News and Commentary

HAWORTH: Pittsburgh Synagogue Shooting, And The Battle Between Idealism And Realism

The shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday morning has sparked the return of the infamous American gun debate. While this seems to divide the country by those who are pro-gun and anti-gun, it actually divides the country by the idealistic and the realistic.

Anti-semitism is a brutal reality, something I have personally experienced on multiple occasions. Growing up, I had an idealistic view of the world and those around me, believing that all people are inherently good. Therefore, I struggled to rationalize and explain the anti-semitic abuse I faced.

As time passed, I saw beyond my youthful and insular viewpoint, and became aware of unjustifiable hatred against others. Hateful language and actions against people based purely on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or religion. The hatred was baseless and without reason. The truth became clear. You cannot rationalize the irrational. Some are consumed by hatred for no logical reason, and some even act upon their hatred. This was the recognition of reality. Idealistically, we hope to eradicate evil. Realistically, evil will always exist, and when this is accepted, we can take steps to combat it.

The reported scenes outside the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh are beyond horrifying. Initial reports suggest that a lone gunman entered a morning service while screaming “all Jews must die”, and proceeded to open fire. At least eight people were murdered inside the synagogue. The shooter also killed three police officers who arrived at the scene.

Humans are inherently reactionary, basing their immediate response on emotion instead of information. When something terrible happens, the idealistic part of us tries to rationalize: why? This was the idealism of my youth as I struggled with anti-semitism. Unfortunately, this idealistic attempt to rationalize the irrational is hopeless, and idealism blinds us to the reality that individual hatred leads to unreasonable individual action. Our desire to answer the question of why often leads many to blame the tools used to perpetrate the evil.

The media have become experts at peddling this emotional response to appalling events in order to immediately push an anti-gun political agenda. Trump is being reported to have said that “Pittsburgh synagogue should have had armed guards”. His actual quote was “If they had some kind of a protection inside the temple maybe it could have been a very much different situation”. They oddly ignore the fact that Trump was responding to a direct question about whether the attack would affect gun laws in the USA.

The idealistic and reactionary support for increased gun legislation is fundamentally flawed. We do not yet know any core facts about the shooter’s motives or background. Were the guns legally obtained? Were there red flags? Without answering key questions, it is unclear that additional legislation would have helped. Eagerness to support increased legislation and weaken the Second Amendment without supporting evidence is another example of complete disregard for reality, misplaced faith in government, and the dismissal of personal responsibility.

The Second Amendment was written with a realistic, not idealistic, worldview. The idealistic worldview assumes that the government is a trustworthy figure, and that all laws are enforced and obeyed. The realistic worldview believes that governments are as fallible as the humans who run them, and that laws alone are nothing more than paper handcuffs on the wrists of irrational evil. By constricting the ability for the good to carry, we only increase the chance of their victimization by the bad.

The idealistic among us scoff at the idea of any modern government becoming tyrannical. The same naive view was held of Germany before Hitler came to power. In Nazi Germany, the 1938 Regulations Against Jews’ Possession of Weapons was enforced, depriving Jews of any ability to possess weapons to protect themselves. This destruction of rights played a part in the atrocities that followed, showing that to put complete faith in government is to be at the complete mercy of the government. History has proven that government is never the answer when it comes to ultimate protection of the individual. In a world where you cannot account for the evils of others, you (and not the government) are the gatekeeper to your own wellbeing.

Looking specifically at this revolting attack on the synagogue in Pittsburgh, it is clear that in the reality of our world, anti-semitism exists. There is no moral legislation that could stop someone who is determined to kill Jews. Banning guns will mean that Jews are stabbed. Banning knives will mean that Jews are beaten to death with sticks and rocks. This is not hyperbole. This is historical fact.

The realistic reaction is to accept that anti-semitism exists, and fight the threat as empowered Jews, not victimized Jews. That may mean stronger security at all Jewish buildings across the country. That may mean metal detectors, locked gates, security cameras, and armed guards. Idealistically, it is dreadful that this must even be discussed. Realistically, the threat is real, and we must face this reality instead of hiding behind idealistic denial that guns are the root of the problem.

While Trump’s quote was willingly misreported, ultimately he is correct. Those who accept reality must advocate for the right for the good in our society to be permitted to exercise their Second Amendment right to protect themselves and their communities from the bad. If qualified members of Jewish communities wish to carry weapons, then we may not be resigned to the role of helpless victims when the inevitability of anti-semitism rears its ugly head.

Idealistically, we can end anti-semitism. Realistically, we can prepare for it.