This is one view among several possible Jewish views of the ethics of selling firearms..Excerpted with permission from Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility, 11/214, May 15, 1981.
Mr. Isaac Goldstein, Proprietor
Rocky’s Pawn Shop
Dear Mr. Goldstein:
Time Magazine reports that you are giving serious consideration to discontinuing the sale of handguns in your establishment. No doubt, the recent attempt upon the life of President Reagan is prompting such soulsearching not only on your part, as proprietor of the store which sold that particular gun, but on the part of countless other gun dealers as well. Permit me to draw your attention to one aspect of Jewish teaching which should figure prominently in such deliberations.
Maimonides (Mishneh Torah, Laws of a Murderer 12:12, paraphrasing Babylonian Talmud Avodah Zarah 15b) declares: “It is forbidden to sell heathens weapons of war. Nor is it permitted to sharpen their spears, or to sell them knives, manacles, iron chains, bears, lions, or any object which can endanger the public; but it is permitted to sell them shields which are only for defense.”
Mr. Goldstein, a sticker on the door of your shop reads, “Guns Don’t Cause Crime Any More Than Flies Cause Garbage.” Maimonides disagrees emphatically. In explaining the premise upon which this provision of Jewish law is based, Maimonides tells us that in selling arms to a heathen “one strengthens the hands of an evil-doer and causes him to transgress” and “anyone who causes one who is blind with regard to a matter to stumble–or one who strengthens the hand of a person who is blind and does not see the path of truth because of the desire of his heart violates a negative precept as it is stated, ‘you shall not put a stumbling block before the blind.’”
This precept was understood by the Sages as an admonition designed to protect not only the physically blind, but the intellectually and morally blind as well. A Jew is forbidden to take advantage of another person’s lack of awareness in a way which causes harm to that person or others. The Torah forbids us to mislead the blind and thereby cause them to stumble. We are forbidden to give the uninformed misinformation or poor advice; we are forbidden to prey upon, or pander to, the predilections of the morally blind.