Twelve centuries before the Second Amendment was written into the Constitution of the United States, Emperor Justinian I made the case for the unalienable right to bear arms as succinctly as it has ever been made: “That which someone does for the safety of his body,” Justinian confirmed in the Corpus Juris Civilis, “let it be regarded as having been done legally.”
Of late, having watched in horror as the number of anti-Semitic attacks have increased, many American Jews within New York and New Jersey have taken this principle to heart.
In December 2019, within the space of just three weeks, the greater New York area played host to two appalling assaults. In the first, a pair of anti-Semitic criminals besieged a kosher deli in Jersey City, N.J., killing three patrons and a police officer. In the second, five Orthodox Jews were stabbed during a Hanukkah celebration at the home of a rabbi in Rockland County, N.Y. Both incidents arrived hot on the heels of the deeply unwelcome news that anti-Semitic hate-crimes are on the rise in the United States.
In response to what is clearly a growing threat, many Jewish Americans have concluded that they must play a greater role in defending themselves against evil—a conviction that has been bolstered by the example set by figures such as Jack Wilson of White Settlement, Texas, who took down a would-be mass murderer in a Christian church on the same day as the attack was carried out in New York. Indeed, in the month that followed the two attacks, the number of carry-permit applications in Rockland County increased by 1,000%; Orthodox Jews chose to risk arrest in order to openly carry rifles outside of their synagogues; and gun stores in both areas reported dramatic surges in interest.
Circumstances such as these provide a perfect illustration of the timeless relevance of the right to keep and bear arms. As John Locke put it in his Two Treatises of Government, “self-defence” is not a contingent idea that is limited to a particular moment, but “is a part of the law of nature,” and so cannot be “denied the community, even against the king himself.”
And yet, alas, the trend has also served to highlight how dangerous and immoral governments become when they seek to limit the right of self-defense in practice. Human beings who find themselves in danger are in need of the tools of liberation now, not after whatever period of time has been deemed acceptable to the bureaucracy. With their byzantine regulations, New York and New Jersey render it unacceptably difficult for those who are in fear of their lives to defend themselves, their families and their communities. What has become of those who have applied for permits? Time will tell.
Such impediments can be deadly. It is welcome news that the number of carry-permit applications has risen in Rockland County and elsewhere. But that a permit system exists at all—and, worse, that it is so lengthy, expensive, complicated and capriciously superintended—is a disgrace.
Back in 2015, a 39-year-old hairdresser named Carol Bowne was murdered in cold blood in her driveway while waiting for the state of New Jersey to grant her permission to purchase a gun. Bowne wanted to protect herself from a violent ex-boyfriend, whose escalating threats she took seriously. New Jersey, evidently, did not. The consequences were disastrous.
One hopes that we will not see the same indifference in Jersey City or in Rockland County, as in this instance a right delayed is in a very real sense a right denied. Either way, the lesson should be abundantly clear: That, for those who have been targeted by the violent and the depraved, demurrals can be fatal. Here, as ever, “We’ll get back to you in a couple of months,” doesn’t cut it.