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Gun Ownership in Halachah (PART 2)

(Continued from last week)

II. Carrying a Gun on Shabbos

The Sages forbade carrying utensils on Shabbos without a reason. Certain utensils contain more restrictions. A utensil primarily used in forbidden work is called a “keli she-melachto le-issur,” and may only be carried in order to use the space in which it currently rests or for a permitted activity. For example, you may only carry a hammer if you want to use it for a permitted purpose, like cracking a nut, or if you want to put something like a book in its place. Is a gun like a hammer, a utensil for a forbidden purpose that may only be carried for a specific, permitted purpose or for its place?

Rav Shlomo Goren (Meishiv Milchamah, vol. 1 no. 61) argues that a gun is used for a permitted purpose. Since the only time a gun is fired is for self-defense purposes, which are permitted on Shabbos, the gun is not classified as a utensil for a forbidden purpose.

Rav Yekusiel Halberstam (Divrei Yatziv, Orach Chaim, vol. 2 no. 148) argues that a gun is primarily carried as a deterrent to instill fear. Most police officers never fire their guns. Since the primary purpose of a gun is to be carried, which is otherwise permitted on Shabbos, the gun is classified as a utensil for a permitted purpose. Shemiras Shabbos Ke-Hilchasah (ch. 20 n. 28) quotes Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach as saying that during peacetime guns are mainly used for inducing fear. Rav Eliezer Melamed (Peninei Halachah 27:17) quotes Rav Auerbach (Shulchan Shlomo, vol. 2 308:16) similarly.1

Rav Ya’akov Ariel (Be-Ohalah Shel Torah, vol. 2 no. 32) disagrees with Rav Goren’s argument (without quoting him by name). Rav Ariel points out that piku’ach nefesh, defense, is not permitted within the laws of Shabbos but overrides them, taking precedence over Shabbos. Shooting a gun for self-defense isn’t a permitted Shabbos action but an action that is allowed even though it is forbidden on Shabbos.

Rav Ariel argues against the claim that guns are mainly for deterrent purposes. A gun serves as a deterrent because you can shoot it. If not for that otherwise forbidden activity, the gun would be useless. Therefore, it should be classified as a utensil for a forbidden purpose. Rav Zechariah Ben Shlomo (Hilchos Tzava 22:1, n. 1) agrees with Rav Ariel. Shalmei Yehudah (4:15) quotes Rav Yosef Shalom Eliashiv as similarly ruling that a gun is a utensil for a forbidden purpose.

The Sages debates whether you may carry a weapon on Shabbos where there is no eruv (Shabbos 63a). R. Eliezer believes that weapons that you wear are like jewelery. The Sages disagreed, arguing that since weapons will be abolished in the Messianic Era (Isa. 2:4), they are a disgrace to wear even now. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chaim 301:7) rules strictly. Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein (Aruch Ha-Shulchan, Orach Chaim 301:51) explains that this is discussing a layman but everyone agrees that a soldier’s normal clothing include weapons. Rav Yekusiel Halberstam (ibid.) is not entirely satisfied with this approach and quotes other considerations. He also points out that the rabbis in Israel ruled strictly on this. Rav Binyamin Zilber (Az Nidberu, vol. 1 no. 70) disputes the distinction between a layman and soldier, which no prior commentary had mentioned.

Rav Nachum Rabinovich (Melumedei Milchamah, no. 68) rules strictly unless there is some security purpose. If there is no security purpose, it is best to act strictly, if possible. But even the leniency only applies to wearing a gun in a holster or wrapped around your body, not in your hand or pocket.

Of course, whenever there is any question of a threat, you may carry a gun.

III. Reciting a Blessing on a New Gun

When you buy new items that make you happy, such as a fancy new suit, you may recite the Shehecheyanu blessing thanking God (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 223:3). However, since this blessing is optional, many refrain from reciting it (Rema, ad loc., 1). Rav Asher Weiss (Responsa Minchas Asher, vol. 1 no. 9) says that his mentor, Rav Yekusiel Halberstam, following in the path of his ancestor Rav Chaim Halberstam, never recited Shehecheyanu on new fruits or clothing, presumably because they did not feel sufficient joy over them.

Rav Shlomo Aviner (She’eilas Shlomo, vol. 3 no. 87) discusses whether you may recite a Shehecheyanu on buying a new gun. If it brings you joy, you should thank God for it. However, an argument can be made that a gun really symbolizes trouble. Should you recite a blessing on buying a defensive weapon? For example, Rav Zerachiah Halevy (Ha-Ma’or, end of Pesachim) writes that we do not say Shehecheyanu on the mitzvah of counting the Omer because it reminds us of the destruction of the Temple. Similarly, a gun reminds us of our present danger. Rav Aviner counters that the situation causes sadness over the danger. The gun provides protection, which brings joy.

Rav Moshe Stern (Be’er Moshe, vol. 5 no. 67) rules that you should recite a Shehecheyanu on false teeth. Even though you have lost your real teeth, you still have joy from the false replacements. Similarly, Rav Aviner argues, despite the unfortunate situation of danger, you still have joy from the purchase of the gun.