I thought it might be interesting to take a look back at gun control through Jewish history, so I did so for a research paper a couple of years ago, but I think it is all still relevant.
I often hear people say “Oh, but why did this happen?” I think we should look at the question of how things like this can happen, by examining the role of the victim disarmament laws in place during the time period.
As Dave Kopel points out in his paper To Your Tents Oh Israel i weapon control dates way back for a conquered people. From I Samuel 13:19-22: Now there was no blacksmith to be found throughout all the land of Israel, for the Philistines said, “Lest the Hebrews make themselves swords or spears.” But every one of the Israelites went down to the Philistines to sharpen his plowshare, his mattock, his axe, or his sickle, and the charge was two-thirds of a shekel for the plowshares and for the mattocks, and a third of a shekel for sharpening the axes and for setting the goads. So on the day of the battle there was neither sword nor spear found in the hand of any of the people with Saul and Jonathan, but Saul and Jonathan his son had them. Mr. Kopel points out that governments must control people’s ability to access weapons by also preventing them from making them. Therefore, there were no Israeli smiths.
Whenever Jews lived with Muslims, they lived as dhimmis. This meant they would be facing many restrictions of common rights. First they had to pay jizya, which is a tax any non-Muslim will have to pay to be allowed to live among the Muslims. In addition to that, the Jews living amongst the Muslims were forbidden to testify in court cases if the case involved a Muslim, nor were they allowed to bear arms.ii These restrictions enabled many attacks against the helpless Jews to succeed.
The May Laws in Russia carried many restrictions for the Jews. In some of the areas where pogroms took place some of the Jews attempted for form self-defense groups, but they would be disarmed by the government who appeared to have been involved in instigating some of the pogroms. Firearm registration for all was introduced on April 1, 1918, and in October of 1918 all firearms, ammunition and sabers were ordered to be turned in. The exception was Communists were allowed to keep their weapons. Pogroms in Russia occurred 1881-1884, 1903-1906 and 1917-1921 with each wave of pogrom being increasingly violent towards Jews.iii
Nazi Germany is the easy to use to illustrate how restrictive gun laws can be used to control a population or discriminate against or eradicate a segment of it’s citizens. The Nazi government kept good records. In 1928 the Weimer Republic enacted the “Laws on Firearms and Ammunition”. These laws stated that a person had to have a government permit to do each of the following: one to own or sell a firearms, one to carry firearms (including handguns), one to manufacture firearms, and professionally deal in firearms and a separate one to buy ammunition. Then the government decided who got them based on it’s decision if a person was “trustworthy” enough and if they could demonstrate what the government decided was a good need. This would be the 1928 German version of what is advocated by some in America currently as “Universal Background Checks”. If at some point the government decided they didn’t want someone to have a weapon or ammunition, they simply didn’t renew the permit. In September 1935 the “Nuremberg Laws” were enacted and the Jews lost their civil rights. On March 18th 1938 the “Nazi Weapons Law” was enacted. No Jew was allowed to own or work in a business involving firearms. Kristallnacht occurred on November 10th, 1938. On November 11, 1938 the Nazi Weapons Laws was broadened and no Jew was allowed to own a weapon, any weapon, not just a gun. Since the permitting system had been in place for some time the Nazi government knew who had what weapons, they were marked with serial numbers and where they could be found. This ensured that the Jews, who by now were not considered citizens of Germany could do little to resist the coming attacks.
An interesting note is that America’s “Gun Control Act of 1968” was based on the “Nazi Weapons Laws”. Senator Thomas Dodd was a prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials and brought back a copy of the Nazi Weapons Laws. He had it translated by the Library of Congress. He then pushed for similar legislation in the “Gun Control Act of 1968”, which was signed into legislation.iv
The results of these type of laws are made very clear as by the end of our class observance of Yom HaShoah and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will both have occurred.
Some of the Jews trapped in the Warsaw ghetto formed defensive bands and attempted to fight back. They realized they would not succeed for long, but they fought for their honor, and for the chance that some of them might make it out alive. The Yad Vashem web site has interviews with the survivors of the uprising and they talk about the pitifully small amount of weaponry they had available and their lack of training or experience. But they wanted that chance, that chance to live.v
The British attempted to keep the Jews disarmed in the forming state of Israel
On more than one occasion the British soldiers retaliated against the Irgun by rioting and attacking Jews and Jewish owned businesses. The British also turned a blind eye to Arab guerillas sneaking into Israel, or even knowingly armed them by supplying arms to TransJordan. Indeed there is a long history of attacks upon Jews in their homeland by both Arabs and British. These attacks were either ignored by the British or they made attempts to cover them up, as in the Hebron massacre. Even after the Hebron massacre the British refused to allow the Jews to arm themselves for protection. vi
Israel would seem to be a country that would understand the need for a armed populace. They have not been that way to the extent it might be thought. On July 31, 2013 Public Security Minister MK Yitzchak Aharonovitch called for tighter restrictions on firearm ownership.vii A little over a year later after the massacre at a Jerusalem Synagogue he called for relaxing controls.viii
Moshe Feiglin former MK, also called for easing restrictions on firearm ownership for citizens. His sentiments were expressed with the statement “The answer
is that the State of Israel is not increasing our liberties; it is reducing them. Dictatorship confiscate citizens’ weapons. ‘The State alone will take care of all your security needs’.”ixIsrael does have soldiers throughout the country that ride public transport with their weapons. There has still been many attacks on unarmed citizens in Synagogues, streets, and shops when one was not close enough to stop the attack before casualties resulted.
Europe has seen a rise in antisemitism over the last few years. In 2014 the Metropolitan Police have recorded a 120% increase in antisemitic crimes, but hate crimes are generally under reported. A Human Rights Watch article reported “the EU’s Fundamental Rights Agency found that three quarters of respondents living in Belgium, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Sweden, and the UK felt antisemitism had increased in the country where they lived over the previous five years.”x Both Europe and the United Kingdom have very restrictive firearms laws, and yet attacks appear to be increasing on the defenseless as evidenced by the above statistics.
The divide between the church and the synagogue, that certainly played into the role of the attacks on Jews in Russia, the Spanish Inquisition, Germany and the Muslim countries. In those instances there were attempts to force them to convert to either Christianity or Islam as an alternative to torture and death. In the case of Germany, conversion was not an option as the Nuremberg laws defined who was or was not a Jew. Conversion was not offered or relevant, it was based on heritage. In this case, the church played a role
in terms of helping the Nazis and spreading antisemitic thought. The recent attacks do not appear to be related to the divide between the church and synagogue, but are based solely on hatred of Jews, because they are Jews. But throughout time and country one thing has remained the same. The laws in place restricted Jews from being able to carry out the Torah commands of self-defense such as Exodus 22:2-3 and defense of others Leviticus 19:16. Finally there is the law of pikuach nefesh. In the case of saving a human life, it trumps all others. It’s hard to obey G-d’s law when you are prevented by man’s, to paraphrase Rabbi Dovid Bendory.xi
ii(Wikipedia, Muslim and Arab Antisemitism)
iii(Isseroff, 2009) (Kopel, 1995)
iv(Simkin and Zelman, 1993)
vi(Hollander, 2009) (Jewish Virtual Library) (Lapidot, 1999)
Kopel,D (April, 2007). To Your Tents Oh Israel! Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from http://davekopel.com/Religion/To-your-tents-o-israel.pdf
Wikipedia. Persecution of Jews, Muslim and Arab Antisemitism. Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Jews
Jewish Virtual Library (2013). CHMIELNICKI (Khmelnitski), BOGDAN. Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0004_0_04259.html
Kopel,D (24 March, 1995). Lethal Laws. Retrieved 20, April 2015 from http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1272846
Issaroff,A. (2009). Zionism and Israel – Encyclopedic Dictionary: Pogrom Retrieved 21 April, 2015 from http://zionism-israel.com/dic/pogrom.htm
Zelman,A. And Simkin,J. Gun Control-Gateway To Tyranny (1993). Jews For The Preservation of Firearm Ownership Publishers, p. 1-14.
Wikipedia. Kristallnacht Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kristallnacht
Ochayon,S. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/education/newsletter/30/warsaw_ghetto_uprising.asp
Yad Vashem. Fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto. Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto_testimonies/fighters.asp
Jewish Virtual Library. Jewish Defense Organizations: The Role of Jewish Defense Organizations in Palestine. Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/defense.html
Lapidot,Y. Chapters in the History of the Irgun. Retrieved 22 April, 2015 from http://www.etzel.org.il/english/ac03.htm
Hollander,R. Anti-Jewish Violence in Pre-State Palestine/1929 Massacres (23 August, 2009) Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from http://www.camera.org/index.asp?x_context=2&x_outlet=118&x_article=1691
Ya’ar,C. Israel To Consider Stricter Gun Control Laws. (31 July 2013) Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/170453#.VToMABdVFX8
Dvorin,T. Aharonovich to Ease Restrictions on Weapons Permits (18 November, 2014) Retrieved 15 April, 2015 from http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/187597#.VToMxBdVFX8
Feiglin,M. Citizens Carrying Firearms Prevent Terror. (22 January, 2015) Retrieved 25 January, 2015 from http://jewishleadership.blogspot.com/2015/01/mk-moshe-feiglin-citizens-carrying.html
Leghtas, I. In 2015, Anti-Semitism Should No Longer Be a Reality in Europe (18 February, 2015) Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.hrw.org/news/2015/02/18/2015-anti-semitism-should-no-longer-be-reality-europe
Bendory,D. Man’s Law Kills Again – The Sin of Gun Free Zones. (12 November, 2009) Retrieved 20 April, 2015 from http://www.ammoland.com/2009/11/mans-law-kills-again-the-sin-of-gun-free-zones/#axzz3YDa9BUi8