Following the recent terror attacks in France, which included a hostage standoff inside a kosher market in Paris, one Jewish organization is calling for greater civilian access to firearms. In a January 13 letter to European leaders, General Director of the European Jewish Association, Rabbi Menachem Margolin, stated, “We hereby ask that gun licensing laws are reviewed with immediate effect to allow designated people in the Jewish communities and institutions to own weapons for the essential protection of their communities, as well as receiving the necessary training to protect their members from potential terror attacks.”
In statements to media outlets, Margolin elaborated on his position. According to Newsweek, Margolin said that his people are “threatened on a daily basis,” adding, “People are afraid to come to synagogue. People are afraid to go to Jewish schools.” In another statement, Margolin made clear the type of protection he feels his community needs, noting, “Even just a gun. I’m not referring to tanks, it’s not about heavy weapons. It’s just that everyone would have something in their pocket.”
It is evident that no gun control regime could have prevented the violence experienced in France. France already has stringent gun control laws, surpassing even those most American gun control advocates will publicly admit to supporting. Yet, they have not eliminated illegal firearms from the country. One widely circulated estimate from the Washington Post posits that “the number of illegal guns is thought to be at least twice the number of legal guns in the country.” The type of rifles the attackers used are highly restricted, and reports state that they were procured, along with rocket launchers, from illegal arms dealers in Belgium.
Further, there are reports that at least one of the gunmen received terrorist training in Yemen. Clearly, the extremists who carried out the attacks had the motivation and wherewithal to obtain sophisticated training in modern weaponry and the determination to use such weaponry and training to commit murder. The only thing France’s gun laws accomplished in this case was to ensure the helplessness of the victims.
Margolin’s call for fewer restrictions on exercising the right to self-defense comes at a time when others are considering the wisdom of a citizenry armed to combat terrorist violence. In late 2014, following a vicious attack that killed four Orthodox Jews in a Jerusalem Temple, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced plans to ease Israel’s firearm restrictions.
Further, in a 2013 interview, following the terrorist shootings at a the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya, Interpol Secretary Robert K. Noble noted that the international community should be open to thinking about an armed citizenry as a way to combat terrorist violence. Noble remarked, “What I'm saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, 'Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?' This is something that has to be discussed… People are quick to say 'gun control, people shouldn't be armed,' etc., etc. I think they have to ask themselves: 'Where would you have wanted to be?’ In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed if you're in a Westgate mall, or in a place like Denver or Texas?”
Margolin’s request to European leaders is an encouraging addition to a growing chorus of leaders acknowledging the wisdom of an armed citizenry as a check on terrorism. We would go further, however, and suggest that any actual consideration of easing firearm restrictions in Europe should occur without regard to ethnicity, religion, or presence in an area deemed to be especially high-risk. As seen from the diverse group of victims of the Paris attack, anyone peacefully going about his or her business could fall prey to wanton terrorist violence. The right to self-defense is not unique to one people or country. It is a human right.
It is impossible in the free and open societies of the West to restrict the movement of people and goods to the degree that would be necessary to completely guard against such attacks without fundamentally altering our cherished way of life. Rather than allow the acts of an evil few to dictate further restrictions on liberty, the alternative of allowing citizens to possess firearms for their own self-defense is the surest path to simultaneously enhancing safety and preserving freedom.