We are devastated by the losses of our children in Newtown. Those precious children do truly feel like our own. The terrifying weapons used in this atrocity are scandalous and should be banned in our society even for those who pass a rigorous background check. I have not yet heard a compelling argument for exceptions.
In Jewish tradition, the use of lethal weapons is permitted when life and limb are threatened. Self defense is itself a mitzvah, an affirmation of the supreme value of life. Yet fundamentally bearing weapons is seen as demeaning to a human being. An inspiring expression of this value is found in the Mishnah dealing with an aspect of Sabbath observance:
A man may not go into a public domain
[on the Sabbath] with a sword, a bow,
a shield, a lance, or a spear;
if he did so, he must bring
a purification sacrifice.
Rabbi Eliezer said: They are ornamental
for a man. But the sages said: They are
demeaning to him, for it says:
“and they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
and their spears into pruning hooks:
nation shall not lift up sword against
nation, neither shall they learn
war any more” (Isaiah 2:4)
Mishnah Shabbat 6:4
On the Sabbath, an observant Jew refrains from carrying anything from place to place, a symbol of letting go of the everyday world of commerce in which we transfer good and services from one place to another or from one person to another. Of course one can wear one’s clothing including jewelry customarily worn by men or women. The question of the Mishnah concerns the casual bearing of weapons which in some times and places would be carried almost as part of one’s apparel. While there is a difference of opinion, the majority of sages holds that weapons cannot be worn on one’s body because they are truly shameful to being human. The Sabbath is understood as a taste of the dreamed of world to come in which peace would be achieved, and no one would threaten one another.
Weapons are shameful! Of course our world falls far short of a world at peace. Yet we can take meaningful steps to strengthen security for everyone by assuring that the terrifying power of modern weapons are only in the hands of those who guard our safety. And we can learn from wise sages that any weapon, however needed and used with great care, remains a source of disgrace for any human being.