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Op-Ed: Why American Jews should love the Second Amendment

Jason Andrew Garshfield explains why Jewish Americans should embrace the Second Amendment amid the wave of gun control debates across the United States. Among other things, Garshfield claims that if the majority of Jewish Americans were armed, there would be “sense of empowerment” among the community.
Rally in support of Sendon Amendment Photo Credit: Paul Swansen via Flickr

In the days after the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last August, Jews across America were terrified… and justifiably so.

The Charlottesville rally spoke to an old and well-established aesthetic of authoritarianism, one with which the Jewish people are deeply familiar. It is not the first torch-bearing mob that has come chanting for Jewish blood, and it will probably not be the last.

For many Jews, however, particularly those on the political left, the Charlottesville rally was something more. To them, it was merely the latest in a long line of stepping-stones down a very dark path which the United States has been on for the past several years.

Comparisons of one’s political enemies to Adolf Hitler have become anodyne in our political discourse. But for some Jews lately, the comparisons have seemed to hit a little too close to home when applied to our current president.

Such comparisons abound, but one of the most prominent involved Eva Schloss, the stepsister of Anne Frank, who said during Trump’s primary campaign that he was “acting like another Hitler.”

Now, before continuing further, I would like to take some pains not to overstate my case. Anti-Semitism, while still a problem to be taken seriously, is the exception rather than the norm in America today. Aside from the occasional Jew joke, spray-painted swastika, or reappearance of Mel Gibson in the news, the United States is a country remarkable primarily for its incredible lack of anti-Semitism.

American Jews have been accepted into the mainstream in the United States as we have in perhaps no other diaspora nation. Jews in our country are among the first Jews in history whose largest existential threat involves assimilation, not genocide. For this, every Jew in America owes the United States a great and incalculable debt.

In fact, if anything, I would contend that certain prominent elements of the Jewish community (albeit understandably) go too far into the realm of fear-mongering. By almost any recent poll, the number of Americans who hold truly anti-Semitic attitudes, or who deny the Holocaust, is comfortably low. In fact, it is far lower than the number who dislike most other minority groups.

By and large, Jews in America have little to fear from the alt-right, which, despite its disturbing antics in Charlottesville and other venues, is still essentially a fringe movement. Nor do I believe that we have much to fear from Donald Trump, who, whatever his flaws as a man or a politician, is not someone who reveals himself on close inspection to be an anti-Semite.

However, I am prepared to admit that I could be wrong on both these points. At the very least, we Jews must be blind to the threat we face from certain subsets of American society.

Therefore, I am calling on Jewish organizations which have been repeatedly blowing the whistle about the rise in anti-Semitism in recent years to begin to act in accordance with their own expressed concerns.

If Charlottesville and other recent events signify the rise of a new wave of anti-Semitism in America… if, indeed, a second Holocaust may be on the horizon… then the only reasonable response by the Jewish community is to take its self-defense into its own hands.

It is time for American Jews to begin stockpiling weapons and forming self-defense militias to prepare to defend against anti-Semitic violence.

I understand that these words will be striking to some, and so another caveat is in order here. As always, violence should be a last resort, to be used only when all other options have been expended.

We should certainly avoid the terrorist tactics of Kahane and the JDL, and we should also steer clear of the shameful idea of “punching Nazis” that some have recently advocated (and, in fact, we should be willing to fight for the First Amendment rights of Nazis to hold and express their views).

Before taking self-defense into our own hands, Jews should make every attempt to resolve conflicts peacefully, to compromise and back down when necessary, to hide from evildoers or engage in nonviolent resistance when possible, and to rely on the legal institutions of the United States, which have proven themselves over the past two centuries to be strong and durable, to protect us.

But we cannot place all of our faith in these institutions. Authorities have failed us before, and non-Jews have not always been known to save us out of the goodness of their hearts. It is good if they do, and I think most Americans probably would if it ever came to that, but we cannot rely on blind trust as our last line of defense. The Holocaust has taught the world the limits of human goodness.

The Jews of Europe in the 1930s missed many opportunities to mount an armed resistance against the Nazis, but they, at least, can be forgiven. Nothing on the scale of the Holocaust had ever happened before, and most of them did not believe that it truly could… until it did.

We, at least, have some idea of what may be in store for us. And if a significant number of American Jews are convinced, as they seem to be, that Donald Trump and the alt-right pose a genuine threat, then there is no excuse for them not to act.

Jews in America, as a consequence of our leftward political leanings, have often taken an antipathetic attitude towards the Second Amendment, and we have never truly included ourselves en masse in the American gun culture.

There are a few notable and admirable exceptions to this, including JPFO, or Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership. Their expressed views on this issue (while taking some arguments too far) largely mirror my own, but they are a minority voice within the Jewish community.

This is a mistake on our part.

It was, after all, the 1938 German Weapons Act which, while loosening gun restrictions for most German citizens, banned gun ownership for German Jews. This does not mean that “gun control caused the Holocaust.” It does, however, mean that the greatest band of anti-Semites in history were afraid of an armed Jewish populace.

At the very least, for Jews to take steps towards organized self-defense – and to advertise these steps to the public – will send a powerful dissuasive message. By and large, neo-Nazis are cowards who go after defenseless targets, of which they believe the Jews to be one.

These people could do with hearing the message: if you consider it your prerogative to attack and hurt innocent Jews, then you will pay a heavy price in blood for doing so.

Finally, and not to be overlooked, this sort of collective self-defense would deliver a sense of empowerment to the American Jewish community. It would improve our self-image, to know that if worse comes to worst, we will be able to act to protect ourselves rather than relying on others.

There is extensive psychological evidence showing that a sense of agency and control over the circumstances of one’s life is healthy, and Jewish collective self-defense would provide just this.

This sense of empowerment, I am certain, will have subtle but powerful positive ripple effects all throughout American Jewish life. It will make us a little more confident, a little less Woody Allen-style neurotic, and it may even remove some of the shadow of the Holocaust that haunts every Jew at the back of their minds, whether they admit it or not.

To protect ourselves against outside violence, we may plead earnestly for common decency, and hope that our pleas are heard. But some people, unfortunately, are utterly lacking in decency. They will recognize as toothless any plea that does not contain at least a faint shadow of a threat.

As Christopher Hitchens said at the 8th Annual Daniel Pearl Memorial Lecture, there is practically no such thing as a benign or mild anti-Semite. Just about everyone who truly hates the Jews is a person with deep and pervasive unresolved neuroses.

Figures like Richard Spencer try to put a soft, well-spoken, publicly palatable face onto anti-Semitism. But we Jews are not fooled; we cannot afford to be. We see the snarling animal lurking beneath the calm visage.

In fact, I would argue, we sometimes see it just a little too well.

But if we can recognize that danger, and not take steps to protect ourselves from it, we are fools.



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