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Get a Gun

The Jewish way of gun ownership is more about responsibility than power

Liel Leibovitz
November 07, 2023

Aris Messinis/AFP via Getty Image

This article is part of What Now?.
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In Brooklyn, pro-Hamas rioters burned down their Bay Ridge block; when the NYPD tried to restore order, they, too, were attacked. A public defender—paid with tax dollars to, um, defend the public—is filmed ripping down hostage posters. France banned pro-Hamas marches, and tens of thousands of marchers defied the order. In London, police are spotted ripping down hostage posters, and a Metropolitan Police adviser personally leads a crowd in a “from the river to the sea” chant. Police officers came to a man’s home to arrest him for posting a video to Facebook of him criticizing migrants in his area for putting Palestine flags up everywhere in the neighborhood.

We are, as the writer Louise Perry pointed out this week, increasingly in a world of anarcho-tyranny, wherein governments fail “to enforce or adjudicate protection to its citizens while simultaneously persecuting innocent conduct.”

Now, look: Some questions are hard to answer. Who to marry. Where to live. Why there are ten hot dogs to a pack but only eight buns.

Other questions are very easy. If you’re wondering what’s the one thing you could do right now to make you and your family safer, it’s simple: Get a gun.

October 7 should have shaken you to the core. Enough to understand who your friends aren’t. Enough to understand that the darkest warnings whispered to us by elders who had witnessed unspeakable horrors, the warnings so many of us dismissed as belonging on history’s shelves and not in the sweet streets of the present—that these warnings were not for naught. Enough to understand that this great and good country is struggling with unprecedented upheavals right now, and can no longer permit us to take safety for granted. Enough to realize that taking on this responsibility is as much about protecting ourselves as it is about protecting America.

“Even in a society that functions well, there are microbursts of that society failing,” Kareen Shaya, cofounder of Open Source Defense, said in an interview a few years ago. “If someone breaks into your house in the middle of the night, that’s society failing for a few minutes. If someone stops and mugs you in the street, that’s society failing for a few minutes. If your spouse beats you, that’s society failing for a few minutes. Society, if it’s functioning well, is going to have your back most of the time. In those moments where it fails, I would ask: Do you have society’s back? Are you ready to fill that gap for those few minutes until society can recover and come to help you? That’s how I view gun ownership.”

Same. You should too.

And here’s the good news: There’s a Jewish way to own a gun.

If you’re not a gun person, you might think of those of us who are as mindless machos who draw some sort of illicit charge from toying around with instruments of death. Some are. But a lifetime of mixing with these people has taught me that the overwhelming majority of us take guns very, very seriously.

We train to make sure we can operate our firearms as well as we can should the need arise. We keep our guns clean and ready. We store them in very secure locations. We educate our children to make sure gun safety becomes a second nature, and we insist they understand precisely what sort of terrible power is held in hands holding firearms.

And there is also a Jewish way of gun ownership.

The Jewish way of gun ownership is more about responsibility than power. It doesn’t flex its muscles or measure its worth in calibers. It’s precisely what the license says it ought to be: concealed, there when you need it and unobtrusive when you don’t. You can see it on display—or, rather, you can’t—when you visit Crown Heights: Every store, more or less, has a little notice in the window informing you that if you’ve got a piece and a permit, you’re very welcome to walk right in. Which tells you that the men and women you see going about their day, while far from your stereotypical image of gun-toting berserkers, are staying subtle and staying safe.

Here’s hoping you take a page from their book. Here’s hoping that should an American pogromist prey on you, you have the ability to protect yourself and your loved ones. Here’s hoping you exercise the right given you by the letter of the Constitution and the spirit of Zionism and procure for yourself the most effective means at your disposal to guarantee freedom—yours as well as everyone else’s.

Liel Leibovitz is editor-at-large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One. He is the editor of Zionism: The Tablet Guide.