Rabbi Steven Pruzansky
Rabbi Steven PruzanskyCourtesy
Whenever something goes wrong in a family or society, it is helpful if the very first order of business is the assignment of blame (all right, maybe not the first, but it should be on the list). Who or what is at fault? In America today there is no shortage of culprits for its malaise, although, typically, the most obvious factors are ignored.
The United States is plagued by economic woes – the highest inflation in forty years – rising energy costs, diminished stature on the world stage, social dysfunction, a widespread feeling that the country is on the wrong track and there is no conductor capable of guiding it back, a loss of faith in democracy, politicians and the electoral system and worst of all, uncontrollable crime and violence that erupts sporadically in small towns and is a constant presence in the large cities.
Much attention is paid to gun violence, quite naturally, and especially the mass attacks on schools, stores and workplaces that now characterize American society. It is tragic, to be sure, and it is even more tragic to conclude that people have become inured to it because of its redundancy and the politicians’ immediate retreat their policy positions that have never and will never be implemented because of a fundamental policy disagreement in American society. Politicians posture, preen for the cameras, nothing changes and then they do it all again a few weeks later.
Meanwhile, innocent citizens are gunned down, stabbed or otherwise assaulted in the cities. Arrests are generally not made, if made the criminals are rarely prosecuted, if prosecuted they are even more rarely incarcerated except if they are recidivists and the courts are bound to incarcerate them. Petty theft – petty to the politicians but not to the store owners or home owners who bear the costs for them – is not prosecuted at all. It is a culture of chaos, a milieu of mayhem.
Why can’t America control its gun violence? Granted more people are killed annually by knives, fists or automobiles, but still the question must be asked: how do young men acquire weapons that they soon use to murder innocent children, men and women? And why can’t they be stopped?
The simple answer is that the Second Amendment provided every American with the right to bear arms (please: it was never meant to be limited to members of a militia) with reasonable and regional restrictions. It is a fundamental right, baked into the American psyche. There is pride and strength of character in being able to exercise the right of self-defense. It is widely documented that guns save millions of lives every year by judicious use (often just displaying a legal weapon deters a potential assailant). The data are mixed on the homicide rates in countries that prohibit gun possession by the good people; some such countries have low homicide rates and others much higher, understandable because only the criminals will have guns.
Indeed, Israel would be wise to liberalize its gun laws and allow more innocent and decent citizens to own and carry guns, especially considering the plethora of illegal weapons in the Arab sector and their propensity to use them. Police rejoice over the seizure of dozens of weapons, when hundreds of thousands still remain in Arab villages and towns. More liberal gun possession among good Israelis would be an ever greater deterrence to Arab terror and especially if the authorities ceased harassing good Jews who defend themselves against Arab attacks.
But back across the pond, adding to the problem has been the police response in many of these situations. If the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is by a good guy with a gun, then if the good guys with guns stand by – for almost an hour, as in Texas, and do nothing – that should not only be worthy of dismissal, but reflects a complete breakdown of societal order.

But let it be stated clearly: the police are not the answer to this problem. As has often been stated, when seconds count, the police are just minutes away. The police investigate crimes that have been committed and make arrests, at least in theory; the police rarely deter crime.

Yet, how do we get from that basic right of gun ownership to supplying every 18 year old nut job who wants one with a semi-automatic weapon? And here we come to the crux of the matter, the inability to think out of the box, and the hardening of positions – positions that are as hard as the coffins of the victims. Politicians loudly and angrily propose new restrictions, seemingly unconcerned that none of the proposals would have averted any of the recent spate of killings. Both mass shooters passed background checks. They didn’t buy their weapons at gun shows. Most of the homicides committed in America in the last few weeks anyway – in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York and elsewhere – involved illegal weapons, which, last I checked, already had laws proscribing their ownership, as there are other laws, last I checked, outlawing homicide. It seems the problems lie elsewhere than in the composition of the laws.
Gun rights advocates correctly assert that decent, law-abiding people should not lose their rights because a handful of criminals abuse theirs. No one – I shouldn’t say no one; who knows? – but no one would suggest that if there were a wave of automobile rammings the authorities should start limiting sales of automobiles.
It would be prudent – and painfully obvious – that guns should not be provided to those who are mentally ill. But that is often a subjective judgment. Besides, the mentally ill have very successful advocates who have succeeded in prohibiting forced confinement and closing down most American asylums, all of which has lead to forty years of the homeless mentally ill living on American city streets. Great victory! And we are told not to stigmatize the mentally ill. Of course, to deny them a constitutional right – their Second Amendment rights – would stigmatize them. That is how reason and common sense are sacrificed on the altar of leftist pieties.
No one would argue that the mentally ill should be provided with weapons. The problem is that few are arguing that they should be identified and banned from owning weapons. There are red flag laws in place in many jurisdictions that are designed to weed out potential miscreants but they are difficult to enforce and not always effective.
America saw no moral worth in hanging the “Ten Commandments” in public school classrooms and now wonders why children have no conception of “You Shall Not Murder” and “You Shall Not Steal.”
It is obvious that children referred for counseling for fantasies of violence (Parkland, Uvalde, perhaps even Buffalo) should be listed as ineligible to buy weapons of any sort, maybe even butter knives. But their advocates see that as stigmatization. Since most gun deaths in America are suicides, it would be sensible to ban access to firearms to anyone who suffers from depression, bi-polar disorder, homicidal fantasies, etc. Nonetheless, there is no will to do that, and even if it was done, buying an illegal gun in America is as easy as buying an illegal narcotic.
Instead, it has become clear that America is willing to tolerate the occasional mass homicide, collectively wring its hands, listen to the politicians spout their mendacities and nonsense, help the victims grieve, make speeches that do nothing and pass laws that will change nothing.
And that is not even the real problem. The real problem is the lack of religious faith in America and the absence of objective morality. I have often said that sixty years of values-free public education has produced sixty years of values-free citizens, at least those not otherwise educated in basic moral norms.

America saw no moral worth in hanging the “Ten Commandments” in public school classrooms and now wonders why children have no conception of “You Shall Not Murder” and “You Shall Not Steal.” There is no holiday of Shavuot on which those are read. Homicide and theft are options, life style choices. Ask any one of these teen age shooters of schools and stores, or their contemporaries opening fire on city streets against each other and against civilians, why is it wrong to murder someone? I am convinced they could not articulate a cogent answer. So why not?

It is not as if they have fathers who teach them right from wrong. It is not as if they have received a religious or moral education. It is not as if they have been taught that there is a G-d who created us all in His image and prescribed ethical laws by which mankind is to live. Generations of Americans have largely grown up without any of that. What they have endured is unstable, broken homes, no fathers, poor education, endless indoctrination in victimization narratives that feed their anti-social sense of deprivation, ready exposure to narcotics of all sorts, rationalizations for all their misbehaviors, and, yes, a steady diet of mass shootings that they see get people’s attention.
They also see a political class wholly incapable of resolving any of society’s problems in a definitive way and whose sole focus is on re-election and self-enrichment.

That is a society adrift. And the only way to begin to reverse it is to have another moral awakening in American society that will instill divine values – G-d, faith, family, and virtue. At present, given the leadership, that is a tall order.

Rabbi Steven Pruzansky was a pulpit rabbi for 35 years, today lives in Israel and serves as the Israel Regional Vice President for the Coalition for Jewish Values, and is author of five books including “Repentance for Life” (Kodesh Press).