HB40 Statement - Rabbi Carl Choper

COMMENTS of RABBI CARL CHOPER, Chair of The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania, before the Judiciary Committee of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives;  November 19, 2009.

Honorable Representatives –

I am Rabbi Carl Choper.  I have been a rabbi in the Harrisburg area for about 20 years, and more recently am the Chair of The Interfaith Alliance of Pennsylvania, a network of voices of faith across the state in support of social policies marked by compassion, justice and equality.

I come here as a rabbi, rather than a lawyer, so I want to address concerns about how this bill might affect our culture.

I come before you to testify on behalf of the sanctity of human life.  Judaism speaks of each human being as created in the Image of God.  The Torah implores us to Choose Life.  It is a grave thing to take the life of another, or injure or maim another human being.  If in the course of self-defense the use of strong force becomes necessary, only the most minimal possible force should be used, and only as a last resort.

The right of self-defense is a very strong one, and the laws of our Commonwealth clearly allow us that right. Any problems that may exist can be addressed by wise application of the current laws.  As currently written, however, our laws allow for self defense  - AND direct us first to remember that human life is of paramount value.  Whenever we can, when we are encountering someone who is not already breaking into our homes, we must first retreat so as to avoid being party to severely injuring or killing another human being.

The law unamended, as it is written now, finds a balance between our right to self-defense and the principle of the sanctity of human life. Changing the law, in the manner proposed, will promote a change in the way we train ourselves to view each other. No longer will our laws require us to consider human life to be important enough that we must first seek ways to respond other than by taking human life.   Instead, as a first resort we can use deadly force – putting lives at risk, and possibly taking life, even when unnecessary.

By allowing an armed individual to believe they have the right to shoot as a first option, each person with a gun is now a deputized law enforcer without training.  We want our police officers to be armed.  We want them trained before they are armed – and they go through significant training.  We cannot be assured that others who carry guns into our public areas will be equally trained, or equally well supervised.  Whether or not carrying a gun is a right, it is certainly a heavy responsibility.  Discharging a gun in public is a serious act with serious potential consequences, even if done in self–defense.   Under all circumstances, other options to discharging a weapon should be sought first – if only for the protection of innocent bystanders, and the law should and currently does require this standard.  Changing the law as proposed would minimize the significance of discharging a gun in public, and could make our society even more violent than it already is.

I am not one of those who fear that our streets will be running with blood if this bill is passed.  I am far more concerned that in some parts of our Commonwealth the streets already do run with blood, and yet we have not cared to notice.  And after hearing (District Attorney) Mr. Ed Marsico this morning, I think we hardly need what could become known as the “Drug-Gang Shooter Defense Law.”

But more to the point, this law will seriously re-address the balance between the right to self-defense and the sanctity of human life.

And I ask you to Choose Life.

Thank you.