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Presidents, Debates, and Guns


I have not and do not want to watch presidents or prime ministers debate on television. Politicians are salesmen who will tell you what is good about their products but will cover up any faults. Watching them try to curry favor reminds me why I once made the decision not to enter politics.

Money plays such an important part in the game. Candidates are in hock to their funders to get elected and then, of course, to their parties once they get in. Trade unions fund the Left and rich men fund the Right. Only rarely does an independent rise like a shooting star, and then fall back into obscurity. And in the USA, as in Europe, recent immigrants are changing the political spectrum. This will probably be the last opportunity of rightwing whites to get their candidate into the White House.

I recall in my student days how we debated about political systems. When a speaker criticized the Communist Party for censoring the press, the left wingers argued that the Soviet Union system was preferable to the West where capitalists decided what news to print that would attract advertisers and money. The fact is that both, all systems are defective, simply because humans are. I dislike our so-called democracy because human cupidity undermines it. On the other hand, I can’t think of any human system, religious, civil, or sporting that are not undermined by cheats, powerbrokers, and manipulators. Even apparently good guys often make terrible decisions. That’s humanity for you. I am only amazed when I do actually meet honest, good human beings in any of these areas.

In the USA, both candidates want Jewish votes and money as well as all the others’. They will say what it takes to win that support. So if you recall last time round Obama addressed AIPAC and said that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the Jewish state, then the next day backtracked to appease the anti-Israel lobbies and the State Department. Romney says the same thing this time round.

But regardless of who is elected, the American embassy will remain in Tel Aviv and the USA will continue to refuse to register children born in Jerusalem as citizens of Israel. (In 2002, Congress passed legislation that said that American citizens born in Jerusalem may list “Israel” as their country of birth, although Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama have not allowed it.) And no matter what presidents have said or will say, regardless of who they are, nothing will change. National interests will determine policy in the end, regardless of style of leadership, ideology, or alliances, as they always have in the Americas, the Middle East, or the Far East. Yes I am a cynic, but also a realist and pragmatist. One puts prioritizes one’s country or one’s religion first, in whichever order one chooses.

The most obvious proof of my contention that money dictates is the unbelievable American policy on guns. If there is one thing that I find completely incomprehensible about the USA it is its attitude towards guns. It is almost as if they have a death wish.

But both Presidential candidates are scared witless by the gun lobby and refuse to make reform a plank in their platform. The facts (see New York Times Editorial October 19th) are that 4.5 million firearms are sold in the USA each year and more than one million Americans have been killed by firearms in the USA over the past forty years. US gun homicide rates are 6.9 times higher than any other country and it is overwhelmingly the racial minorities and the poor who suffer most. People claim they buy guns for self-defense and whenever there’s a mass shooting sales rocket. But most gun deaths come from gang warfare and home accidents where kids get hold of their parents’ firearms, or family conflicts are resolved by the available means. You’d have thought the Democrats would have made an issue of this.

The gun lovers argue that it is part of American history, the Constitutional right to bear arms to fight off the British army, even if that was three hundred years ago when there was no effective police or armed forces. They argue that precisely because the USA is so lawless you need guns to defend yourself. If ever there was a circular argument this is a good example. But it also implies that having guns actually deters criminals. Quite the contrary. They come better armed.

The NRA (National Rifle Association) was initially founded by Civil War veterans to improve marksmanship and added the hunters’ rights people until WWII. But now they just turned into a bullying lobby with no regard for what is good for America, only what they claim is good for them. Since it now battles to protect the whole array of assault weapons it should change its name to the National Murder Association.

There’s the hunting aspect. Not being a huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’ man myself, I would have thought that’s the best argument against letting people have guns altogether. But let’s allow for sporting guns; after all, we allow poor inadequate humans to drive dangerous cars that often kill them, so why be a spoilsport about hunting. But then why does the NRA fight so hard against banning assault weapons? Do you need an Uzi to bag a wabbit? Not only, but the NRA fights against tougher registration and security checks, despite the fact it seems the vast majority of Americans who own guns are in favor of tighter controls. The NRA is no longer about rifles.

For many, guns are a matter of myth, the myth of the free and easy glory days of the Wild West. For others, it looks like an alliance with the mafia to block anyone or anything that interferes with their fun and crime. It cannot make any sense to have such loose and dangerous laws. Responsible mayors like Bloomberg are aghast that neither of the candidates is honestly prepared to deal with the issue. Obama claimed he would when he wanted to be elected first time, but then, as with most of his pledges, he chickened out when the buck appeared in his rifle sight! I have no doubt Romney would be the same.

I don’t trust either, and yet there is nowhere else I (as a refugee from Britain), or the millions of Americans, or the billions of anti-Americans would rather live, given the stated preference of all those refugees fleeing their homelands. That says something.

29 thoughts on “Presidents, Debates, and Guns

  1. The NRA is a lobby like all the rest. Bully if we oppose. Defender if we support.

    More interesting on the guns topic is the JPFO. Especially their (free, streamed or downloaded) movie. No Guns for Jews.

    Given your background surely we'd all enjoy your thoughts.

  2. Jeremy,

    I did a bit of research – not much, just a bit to get a feel. Statistics seem to vary modestly from year to year.

    In 2007, for example, there were 31,224 gun deaths. Of these, 17,352 were suicides (about 50% of all suicides) and 12,632 were homicides (60% of all homicides).

    Of the gun homicides, generally 75% are with hand guns. Generally, the 75% of the victims are persons with a criminal record.

    America does have one of the developed worlds high homicide rates. It isn’t clear, however, that guns are the cause of that high rate. Switzerland, for example, has a higher gun ownership rate than America, but a gun homicide rate that’s 90% lower than our rate.

    There are 70 million handguns in America, and less than 7,000 are used in homicides in an average year. That’s .0001%, or one one-hundreds of one percent.

    I would tentatively draw the following conclusions from this very superficial examination.

    1. America is a more violent society than some other developed countries. It is not clear that this is because of the possession of guns, but their presence doesn’t help.

    2. Uzis are not the problem. Hand guns are the problem.

    3. It is probably nearly impossible to rigorously control hand gun possession in America. England is easy – it’s an island. America has enormously long borders with Mexico (and Canada). We can’t even control immigration of people, let alone the immigration of handguns.

    4. With 70 million handguns in American’s hands, it would be very hard to remove them from our society. Probably impossible.

    5. Suicides would probably go down if handguns didn’t exist, although that’s just a guess. There would still be lots of ways to kill oneself, but having a handgun present probably permits more spur of the moment acts.

    6. Very, very few handguns are used in acts of violence. Those handguns that are used in acts of violence are probably the hardest to confiscate. This conclusion seems obvious, but is also indicated by the fact that victims tend to be those with criminal records. This suggests that gun violence is in many ways an inter-criminal problem, and perhaps in no small part a gang related problem.

    So, like most social problems, it’s complicated.

  3. Jeremy –

    In a very rare, but respectful scenario, I, too disagree with your stance on guns in the USA, and, take a position not too unlike that of Chaim. However, I would remind all of us of two other, overarching concepts, one of which I believe Chaim alluded to, if not spelled out:

    1 – While not restricted to Jews per se, most intra-national, and certainly all trans-national genocides begin with disarming the victim(s).

    2 – Jefferson (yes, one of my heroes) had many memorable quotes and quips. One of them: "Where the government fears the people, there is Liberty. Where the people fear the government there is Tyranny." Whether or not you believe that true philosophic differences regarding the nature of Man and Government, or mere crass mercantilism, or a mixture of both, caused the only successful long-standing revolution against a superpower in history; its embryonic casting in iron has forever coloured Americas and Americans approach to controlling power, and where the seat of that power rests. Since many DEFINE the singular distinguishing characteristics of a sovereign government that reliably differentiates it from any other construct as "The only organ in any given arena with a [presupposed / de facto] legal monopoly on arrest, detainment, imprisonment, lethal force, capital punishment, and establishment of currency", then it makes sense that Americans would have also instituted a grass roots, hopefully unnecessary, but certainly intellectually effective, counterbalance to the essence of the definition of government. If it WASN'T so potent a potential if not actual antidote – – – – then government apparatchiks potentially subject to its wrath would not be referencing it so frequently.

    The above has nothing whatsoever to do with enforcing proper regulations regarding gun ownership – proper filtering, regulation, removal, etc., nor the baleful but realistic concept that bad individuals will do bad things no matter what; but it does explain the unique position a "well regulated militia" occupies in America that exactly, and properly, is the antipode to the only large scale, long standing, successful separation from a crushing superpower in history.

    There IS such a thing as the American Soul. DeToquevulle not only described it well, but also presaged it's demise as we all become pablum force fed mutally saprophytic drones of an all confiscatory State that mimicks Old Europe instead of staying true to American Principles. And that Soul includes gun ownership.

    Shavua Tov

  4. #3 it's easy to ban guns in England? Nope. They did that years ago. Guns are still used by criminals often. Knives are now a big issue. They're banning them too.

    The odd part is self-defense is illegal in the UK. So maybe up to half of assaults in the UK are criminals (victims/aggressors?) fighting (back). It's insanity.

  5. Anonymous:

    The UK has changed too under pressure and now there are police units that are armed even though 95% of the police are not. I agree that the law on self defense has gone too far in protecting criminals but it is being revised and a recent judgment supported the home owner against the intruder.

    Neither has it stopped criminals, nothing can, short of locking them up. Most criminal deaths in the UK are from criminals killing criminals, not innocents. But most of the deaths in the USA are from family quarrels and accidents in the home where firearms are too easily accessible not properly stored.

    But its the national mood that exerts pressure. In the UK it is solidly anti gun ( except for hunting ). In the USA it is solidly pro and look at where more people get killed. QED.


  6. Michael:

    As you say:

    "The above has nothing whatsoever to do with enforcing proper regulations regarding gun ownership – proper filtering, regulation, removal, etc., nor the baleful but realistic concept that bad individuals will do bad things no matter what; but it does explain the unique position a "well regulated militia" occupies in America that exactly, and properly, is the antipode to the only large scale, long standing, successful separation from a crushing superpower in history."

    And that is my point. Regulations should legislated and enforced. They are not at present for all the wrong motives.

    It is Governments responsibility to ensure that the citizens abide by its laws. In general this is done in the USA. If it were to break down completely that would be another matter. One of the reasons why it is good to live in the USA is precisely because neither does Government fear the People not People the Government.

    The interesting issue is the balance of influence between the Constitution, the Supreme Court and the populace that interact in a subtle process of constant change and modification within a loose framework. That's also how it works in practice in Judaism though few will admit it.

    With all respect to De Tocqueville I do not believe there is such a thing as an American soul ( tell me pray what soul is anyway, there are so many different interpretations). Neither then, with fewer minorities not now with far more. There are pressure groups and religions with their own souls but they are forced to find ways of accommodating each other because the Constitution requires it. Dina De Malchuta.

    Similarly in Judaism. There is no common 'soul' or 'mood' between a Hassid, a Litvak, a Kabbalist, a Sephardi Tahor and a Yekke. It is the Halacha, the constitution, to binds them together.

    There, about three different issues. Each one merits an essay on its own.


  7. Chaim:

    I found the JPFO clip to be dishonest, cheap and fallacious.

    Self Defence of course is a Jewish value but to bring the Holocaust into it as if had Jews been handed out rifles or even Uzzis they could have stood up to the might of the Nazi war machine is as idiotic as the suggestion that in the USA any group could seriously threaten the lives of any other minority now. Does he really believe that the answer is to give eveyone a gun and then Latinos and Blacks could defend each other against the other in an orgy of murder or perhaps turn on Jews?

    I would argue as with mainstream Rabbinic Judaism that it was precisely the prolifertion of armed Jewish militarists that the led to the catastrophic destruction of the Jewish State two thousand years ago.

    Halachic Judaism would argue that it is the State's respondsibility to ensure Law and Order and the specific zealotry of Pinchas was an exception not a rule. Only when Law and Order has broken down completely does one take the law into ones own hand. This is not happenning currently in the USA.


  8. Why do you write:

    "Most deaths in the UK are from criminals killing criminals, not innocents. But most of the deaths in the USA are from family quarrels and accidents in the home where firearms are too easily accessible not properly stored."

    Your commenter, above, pointed out that "75% of the victims are persons with a criminal record" and "gun violence is in many ways an inter-criminal problem, and perhaps in no small part a gang related problem". And In your own blog post you mentioned that "gang warfare" first among the most common gun deaths (even though suicides are apparently the most common).

  9. Most. Many. We'll soon be at "for the children."

    This is a complicated issue. There are enough rigorous, peer reviewed studies in place that policy discussion here borders on silly. University of Chicago economist John Lott stepped into this subject years ago and while his reputation is fairly destroyed, his research stands. Likewise, reputations are taking hits on this venue. It’s honest, but less than a good thing.

    Jeremy's post is an emotional screed. Defined terms like "assault weapons"are used incorrectly, etc. I think it's a mistake to argue this polarizing issue. It breaks down to agree or disagree based on our respective backgrounds and biases. On Jeremy's side it seems guns are bad or maybe scary and the state is sought to provide communal needs of her subjects. On the other side are the same Americans who also so frustrated Obama by clinging bitterly to their religion and guns. For them guns are merely tools and their God given rights remain intact.

    Instead of guns Jeremy's subject could easily be that we shouldn't be allowed cars capable of exceeding a certain speed or fuel capacities. Or maybe that we should restrict bottled water except maybe to facilitate the meetings of our politicians and social betters.

    The thing I’ve learned from silently reading Jeremy’s posts over the years (has it been over a decade?) is to examine my biases and become more open-minded and tolerant of other opinions. It’s surprising that Jeremy so glaringly displays his bias and blind spots. I’m seeing less of an open, alternative take on Torah than a socially liberal, urban-centric view of the world where Green concerns about plastic bottles and landfills are voiced over tiny tables while enjoying organic tomatoes hauled in by diesel trucks. And lets not forget those scary guns. I’m disappointed.

  10. I'd love to hear Jeremy talk about why he chose to leave the UK for a rebellious colony full of ruffians. I'd use the word hooligan but those are more often British it seems. (That's my attempt at a joke.) Surely Jeremy knew where and why he was coming. For opportunity I'm guessing? Maybe those opportunities and our fleeting ideals of liberty are tied? Is one worth the other? If not, why not stay in the UK? Are the cafes and theaters of NYC worth so much? Isn’t disarmed French culture more appealing?

    Jeremy's migration and actions remind me of the influx of Californians to Arizona a couple decades ago. Cheap, open and clean Arizona was a real draw to the taxed and harried Californians. Looking now the Californians have brought their problems with them. With only the best of intentions of course so hopes Jeremy?

    The UK banned guns. Their National Health Service is being forced by reality to flirt with privatization. Private property rights are thin (Google "uk squatting gypsies") and effective self defense is nigh illegal. They should be near utopia soon, eh?

    But like the escaping Californians we have Brits fleeing the UK and Jews fleeing France. I'll admit it's a universal pattern. Californians enter a low tax locale then demand services until high taxes and congestion return. Muslims come the the west then seek to establish sharia. Leftist social democrat types come here unable to not bring their failed states along. If the bitter clingers should welcome the Progressives why not sharia. Strange bedfellows those groups are!

    Why do people feel a need to do that? Why the apparent lack of self awareness? Those are interesting topics to which maybe Jeremy could apply his learning. I think it'd make for a good drasha or two given Jeremy has rich experience on the perspective. Please?

  11. Chaim:

    My writing is of course neither strictly academic nor religious, it is an expression of the ideas that animate and interest me. I believe the preoccupation with guns is unhealthy and it offends my sensibilities which are I agree are influenced by my upbringing, religion and culture. I would not want guns in my home. This is indeed a debate about culture and it amuses me that it offends so many people to the extent that I am getting far more anger over this issue than any other one I have ever written about. That tells me that there is something very suspect and worrying about this issue.

    You simply cannot compare guns to cars. In the world we live in, cars are an essential means of transport, commerce and human interaction. Guns are not. Remove them and we would not be poorer off culturally or interpersonally.

    I do not believe you cannot turn technology back and I do not suggest returning to bows and arrows. But I do believe arms should as a general rule be confined to the armed Forces and Police. There is much about the UK I dislike but its attitude to guns, knives ( and Capital Punishment) is far saner than the USA's.


  12. Chaim:

    No human society is perfect. Everyone has its neuroses, corruptions and blind spots. On balance I prefer a more laissez faire, less controlled society which the USA was and still is, more than Europe. It is also one in which different communities tend to get on with their lives with less friction and antagonism than in Europe. As a Jew even if anti Semitism continues to exist here, it is less intrusive and obvious than in Europe. Although I have no doubt it is changing.

    Its like the person you love. He or she will have faults and limitations. I think class and status play a far more insidious part in European life than money does here. But you make a judgment call as to where youd prefer to live and I prefer the Manhattan in the USA to Europe ( at the moment). Not sure I'd prefer Miami or in fact 90% of the rest of the USA!

    As for my USA politics ( and I cannot vote yet) it seems the one I am closest to according to a computer analysis is Ron Paul except I detest his views on Israel. And as you might know by now I mistrust all politicians.


  13. It is also true that the very things people criticize and complain about in "the person they love" are often the things that make them who they are.

  14. But you should not CHOOSE to pair up with someone who is abusive. So continuing with the analogy, if you believe a society or government is abusive, it would be dysfunctional to choose to live in it.

  15. Jeremy said: "I believe the preoccupation with guns is unhealthy and it offends my sensibilities … This is indeed a debate about culture and it amuses me that it offends.."

    What a hoot. I see the same preoccupations in your posts and is amusing here too.

    In planning a utopian society I think we'd all have fun. The problem comes when the inevitable losses turn out to be our loved ones. Identifiable individuals. Each one a world, eh? Something like that. Disarmed people when attacked should lie back and think of England then? I apologize for any offense. Amusement level is high. I hope you share it.

    I think maybe given your preoccupation that you've assuming this topic is about guns. To me it's very much not about guns or knives. Or cars. It's about oppression, the value of individual lives and allowing people their autonomy and ability to value themselves (if they wish. Many appear to not.) Based on the familial experiences of the Syrian Jews in our congregation I’m guessing it’s the same with yours. If your congregants appear enthralled by guns let me suggest the infatuation is instead with life.

    Ron Paul? Israel I think would be your smallest argument. His foreign policy stance looks pretty consistent. Israel has arms. If willing, they also have Hashem (insert Lazer Brody here). Paul seems to not worry about Israel either way. I think a bigger concern would be that all those Libertarians support individual liberty, to own and carry guns (without licenses even!) for example. Please be sure to avoid New Hampshire. I'd worry about your sensibilities. In Manhattan I think you’d better keep a Hillary sticker on your bumper. You’re deep in the hive if you realize it or not.

  16. You are the one who used the word "abuse". But of course there are always those women who feel "they can change him". 🙂

  17. Wow! such vitriol. Such banter. I am impressed. I don't know some of the other, obviously very important contributors in this also just as obviously long running relationship-in-print. I may just be pleased as punch to meet some of you. Maybe not. Don't know. But since I very much AM steeped in the emotive and "religious" aspects of what I wrote – much moreso, though, the political / philosophical ones – I will recapitulate by summing up some of what I've read in this tennis match that more than anything else re-verifies my mastheads.

    – Whatever you view is, you have the right to present that view here singularly because this is the USA. Francois Hollande would legislate and tax your way to (economic and therefore de facto) slavery and silence no less so than Ayman Mohammed Rabie al-Zawahiri would do it with a scimitar or a bomb in arenas that would permit it; and forwarding of Sharia law under the "deservedness" of its place in the sun in "democracies". [ see: the power locus theory of government as compared to the political spectrum theory of government]. And if you think Obama does not want to emulate the former, and Agudath Yisroel the latter, then you shouldn't be writing here.

    – TO wit, Ron Paul. Way too many paragraphs to write here. Simply, as I Jew I have the prerogative (and the religious obligation) to lobby for Israel; and the need as an American to understand why that support fails if it does, when exposed for being driven by Crony Capitalism, Baptist End-Times Conversion Hopes, Jewish Lobby Horse Trading, and Intelligence sub-farming. Besides, if I thought that subjecting myself to the Israeli Peaceniks or The Moetzet Gedolei Yisroel was going to "actualize" me as a person better than republican (with a small r) representative democracy – then why wouldn't I have made Aliyah already?

    – And speaking of Aliyah, leave Jeremy alone. The fact that a prostitute (please no offense Jeremy) shows up in church should be a good enough starting point for all the hypocrites around her. Democracy was a deformed embryo in Greece, an aasthmatic adolescent in Maritime Britain, but then died in a post-pubescent shipwreck and was born again full throated on Boston Commons. Give Jeremy credit for realizing that with his feet. So what if he is too Left for any self-respecting Libertarian? He's a bloody fascist pig compared to his former comrades in London!

    (apparently I'm too verbose – continued "on side two")

  18. Part II:

    And finally, in case you suspect that I am Jeremy's long lost brother-from-another-mother, let me DC al Coda by reiterating that an EMPOWERED instead of COWERED third estate as an unwritten balancing chamber [pun intended] of government pasted directly, if later, into the exact same document that states that no man, nor institution, short of God Himself, can legally disturb my peace, disarm me of my individuality, my right to exist, prosper, and seek my happiness, without due and proper cause and proven to a jury of my peers is just as much a protection of individual freedom in this country as "silly" words like the right of Habeus Corpus, The Prohibition against Posse Commitatus, and the right of every naturalized or natural non-felonious citizen to vote.

    Arms SHOULD be regulated – just as – to use a phrase from above – cars. You need to buy it legally, care for it properly, answer for its dangerous, irresponsible, or illicit use, and there are certain instances in which you will be deemed too dangerous, too imbecilic, or too individually unlawful to own one.

    One of the first non-physical safety rules one (should) learn as a gun owner is that it is just as important to learn how not to use, how not to turn to a weapon as it is to learn to use it properly. Simply owning a weapon makes a statement without ever having to use it.

    Your vote is a dangerous commodity to many people in power – and so it should remain – and there are many who would usurp it from you. Your wealth, honestly earned – is a tempting pie and a dangerous commodity to many people in power who would order you to work for so many shilling an hour at such and such a job you detest – and so should it remain.

    And in the final analysis, and seen from the overarching whole, the presence of weapons in the hands of a wide swathe of the Citizenry, lawfully held and used – [not insurmountable – Jeremy – so please no overwhelming military force analogies, but fearsome nonetheless – would you like your sadistic brown-shirts to kill 10,000 and suffer zero casualties, or kill 5,000 and suffer 5,000 casualties? hmm?]

    – that armed population is a tempting target and a fearsome obstacle to the enslavement of the population by "ambitious men" – and so, Please God, may it EVER remain.

  19. Please forgive – didn't answer another important statement from above:

    – Pinchas was a shallow shill, a "broken arrow" (look it up), a retro-fitted narrative groomed mercenary, for the rabbinate. He presents no story of an individual "on fire with the zeal for God". The fact that Torah says so b'dieved should be proof enough he wasn't. It was a classic "black ops with plausible deniability" so many cheap afternoon movies are made of; where illicit and illegal protocols of the administration mature into full flower with the exercise of extra-legal murder ordered by the top slots of the State Corporation. "Clean Hands" for Moshe, who, after all, violated the EXACT same "moral code crime" as Cozbi and Zimri, all in an explicit conspiracy to a) preserve the family power balance at the top and b) schmear Pinchas for his trouble, and memorialize and "hagiographize" the switch to his branch of the Kohanim.

    – The Sicarii (very real and very active – right now – in Mea Shearim) The problem was NOT that they were armed – the problem was that the Perushim and Tzadukim were not. The problem was, like "Old Europe" Rome had forbidden the carrying of weapons to protect its EMPIRE by pacifying its conquests – and therefore in 70 CE like in in 2012 CE "when the government bans guns from citizens then only criminals will have guns". Secondly, the Second Commonwealth, like in many ways today's government, though moreso, did NOT protect the average Jew ( read: Citizen). EVEN and ESPECIALLY The Sanhedrin (Congress and The Supreme Court) shrank in cowardice from (depending on who you read) prosecuting Herod or Yannai for murder under respondat superior. Disarmed law abiding Citizens; Criminals armed and running amok; two-faced sycophantic pusillanimous pols; and a distant, foreign, disdainful, military seat of true civil power. THAT is why Bais Sheni fell and why only criminals flourished. Sound familiar?

  20. Amen, Michael. You make a number of substantive points that are not lost in the hilariousness of your comments. And point taken regarding the prostitute in church!

  21. Thank you Michael, I did enjoy your articulate flow of consciousness and even the analogy of the hooker (have been called much worse things in my life).
    Its a real pleasure and delight to have your presence here. Though I must confess, in general I side with the well known Bon Mot that "Brevity is the Soul of Wit."

    Thank you,

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