Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

Stop mansplaining guns!

(RNS) — Yes, I am still writing about guns. As the shloshim (thirty day mourning period) in the wake of the Parkland massacre continues, I cannot help but do so.

Here is what is starting to drive me a little nuts.

It’s the inevitable Facebook conversations, and the in-person conversations, with gunphiles, who challenge their opponents with rhetorical questions like:

  • “Tell me, how do you define an assault rifle?”
  • “What is the meaning of a military weapon?”
  • “Do you know what a bumpstock does?”
  • “Have you ever fired a gun?”

I understand why gun “opponents” need to know more about guns, and gun culture.

We need to understand the place of guns in American society, and the people who own guns, the overwhelming majority of whom are peaceful, law-abiding citizens who own firearms for self-protection, or target practice, or hunting.

We need to understand these things because, frankly, we are now in a war — a war against the profligacy of weaponry in American society. The least we can do is to understand the weapons, and to respect people whose views and lifestyles differ from ours.

In other words, we need to treat gun owners, and perhaps even the NRA, in the same way as we have treated other sociological cohorts who are not us, who are Other, but to whom we offer that old “love your neighbor as yourself” kind of thing.

I get it.

But, this “tell me everything you know about guns before you can even enter the conversation” is weirdly elitist. It is intended to end the conversation — by making the anti-gun people admit to what they do not know.

It is true; I do not know as much as I probably should about, say, the AR-15.

But this is what I do know about guns.

Let’s say that you own a gun for protection against the possibility of burglary. The Talmud (Sanhedrin 72a) basically says that a burglar who enters a home is already the functional equivalent of a dead person; in other words, he or she knows what he or she is getting themselves into.

If the burglar had the desire, means and arms, he would kill the homeowner. Likewise, the homeowner would kill the burglar: “if someone comes to kill you, kill that person first.”

(Which, by the way, is also part of the Jewish approach to abortion. If the fetus threatens the life of the mother, you must — sadly, tragically — kill the fetus in self-defense.)

But, if someone breaks into your home, and you have a gun — you don’t actually have to kill that person. You could, for example, fire at the kneecaps (ouch), or otherwise try to disable the burglar.

That is, if you have anything like the presence of mind to do so.

That is, if you hit anything other than the chandelier.

I understand having a gun to protect yourself.

What I do not get is why that gun needs to be an AR-15, or one of its cousins.

Because, unless you have that gun to fire on the rifle range,  there is only one reason to own and fire one of those guns at another person — and that is to kill the other person.

I do not need to be an expert on killing machines to know that they are, well, lethal. No more than ordinary Americans needed to be able to identify a tumor in a lung in order to know that cigarettes are potentially lethal, as well — and look at how American society successfully transformed its attitudes towards tobacco.

I know enough to know enough about mass death — because, as we say in the south — all Americans have skin in this game.

Because this whole “I need to teach you what you need to know about guns” is mansplaining — in which many of my co-genderites explain things that men, supposedly, are supposed to know about — or even what they are not supposed to know about — and doing it in a slow, even unwittingly condescending way.

So much of the pushback on the gun conversation is, quite simply, mansplaining.

Because, despite the presence of some women on the pro-gun side of the page, this is essentially a male conversation.

“You are not going to come and take my gun away!” they scream.

Excuse me — calling Dr. Freud….

So, this is mansplaining. Or, if you will, “real mansplaining” — “real” men afflicted with malignant masculinity who have to explain weaponry to the rest of us unmanly snowflakes whose only real intellectual crime is wanting our kids and the rest of us to be safe.

Or, to bring it back to an earlier generation’s fight — I might not have known the exact details of the Tet Offensive to know that our nation’s military adventure in Viet Nam was wrong.

We will win this fight against the culture of death. Trust me — we will.

And that ain’t mansplaining.





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About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.