President Trump’s claim after the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings that the presence of armed guards would have reduced the fatalities had all the earmarkings of one of those face-palming (for various reasons) comments he too often makes. I mean, everyone knows this belief is bonkers, right? Twitter has apparently “melted down” over them. Late-night TV comics were in full snark mode. More seriously, public officials in Pittsburgh threw cold water on the suggestion.
Apparently, all these critics missed these highly conspicuous exceptions: many prominent Jews themselves. Their views of course aren’t dispositive. But given all the dismissive and/or indignant harrumphing generated by the idea that any houses of worship need such security, or should need such security, the points they’ve made certainly deserve more attention than they’ve gotten so far – and they’re worth presenting in some detail.
In particular, according to this Associated Press report:
“[B]efore those incidents, many synagogues and Jewish organizations in the U.S. had been ramping up security measures.
“Fifteen years ago, the Anti-Defamation League issued a 132-page guidebook titled, ‘Protecting Your Jewish Institution: Security Strategies for Today’s Dangerous World.’
“It includes detailed advice on controlling access to the premises, and also urged leaders of institutions to think carefully about whether or not they wanted to hire armed guards.”
“A rabbi-emeritus at the Tree of Life Synagogue that was the site of the Pittsburgh attack, Alvin Berkun, “said guards — while used during the major Jewish holy days — were not on duty Saturday.”
And it’s not just Pittsburgh:
“In Kansas City’s synagogues, armed security has been a presence for years — particularly on major holidays such as Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Some synagogues hire guards every Friday night and Saturday morning for Shabbat (sabbath) services. At others, armed security protects children as they come and go for preschool.”
One big reason? As RealityChek regulars know, Kansas City’s Jewish community was attacked by a neo-Nazi gunman in 2014.
“Many U.S. synagogues do employ armed guards; others have taken alternative measures to tighten security.
“‘I doubt there’s a synagogue in the US that doesn’t think seriously about security,’ said [Heidi] Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center [from the AP story linked above].”
Further, in the wake of the latest shootings, the Washington Post has reported that:
“[P]olitical and Jewish leaders across the country are grappling with whether [Mr. Trump’s] suggestion makes sense.”
And in Pittsburgh itself, at least one Jewish congregation has settled on an answer: “Pittsburgh Synagogue Hires Armed Guards to Open for Sunday School After Shooting.”
At this pthatoint, I’m far from sold on armed guards as the idea way to prevent shootings at synagogues and other religious institutions – or any other public places. And I hate the fatalism implied. But we don’t live in an ideal world. And we certainly don’t live in a world that permits us to safely dump all over a recommendation just because we don’t happen to care for the source. At least that’s the message being sent by those who need to take on this challenge in the here and now, as opposed to posturing from afar.