The alternating dazed and demonic looks of the Colorado killer illustrate the senselessness of the murders. And “senseless” is the operative and literal definition: it makes no sense, and it will make no sense, however hard inquiring minds seek a rational motive. While James Holmes might not be legally insane – that requires an inability to distinguish between right and wrong, as in ‘he thought he was blowing bubbles when he was firing his weapons’ – clearly he has several screws loose. The planning, the preparation and the execution all point to a calculating but disturbed mind that rests somewhere inside a red-colored head. How can society guarantee safety from such monsters?
The sad and troubling news is that, ultimately, it can’t. There is no perfect, foolproof system that can protect against massacres of the innocent unarmed by the determined heavily-armed. Suicide bombings cannot be prevented, but bombers (or their dispatchers) can be halted before the mission begins. But at the time? It is usually too late. One who wants to kill, and does not mind being killed, has a distinct advantage over the sane and the decent.
Nonetheless, these horrors are always accompanied by demands of pandering politicians for new gun control laws, to be added to the existing gun control laws. The reality is that gun control laws only inhibit the law-abiding citizen from acquiring a self-defense weapon. Criminals can always acquire weapons. Indeed, in my part of the world, it is much easier to purchase an illegal gun that it is to purchase a gun legally, after licensing and waiting periods. It is also cheaper; this I recall from my days practicing law. The plethora of illegal guns on Bronx streets – and the dearth of legal weapons – was shocking, and itself encouraged lawlessness.
This is an aspect of the gun control fantasy that advocates refuse to recognize but that has been demonstrated conclusively by the research of John Lott, among others. An abundance of guns in the hands of decent, civilized people decreases street crime rather than increases it. The statistics do not support the argument that normal people who possess weapons routinely become enraged and start settling disputes with their weapons. That simply does not happen in a statistically significant manner.
Gun possession is legal in Colorado, but – not surprisingly – the Aurora theater banned patrons from entering with concealed weapons. Surely, if a moviegoer that night – or several – had been armed with their privately-owned and licensed defensive weapons, the massacre would have been halted in its tracks (if it even would have taken place at all). Gun “control,” in that theater on that night, aided the criminal and hampered the victims.
That didn’t stop liberal Senator (and gun control fanatic) Dianne Feinstein from opining that those who might have had concealed weapons on that night would have caused a “bloodbath” and many people would have been shot in the “crossfire.” Huh? It was a bloodbath because only the killer was armed, and dozens were killed and wounded because there was no “crossfire.” But, as often happens in politics, ideology trumps common sense.
Gun control advocates are fighting a losing battle because the American ethos will not support it, because over 100,000,000 Americans already own more than 300,000,000 firearms, and because there should be a palpable fear when only government and naturally, the criminal, are in possession of weapons. The initial objective of every dictatorship is to remove the means of self-defense from the average citizen; that is why the Second Amendment was so cherished by the Founders and defended vigorously ever since. One need not speculate too deeply about how differently the Holocaust would have unfolded had Jews been armed and able to defend themselves. Yet, liberal Jewish groups are in the forefront of the gun control lobby, as sensible and Jewish-oriented as everything else they do.
Some people just hate guns, and they should fight for their right not to bear arms. But others see firearms as essential to defense of person, home and property, and therefore oppose even the incremental restrictions that are frequently proffered. Certainly, reasonable people support background checks to weed out the insane, but adjudication of insanity is difficult to obtain. If James Holmes had announced his intention to kill people a week before he did, I am not sure what could have been done to stop him. The police don’t arrest for prospective crimes (assuming he did not reveal any overt steps taken to perpetrate his massacre) and liberals ensure almost 30 years ago that nuts could not be institutionalized against their will, greatly exacerbating the homeless problem as well. If James Holmes could not be arrested or institutionalized, then how could he be stopped? Trailed every day the moment he left his home? Not likely.
The suggestion that semi-automatic weapons or clips that allow rapid fire be banned also falls short on the sensibility spectrum. And it is not because I seek to allow hunters freedom to kill their prey as simply as possible, hunting being anathema to any Jew and strikes me personally as barbaric. It is rather for the reason outlined above: a ban on any personal hand-held weapon just drives the market underground. The criminals will always have it, and the police never have to fight the honest citizen – so the only group ever affected by these restrictions is the group of peaceable citizens.
Paradoxically, we probably could use more guns on the street and in the places we deem worthy of protection rather than fewer. Cities with very, very restrictive gun laws – think Chicago – have the highest rates of homicide and violence in the country. The average person cannot protect himself against criminal assaults. The old bumper sticker – “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns” – still rings true. And societies with high rates of legal possession – think Israel or Switzerland – actually have very low rates of gun violence.
As frustrating as it sometimes might sound, the price we pay for having a free society in which an individual has the right and the capacity to protect himself or herself against hostile attacks is the occasional eruption of senseless violence. It is a tradeoff that we make, much like we do in our mass use of the automobile wherein reckless drivers kill many more people during the course of a year than do guns, and with all the licensing and testing that legal driving requires.
Rabbi Eliezer (Shabbat 63a) wanted to permit men to carry their swords in the public domain on Shabbat, deeming them “ornaments.” The majority disagreed, saying that such weapons reflect poorly on man and the sad necessity of war, and of course carrying weapons are only permissible for security reasons. Nevertheless, we can appreciate Chazal’s characterization of weapons as a “gnai” while understanding – as they did – their indispensability before the Messianic Era dawns upon us,
To imagine that we live in a world more moral than it actually is simply courts danger unnecessarily and leaves us ill-prepared to defend ourselves when appropriate. That fantasy directly negates fundamental Jewish values.
Until Messiah comes, let us fight for the right to defend ourselves and our homes, in conjunction with the police. In the meantime, let the maniacal miscreant be tried, convicted, and, if there is true justice, executed for his crimes. But let him not be used as a pretext to tamper with our vital freedoms.