Sunday, February 15, 2009

Jews and guns

If one conducts a poll among Jewish-Americans and asks about guns, the response is reflexive. They should be banned; of course I don't own any; Americans should be allowed neither to own nor, it follows, carry them; gun control works.

In 1982, Chicago Mayor Michael Bilandic signed the city's handgun ban into law. Chicagoans who owned handguns at this time were permitted to keep them but not replace them. The city was not about to employ police or security to conduct house-to-house searches for confiscation. State Assemblyman Roland "Tombstone" Burris, of course, who had campaigned tirelessly against handguns, kept his piece until 1994. The ban stands to this day. Furthermore, Illinois and Wisconsin are the only states to prohibit concealed carrying of weapons by law-abiding civilians.

After the Supreme Court ruled against Washington, D.C.'s gun ban last summer, it seems apparent* that outright bans are unconstitutional. Some suburbs near Chicago that had handgun bans on the books, such as Morton Grove and Evanston, changed their laws to allow law-abiding citizens to own handguns.

Eventually, Chicago's handgun ban will be as enforceable as a slavery or adultery law. Concealed carry, the right to arm oneself outside the home, will come into play. It will be up to Jews to participate in this fundamental American right.

Jews are always so worried about an accidental shooting. Does anyone know anyone (or a family member) who G-d forbid actually was involved in such an incident? Maybe, but it's highly unlikely--like knowing someone involved in a fatal commercial aircraft accident. Yes, there was one last week (Feb. 12), sad to say, but that was the first one in two years, after several million flights with a perfect safety record.

However, plenty of people are either victims of violent crime or know people who were. In the religious Jewish communities of Milwaukee (Sherman Park) and Chicago (West Ridge, to the city; West Rogers Park, to the people who live there), violent street crimes and home break-ins occur all too often. What's the solution? 911? Emergency response is rarely fast enough to respond to a robbery or violent assault. Criminals think of Jews as soft, as passive victims who will let criminals do whatever they want. Firearms inside and outside the home will quickly dispel them of that notion.

It is a weakness in our character that we have been victims for more than two millenia. What happens when we dare to fight back? Two results: we win; and we are hated for our survival even more. (That last part gives me some satisfaction, frankly.) Cases in point: the Purim story; the Passover story; the Chanukah story; and the establishment of Israel in 1948 as a sovereign state. Each of those events was on a national level. On a personal level, I believe the same holds true, and we should do whatever we can to protect ourselves and our families. Criminals who prey on Chicagoans are confident that they are, by law, unarmed. When they see a mezuzah on a doorpost, their confidence is raised even higher. They know a Jewish home, even in a municipality where gun ownership is legal, is unlikely to have a firearm inside. West Rogers Park has a gang problem, a street crime problem, and a home break-in problem. The solutions offered by Chicago Police and the community are the same, and I'm sick and tired of them. Walk in pairs; walk in well-lighted areas; leave lights on; lock your doors and windows. And pay $20/mo. to ADT to call police if there's a break-in when you're not home. Thanks.

Once the gun ban is rescinded, criminals would be put on notice: law-abiding citizens in Chicago will be permitted to protect their homes with firearms. That fact alone will help us fight crime. The Jewish community occasionally holds CPR classes and other safety seminars at synagogues. How about gun safety classes? How about field trips to shooting ranges? How about rabbis saying it's a mitzvah for every able-bodied man to learn how to shoot a gun? I'd like to see the Jews of Chicago moving from a reputation of being passive victims to being among the most armed citizens of the city. That will show 'em.

Some community members have taken matters into their own hands. Attend a large synagogue gathering--a shabbos kiddush, a tehillim meeting, or a simcha (wedding or bar mitzvah). Who's packing heat? Can't tell. But someone probably is. Someone is protecting the assembly by keeping a loaded handgun inside his jacket, in the unlikely event, G-d forbid, an intruder enters and wants to start trouble.

Unfortunately, c'v, about every other year, the city of Chicago suffers a series of outdoor sexual assaults of women. Women live in fear as they walk home at night. They are given the same tired advice: well-lighted streets, carry Mace, blah blah blah. They are not permitted to protect themselves properly. I am waiting, waiting, waiting, if this G-d forbid recurs, for a potential victim to blow her assailant's head off. I would love to see her arrested for handgun possession, and then I would pay to see Mayor Daley's reaction at his next press conference. Case closed: the s.o.b. got what he deserved from his next victim (or so he thought). Seriously--what could the mayor possibly say? And under the law, she would be arrested for possession and would face jail time.

I don't know how we can possibly change a centuries-old Jewish mindset of "no guns." I do know it's in our best interest to do so. It means safer homes and safer children. It means when antisemites go hunting for people to assault, they'll think twice before hitting a Jewish community if we're as well-armed as the white supremacists. We need to stop pretending the police can protect us. They can't. They're several minutes away, and that's if we can manage to make the phone call. More often, they respond after the crime to fill out paperwork.

*not apparent to Hizzoner Da Mare Richard M. Daley of Chicago, who will spend millions of dollars the city doesn't have to defend in court a gun ban that looks a lot like Washington's.

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