This past week witnessed calls from across the political spectrum for politicians, political activists and media personalities in America to tone down their rhetoric and adopt a more respectful attitude to one another in the wake of a deadly shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue that left eleven elderly Jews dead and several more wounded for no reason other than that they were Jews. Pleas for a more respectful and civilized debate were quickly accompanied by demands for tighter gun laws. Both reactions are entirely predictable and understandable – and both miss the mark.
Of course, no-one can argue that a more respectful public discourse is a bad thing. Who knows? Maybe that and better gun control could have prevented the horrific attack in Pittsburgh. What definitely would have prevented the attack, however, or at least what definitely would have saved lives, was an armed guard controlling access to the synagogue.
Which brings me to the subject of armed guards in our schools.
Whether, and to what degree, places of worship should adopt such security measures is a question for individual institutions and their supporters to decide. What should not be a debate, however, is whether we should act decisively to ensure the safety and security of our children when they attend schools. Neither greater civility, nor stricter gun laws, accomplish this. The reason is simple. No matter how good-mannered society is, there will always be bad or sick people bent on doing harm to others.
As for gun control – guns can be “banned”, but they cannot be un-invented.
They can also be replaced by other weapons.
Campaigning for less aggressive rhetoric in political discourse or stricter gun laws in response to the attack in Pittsburgh betrays, at best, a quaint naivete regarding the nature of the world in which we live. At worse, it exposes a dangerous preference for utopian schemes over practical solutions.
We see this attitude time and again in many areas of public policy. Instead of helping the poor or sheltering the homeless, for example, we design massive programs to “eliminate poverty” and “end homelessness”; utopian programs often implemented at the expense of the poor and homeless.
Climate change is another area where utopian dreams take the place of practical remedies. The devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005 was not the result of climate change, man-made or otherwise. It was caused by infrastructure that had deteriorated to the point where it no longer provided the protection it was designed to provide. How many lives and how much property might be saved if just a tiny fraction of the resources dedicated to the dubious objective of stopping climate change were to be directed toward improving infrastructure?
But I digress.
Eliminating violence – including gun violence – is a utopian goal that will never be achieved so long as human beings remain human. Far better to take effective steps to protect the most vulnerable in our society – our children – from that violence.
Jewish children in Israel and in many places around the world are protected from violent attack while attending school by the sensible and affordable policy of controlling access to the property, with the presence of armed security at the access point. Nobody simply wanders into the school, and nobody gets in with a weapon of any kind.
And neither the children, nor society at large, are traumatized by the fact.
That’s the real lesson of Pittsburgh, and it’s also the lesson of Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland, as well as all the other school shootings in America that could have been prevented if only utopian dreamers cared as much for the hypothetical beneficiaries of their dreams as they do for the dreams themselves.