator and moral philosopher Dennis Prager says this well:

I have come to admire the American value of the armed citizen. It is part of the great American value of independence and self-reliance. If I am armed, I can better protect myself, my loved ones and my neighbors. America is great in large measure because Americans relied much less on the state than any other nation.

Of course, the state can and must do good things. You cannot protect a country with armed militias; you protect it with a national army, navy and air force… But the traditional American view was that the state should do as little as possible, while the individual and the community should do as much as possible — including having the ability to protect ourselves against those who would do us harm. Of course police are indispensable. But the police almost always show up after an innocent has been murdered.

If armed, responsible citizens had populated that Jewish Community Center and Jewish Assisted Living Facility, then Frazier Glenn Miller Jr. would have thought twice about attacking them. The same holds true for every school, shopping mall, military base, and other places in which unarmed innocents are easy prey for hateful, violent people. Mr. Prager notes how an armed, responsible citizenry could possibly have turned the tide in such a calamitous event as World War II:

How many Jews the Nazis would have murdered if most European Jews had guns is impossible to know. But common sense suggests that the number would have been much lower. The Warsaw Ghetto revolt was begun with 10 old pistols and very little ammunition. Later a few hundred pistols and rifles and a few machine guns were smuggled into the ghetto. Himmler told Hitler he would quell the revolt in three days. It took four weeks. Many hundreds of German troops — perhaps a thousand — were killed or wounded.

If the Nazis knew that Jews refused to go to roundup areas and that many Jews were armed, awaiting Nazis to enter every apartment, it is difficult to imagine that the Nazi genocidal machinery would have been nearly as effective. And, vitally important, even had the number of Jews murdered been near 6 million (which I doubt), not all ways of dying are equal. There is a world of difference between being gassed or shot to death while standing naked beside the mass grave you were forced to dig and getting killed while shooting a Nazi.

Mr. Prager’s last statement is the bottom line on this issue. No one should ever be left standing defenseless at the mercy of an attacker, hoping and praying for help to arrive. When your time on this earth comes, you must be allowed to preserve your own dignity. If that means “dying with your boots on,” then you deserve the opportunity to wear those boots.

But what if the government will not let you wear those boots? What if it attemps to deny you the ability to protect yourself? Then, as Mr. Prager points out, they are moving back to totalitarianism:

The first thing every totalitarian regime does is confiscate weapons. As long as evil people have guns, good people will need to have them. This is true for nations (which is why it is so important for America and for the world that America have the strongest military) and it is true for individuals.

The savage attack by the bigot Miller on the eve of Passover reminds us of the Biblical Passover message: free people are empowered to take responsibility for their lives, including protecting themselves from evil. If their government attempts to usurp that power, then it is aiding and abetting that threat.(3)

(1) The battle to be free of tyranny is a major theme in the work of scholar Hakham Jose Faur. He writes extensively about the responsibility of the Jews to implement and promote this cause. Here is one example:

 The Jewish patriarch Abraham was the first man to stand up against the Babylonian tyrant Nimrod and the first to proclaim that God is the King of the universe… the struggle of Israel throughout history is the struggle of patriarch Abraham against the tyrant Nimrod and his followers. The mission of Israel is Abraham’s mission, to bring forth blessing to “all the families of the earth” (see Isaiah 49.6)…. Invariably, as with the patriarch Abraham, Israel rises from the ashes, set in her mission to establish one nation under “one Law for the citizen and the stranger that dwells in your midst” (Ex 12.49) – not under one man or one group of men.

Jose Faur, The Naked Crowd: The Jewish Alternative to Cunning Humanity (Ft. Lee, NJ: Derusha Publishing, 2009). p. v.

(2) The idea here is that God intervened in history to liberate the Hebrews and give us the Torah as a one-time event only. That was the only time that He would “come to us.” Thereafter, we would have to “go to Him”. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has an insightful essay on this topic. I have created a study guide on his article in this post.

(3) It must be mentioned that a government has many ways to disarm the citizenry. Reducing the supply of available firearms and ammo is one. Read this article about massive government purchases for arsenals maintained by agencies like the Postal Service, Department of Education, and National Weather Service. They are creating shortages on the shelves of gun stores.