The well-known Harvard law professor and attorney, Alan Dershowitz, opposes broad Second Amendment rights, and even private gun ownership. He has said, “I want to see semi-automatic weapons made illegal.” He has called the “Second Amendement an ‘anachronism’ because if America had the choice today it would not choose to be an ‘armed society.’” Shockingly, he has said, “it’s racist and it’s bigoted to say that guns are quintessentially American.” To his credit, unlike many on the left he takes his medicine like a man, stating “[w]hether or not we agree with the court’s reading of the Second Amendment’s highly ambiguous language, Heller is now the law, and Americans have the right to bear some arms under some circumstances.”
Some time ago I was gifted several boxes of Jewish themed books, including a book by Dershowitz called “Chutzpah,” published in 1991. The book discusses some of Dershowitz’s views on various contemporary Jewish topics, such as the status of Jews in American society, Antisemitic revisionism of the Holocaust, Israel’s right to exist, etc. After reading the book (full disclosure–I only read half the book), it is difficult to understand how a man like Dershowitz could fall on the anti-gun side.
In the first chapter of “Chutzpah” we learn that Dershowitz perceived that his childhood New York neighborhood of Borough Park “was free of any real violence … [r]eal crime –robbery, rape, murder — was nonexistent …” (p.38). It is certainly possible that this kind of upbringing, i.e. a perception of absolute safety and a surrounding anti-gun culture, might profoundly influence and bias a person’s way of thinking about self-defense and guns. But that bias is not insurmountable, especially by someone with Dershowitz’s intelligence. To overcome a bias, a person needs to do two things: a) acknowledge the bias, and b) be intellectually honest with the plain and simple facts. But it seems like Dershowitz makes neither effort.
To illustrate, ten years ago, Dershowtiz told the press that “he is not an expert on the Second Amendment and has never held a pistol.” Well that was honest. But has Dershowitz educated himself on Second Amendment issues since then? Judging by his recent statements, absolutely not. Dershowitz appeared on television earlier this year to “debate” John Lott, the preeminent authority on the “more guns = less crime” position. To put it mildly, Dershowitz made a complete ass of himself (download the mp3 Lott posts and judge for yourself), behaving as a wild, maniacal trial lawyer and not as a legal scholar. At the end of the exchange with Lott it is abundantly clear that a) Dershowitz had failed to actually read Lott’s work, b) Dershowitz had failed to do any research, clearly unaware that Lott’s work had withstood peer review and was supported by other respected scholars and their work, c) Dershowitz failed to investigate whether the NRA had funded Lott before making that defamatory accusation, and d) Dershowitz failed to investigate Lott’s personal background and views, which was, if anything, predisposed to conclude the opposite of where his research took him. One could dismiss Dershowitz’s extremely rude behavior with Lott as a Brooklynism, but more likely it was a defense mechanism Dershowitz threw up once he realized that Lott would destroy him intellectually on the issues, because I’ve seen Dershowitz speak before on issues he actually knows about, and he doesn’t behave like that.
So whatever cognitive biases and intellectual laziness Dershowitz has with respect to garden variety criminality and guns, that would not necessarily explain why it seems Dershowitz would not consider armed minorities as preventive of future Holocausts. In other words, even if believed the falsehood that less guns=less crime, one could still conclude that less guns=more genocide and general tyranny, and come out in favor of private gun ownership. This concept of net utility cannot possibly escape Dershowitz, who is a strong First Amendment advocate and scholar. And in his book, Dershowitz demonstrates a firm grasp of many issues surrounding the Holocaust.
Indeed, Dershowitz devotes an entire fifty-page chapter to his critical views on lax Nazi war criminal prosecutions, insufficient reparations, the poor state of Europeans’ education and quasi-denial of the tragedy, and festering European Antisemitism. Dershowitz brushes up against the issue of armed Jewish resistance only slightly. What emerges from his comments is a bizarre world view indeed, summed up as follows: Antisemitism is rampant, but Jews should nonetheless rely on those that hate Jews to protect Jews from those that hate Jews even more. For example, Dershowitz criticizes a Polish civil rights attorney who wrote about the Holocaust, “For us Poles, it was often an astounding spectacle to see several thousand Jews being led from a small town along a road several kilometers long, escorted only by a few guards (six, sometimes four) carrying ordinary rifles … Nobody escaped, although escape was no problem …. Perhaps they were held back by a gregarious instinct of that community.” (p.148). Dershowitz finds the observation to be a disturbing example of “blaming the victims,” as if “blame” cannot possibly be comparative. But blame is comparative, and a legal scholar like Dershowitz should know better. Certainly, the Nazis and other Europeans are to be blamed for instigating the Holocaust, but with the benefit of hindsight, the widespread lack of Jewish resistance and prior preparation exacerbated the damages. To further illustrate, on the same page Dershowitz complains of “the refusal of [wartime] Polish partisans to supply requested arms to Jewish partisans.” Again, of course that was reprehensible, but demonstrates that Jews would have been wise to have armed themselves at all times, or at least at the first signs of trouble, and not rely on the benevolence of others, especially people that dislike Jews! Why is that lesson not obvious to Dershowitz?
The fact the lesson escapes Dershowitz is even more shocking, given his intimate knowledge of Jewish history and imploring of American Jews to become engaged in American society:
… we have seen what can, and will, happen if we abdicate our power. Our history as a people demonstrates that we need more power than others to survive. That is one of the important lessons to be learned from thousands of years of anti-Jewish bigotry. … We are not the Swiss and our history is not the one of being left alone. It is one of constant victimization and repression. Without power – indeed, without power disproportionate to our numbers – we will continue to be victimized. We should strive to enhance our power on every front. … Power and strength bring with them greater options and more opportunities – to do both good and bad. … There is no virtue in … disproportionate weakness … There is morality in power, when that power is used to prevent the emergence of the kind of base evil that has so often victimized us (and others) in the absence of power. … As the survivors of the most thorough genocidal plot ever devised – and every living Jew is a survivor of Hitler’s Holocaust – we cannot afford to have the lessons of our history repeated on us. (p.128-129).
I realize that Dershowitz intends “power” to mean moral and social power, not fire power. But why exclude fire power, especially in the form of a modern hand gun or rifle? Why does a civil libertarian like Dershowitz, with full knowledge that every government known to man has eventually slaughtered innocent people, insist that fire power, the ultimate lever of power, should be left solely in the hands of government, and not the people themselves?
So to boil it down, I strongly suspect that Dershowitz views guns as “goyish,” and not Jewish. Dershowitz has made a career of opposing powerful goyishe things. His knee-jerk reaction then is to oppose guns. That’s my best guess, because nothing but a reactionary knee-jerk reaction can explain how an otherwise smart man can be so stupid.
Now, aside from having guns, I believe Jews should always have hope. This blog is supposed to be a Hall of Fame for Jews involved in the shooting sports and advancement of the Second Amendment– not a Hall of Shame. I hope that one day Dershowitz will do the heavy lifting of reading the literature and educate himself, actually go shooting a few times, overcome his biases and change his mind.
Yes Alan, the pen is mightier than the sword, but when the ink runs dry it’s nice to have a sword!