Monday, 20 May 2019

Anti-vaxxers and Anti-gunners

From RRW
Guest Blogger: Rabbi Mark Weiner
Anti-vaxxers and Anti-gunners

When I was a Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) resident at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, I was taught to reflect upon my emotions. When I hear of the growing negative feelings towards anti-vaxxers, I realize that I hold a growing negative series of emotions towards anti-gunners and begin to compare the two groups.
Why? In today's climate I have developed negative feelings towards experts that might be discouraging congregations from having licensed concealed carry permit holders from bringing their defensive weapons to houses of worship in states where these permits are accessible. 
There have been two horrible major attacks on synagogues recently.  This year is also the first time that I recall that a terrorist has stated specifically that he wanted to kill a rabbi.  "Joseph also stated specifically that he wanted to kill a rabbi."  This terrorist is not in my prison but this is a situation we should be concerned with. 

Why do I feel so negatively when I hear even in today's climate there are people who are naïve about the need to protect our synagogues with legitimate legal methods of defense?

There is a basic mandate of self-defense in Halacha/Jewish law.  There is a basic Talmudic saying: 'If someone comes to kill you, rise up and kill him first (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot, 58A).'
Do I feel this way because of the two tragic shooting attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway?  Rabbi Goldstein of Poway should be praised for encouraging the off-duty border patrol officer to bring his gun to the synagogue where he was able to use it in defense of the congregation.

Perhaps I am so strong in promoting the need to have licensed firearms in our synagogues because of my experience in the military ministering to so many wounded and deceased.

Maybe it is my background as a prison chaplain having regular contact sometimes on a daily basis with radicalized terrorists, white supremacists and murderers, etc.

I must state that I am only speaking of my personal views using public information and not representing any agency.

From my regular conversations with radicalized terrorists that have shown up in the news over recent years, I know that most appear or present themselves as polite young men from different ethnic backgrounds that might not stand out as they approach your institutions’ doors. I know terrorists who have tried to set off bombs, shoot up a mall, tried to join Al Qaeda or ISIS or recruit for ISIS over the Internet.  There was the white supremacist who tried to burn out his minority neighbor.  Maybe it is knowing two cousins who were planning an attack on an Illinois National Guard facility.

Maybe it was speaking to a congressman from out of state who sat on the House Armed Services Committee, and expressing my concern about the lack of security at military reserve centers. That conversation was two weeks before the horrible attack on a Naval Reserve Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee where we lost three sailors and a marine in a terrorist attack.

Maybe it was having spoken to one of the Mumbai terrorists that lived near the Chicago Jewish community and was arrested before we knew of the Mumbai connection, on his way to Denmark with Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin’s book To Pray as a Jew in his possession. This was the individual that was found to have done reconnaissance prior to the horrible Mumbai attack that included the horrible bloodshed at the Chabad House.

Maybe my concerns stem from being down the block from the anti-Semitic shootings near Yeshiva University in Washington Heights and seeing my friends wounded while sitting in a restaurant.

Perhaps maybe it was being around the corner during the July 4, 1999 weekend shootings when white supremacist Ben Smith shot people walking home from the Friday night service that I also attended. I saw a father who is a medical doctor is treating his wounded son in front of their house and knowing the effects upon other wounded from that incident. I saw a fast response time by our local police but it was not fast enough to prevent the shooter from going up to Skokie where he shot and killed a black Northwestern University basketball coach, and the next day killed a worshiper at a Korean church in Indiana before he was stopped.
A guard at the door of the synagogue although vital, would not prevent attacks on congregants walking home. The above attack occurred before the State of Illinois had concealed carry permits available.

Maybe it was hearing on the news about the Fort Dix 6 arrested before their planned shooting attack at Fort Dix, New Jersey, where I worked at the time both in the prison and for the army reserve. 

I learned that these radicalized terrorists had been planning the attack in an apartment a few blocks from both where I lived and the synagogue I attended.  I also learned that two of the terrorists the summer before had been working as roofers on the roof of another rabbi’s house on the next block from where I lived. 

These people are out there in our communities and I feel is dangerous to be naïve and lax about the need for serious security in our institutions. 

An armed security guard at our institutions’ doors is a vital basic step, but it is not enough as we realize that during an attack, if the guard is taken out, there is no real defense. Response by a gun permit holder on site is vital for saving lives.

Time and time again we have learned that it is somebody on site with a weapon that is the only way to stop and minimize fatalities. People die in the minutes it takes for even the best police response.

We know of a number of attacks on places of worship or study where bloody attacks were stopped only with the response of a defender with a gun. This occurred In Israel in 2008 when a reservist stopped the shooting of high school students at the Yeshivat Mercaz Harav library in Jerusalem.  It occurred when someone with a gun stopped the shooting at a Charleston, South Carolina church in 2015.  There was also the case of St. James Anglican Church in Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa, on 25 July 1993, when someone with a handgun in the back of the church was able to put an end to the massacre.

Clergy may have concerns about the safety of guns in the congregation, but I believe the risks are minimal compared to the real threats that we face in our communities at this time.  Again, I cannot be naïve or for that matter, silent, because of what I have seen and experienced and who I know are out there in our communities, not just from newspaper articles but from personal contact.  I do not understand congregations that are more afraid of their members with guns then they are of terrorists.

For those looking for more background information I recommend the important academic research by University of Illinois economist John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D. on crime and firearms protection such as his More Guns Less Crime.   
The expression, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” is not just a soundbite.  It is a statistical reality and a clear call to protect our congregations and their families and our families.  Think of the words of Chazal (the sages of the Talmud) and our mandate to defend ourselves.

Mark S. Weiner, Ed.D.
Chaplain (LTC) U.S. Army (Retired)

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