Danielle Berrin takes aim at the Los Angeles Gun Club shooting range. Photos and video by Rick Sorkin

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American

We called ourselves Bonnie and Clyde for the day.

We felt dangerous and powerful holding the gun between our fists, laying our eyes on the target, spraying bullets into the air.

Boom! Bullet to the head.

Boom! Bullet to the eye.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Thigh, kidney, heart.

I never imagined I’d be a good shot. But there I was, spending a Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Gun Club, shooting a weapon for the first time.

Something about the frenzied atmosphere of paranoia caused by the Donald Trump Administration — with its covert Russian ties, autocratic tendencies and growing contempt for the press (not to mention the surge of the alt-right) — inspired me to get a handle on self-defense.

I wasn’t alone. The New Yorker recently reported that Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives are buying foreign landing strips and underground luxury apartments, and stocking up on ammunition, preparing for the “crackup of civilization.” It’s a bit hysterical, I admit, and the moral calculus of the über-wealthy seeking only to spare themselves is disturbing. But it got me thinking: What recourse do the rest of us have if we can’t afford an end-of-days investment in former missile silos?

Enter: The Gun.


Growing up, I never encountered one. “Mom was a little freaked out about them,” my dad said. So, we didn’t have one in the house. Guns, for me, were exotic and unfamiliar — the domain of Hollywood movies, faraway wars or my dad’s Republican cousin. As an adult, I came to associate guns with mass shootings and politics; at shul, I frequently heard sermons on behalf of gun control, but my exposure to the real thing was limited.

“I’m taking you shooting,” my friend, musician Rick Sorkin, said to me.

So, off we went to a nondescript building on a quiet block downtown. Inside, the L.A. Gun Club offers a dazzling array of firearms for rent and a small indoor shooting range.


Guns were everywhere — symmetrically layed out in glass cases, mounted on walls and sitting in the holsters of the clerks who work there. An assortment of paper targets was plastered throughout for your shooting pleasure — a terrorist in a bush, a sketch of the human anatomy, or a plain old bull’s-eye. It was like a library, devoted to the culture of killing machines.

To get a gun, all Rick and I had to do was sign a release, then leave a fingerprint and a driver’s license. Minutes later, I was holding a Glock 17 in my hands — “popular with law enforcement,” the clerk said. Since it was my first time, he performed a brief demonstration, showing me how to lock, load and shoot before we entered the range.

DSC_0048Rick clicked in a round of cartridges, then handed me my first loaded gun. My nerves simmered as I gripped it, one hand over the other, index finger flat on the side, right above the trigger.

I stood in our little chamber as the sound of rifles exploded all around us, so loud it was dizzying, despite the fact I was wearing both earplugs and earmuffs. Feet firmly apart, I lifted the gun and aimed at the target.

“Take a deep breath, then pull the trigger on the exhale,” Rick said.

But I could barely breathe, I was so overwhelmed. I was sure the thing either was going to accidentally kill someone or backfire in my face.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.

But there was no way I was going to chicken out while a guy had all the fun.

I squinted over the top of the barrel and aimed for the head on the target.

Boom! Right through the brain.


Blood surged through my veins in a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. I had metaphorically killed a man with my very first shot. That’s how easy it is to end a life.

Shooting a gun, it turns out, can be exhilarating, especially when you’re good at it. It also demystifies an object associated with death and destruction. As a woman, it’s empowering to hold a weapon in your hands and know how to use it. But it’s a complicated power — God forbid you ever need to exercise it.

DSC_0158The more I pounded my paper target, the more I realized the dissonance of what I was doing: Target practice is fun, even a bit addictive, but let’s be honest, it’s not the reason guns exist. They were created to kill animals and human beings.

That doesn’t mean, given the current political atmosphere and the history of our country, that I’m not grateful for the constitutional right to bear arms. I like that more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was adopted, a relatively defenseless urbanite like myself can walk into a gun range, get some instruction and learn a new way to protect myself — though I’m also aware of the risks of gun ownership and that I’d need more training and practice before I ever felt comfortable, God forbid, using a gun to save myself or someone else.

I also know the religious tradition I love aspires to a prophetic vision of a world of nonviolence, where swords will turn into plowshares and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”


But from one afternoon, the Demon Gun now feels a little less demonic. And me? I feel a little more American.

Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Home made guns add to Israeli security woes

The gun that killed Hadar Cohen was not carried into the Palestinian territories through tunnels or smuggled past guards at a checkpoint. It was an improvised firearm, probably home made in a basement or kitchen somewhere in the West Bank.

The 19-year old rookie border policewoman was killed and a colleague wounded in a combined stabbing and shooting attack at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate at the beginning of the month.  The three attackers, Palestinians in their early 20s from the northern communities in the West Bank, had been approached and questioned because they were acting suspiciously, prompting their deadly reply.

Neither of the guns used in the attack – described as Carl Gustav submachine guns – were the ubiquitous Kalashnikov assault rifles favored by the likes of Hamas and Hizbullah.

“We’re not talking about military grade, manufactured weapons. These are weapons that are being produced in homemade factories,” Micky Rosenfeld, spokesman for Israeli police told The Media Line. Improvised or not, Cohen’s death demonstrates that such tools’ lethality cannot be underestimated. “These firearms are reaching the level of military made weapons. They fired like an AK47 or M-16,” Rosenfeld noted.

Photographs of the two firearms seized in the incident appear to show that they were both customized from the original bodies of conventional weapons – one a Kalashnikov AK47 and the other the American standard, the M-16. Both weapons fired 5.56 ammunition, Rosenfeld said.

Two weeks later, the scene almost repeated itself, underscoring the growing use of the improvised weapon. Shortly before midnight on a Sunday evening, police patrolling – again in the area of the Old City of Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate — ordered a man said to be acting suspiciously to stop. The suspect responded by drawing a weapon and was shot dead by the officers. A nearby attacker then opened fire on the police patrol and was also killed, but only after firing scores of rounds at police with his weapons — an improvised M-16 variant and a second home made gun — on “automatic.”

Occurring late in the evening after traffic had died down, the gunfire was heard across central Jerusalem.

Weapons of this nature have a long history of use in conflicts involving non-state actors, Nick De Arrinaga, European editor at IHLS Jane’s Defence weekly magazine, told The Media Line. Resistance fighters in France and Poland during World War II; the underground organizations Haganah and Etzel during Israel’s war of independence; and more recently, Chechens seeking to push out the Russian Army, all used improvised weapons, De Arrinaga said.

“There’s a huge breadth of quality when it comes to improvised weapons: Some are very basic, not reliable and potentially dangerous to the user,” the editor said, noting that at the other end of the spectrum are, “essentially underground factories producing standardized weapons.”

Cohen’s killers came into Israel illegally from the West Bank and so it is likely that their weapons were produced there, rather than inside the 1967 borders, and provided to the assailants prior to the attack. The Israeli army, responsible for security in the West Bank, declined to comment on issues relating to the infrastructure used to manufacture and distribute this sort of weapon.

 “It’s fairly complicated and it takes time. But the fact is if it’s made by a close circle (of people), the time that it takes them is maybe a couple of days or weeks,” Rosenfeld said. Ammunition is not hard to come by in the West Bank, he said, suggesting that rounds in the possession of the Palestinian security forces can easily fall into the hands of those seeking to shoot Israelis.

Which begs the question, “Why is anybody making improvised firearms when conventional weapons seem to be in no great shortage in the West Bank?”

Availability and cost are the first two reasons that a group might choose to make their own weapons, De Arrinaga said. If it’s difficult to procure weapons or the cost of doing so is prohibitively high, then an organization might choose to build their own. A third reason, De Arrinaga suggested, is to remain unnoticed by security forces.

Homemade guns do not have serial numbers which can be traced. In addition, if they were to be made by a small group of people capable of keeping a secret they could stay beneath the radar and surprise Israel’s security forces.

The fact that improvised weapons are still being made despite the abundance of guns in the West Bank also shows that the individuals using such weapons are not connected to the mainline terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel, former head of Counter Terrorism to the Israeli Government, told The Media Line.

The individuals making these weapons, “are not connected to any terror groups and want to keep a low profile,” Nuriel said. If a person were to decide they want to conduct an attack against Israelis they might inadvertently tip off security forces if they began by attempting to purchase a weapon. Constructing one at home avoids this problem, according to Nuriel who warned that this is something that is only going to become easier as technology improves.

Instructions for making these weapons is readily available on the internet and most of the items needed to produce them can be easily acquired because they have dual purposes, like agricultural fertilizer used to make explosives, Nuriel explained.

Further complicating these factors is the emergence of new technology in the form of the 3-D printer, a system which allows production of solid plastic objects using a computer file and a specialized printer, and is being developed for firearms production in the United States.

According to Nuriel, 3-D technology has not yet been seen among Palestinian organizations, but it is something they are interested in. “I’m from the group that believes it is only a matter of time until we see more and more improvised explosives and weapons attacks,” the former counter-terrorism chief concluded.

Obama says ‘Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago’

President Barack Obama on Friday jumped into the debate over the acquittal of the man who killed black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin, declaring that Martin “could have been me, 35 years ago,” and urging Americans to understand the pain that African-Americans feel over the case.

Obama came into the White House press briefing room to offer his thoughts on the case involving George Zimmerman, the Florida man who was found not guilty of murder on Saturday after shooting 17-year-old Martin during a struggle.

The Zimmerman case has brought matters of race into the American conversation once again, between those who feel Zimmerman was acting in self defense and others who believe there was no need for him to shoot the unarmed teenager.

Without saying so specifically, Obama clearly sided with the argument that the shooting need not have happened, expressing sympathy to the Martin family and praising family members for the “incredible grace and dignity with which they've dealt with the entire situation.”

He said the case was properly handled in the Florida court and the fact that the jury found reasonable doubt in the prosecution's case against Zimmerman was relevant. And yet, he added, it is important that Americans understand the context from the black perspective.

“You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot, I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me, 35 years ago,” he said somberly.

Obama, 51, recalled his own encounters with racism as a way of explaining the pain that the black community has expressed over the case.

“There are very few African-American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me,” he said.

He said he has heard the clicks of car doors locking when he walked across the street in his younger days.

“There are very few African-Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often,” he said.

While he said he believes younger generations have fewer issues with racism, Americans need to do some “soul searching” on whether they harbor prejudice.

They should consider, “Am I judging people as much as I can based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character?” he said.

Noting racial disparities in the application of U.S. criminal laws on everything from the death penalty to enforcement of drug laws, Obama had a number of recommendations.

He urged the Justice Department work with local governments about state and local training to reduce mistrust in the system and that states should examine laws to see if they are designed in such a way that may encourage altercations.

Obama specifically mentioned Florida's “stand your ground” law that was central to Zimmerman's argument that he acted in self defense and shot Martin during their alteraction. The law was not cited as part of Zimmerman's defense but one juror cited it in acquitting him.

“I just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr Zimmerman, who had followed him in a car, because he felt threatened? And if the answer to that question is at least ambiguous, then it seems to me that we might want to examine those kinds of laws,” said Obama.

Editing by Christopher Wilson and Jackie Frank

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman: Stand our ground

I’m outraged at the Trayvon Martin case, but not because a jury found George Zimmerman, the man who killed Martin, not guilty.

When you read through the state’s case and the witness testimony, when you stop to understand the trial the way the jurors did, when you go over the actual points of law that had to be decided, then it’s easy to understand why Zimmerman was found not guilty. The state failed to make its case.

What outrages me still is this: A boy who didn’t have to die is dead.

On Feb. 26, 2012, Martin, 17, was walking back to his father’s girlfriend’s home in a Sanford, Fla., gated community when he drew the suspicions of Zimmerman, a 29-year-old neighborhood watch captain. Zimmerman armed himself with a pistol and followed Martin. The two got into a confrontation. It ended when Zimmerman shot Martin dead.

We don’t know how Martin behaved that night. We don’t know if Zimmerman acted like the Terminator or Andy Griffith. All we know for sure is this: Zimmerman took a gun and went to confront Martin, and Martin is dead.

[Related: David Suissa's reaction to the Zimmerman verdict]

At the time Zimmerman started to follow him, Martin was carrying a bottle of iced tea and a bag of Skittles. He had endangered no one. He had threatened no one.

Zimmerman first called 911 and reported “a suspicious person.” The operator told Zimmerman not to leave his vehicle or approach Martin. Zimmerman ignored the instructions and left his SUV. 

No matter how many times I hear about the trial, my mind goes back to that moment — that’s where my outrage begins.

Why did Zimmerman have to take matters into his own hands? Why wasn’t a phone call to the police enough? Why go looking for trouble?

If Zimmerman had made his call and waited for the police, Martin would be alive today. 

The reason Zimmerman didn’t wait is because of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. Under that law, a person can justifiably use force in self-defense, even outside of one’s home or car, when there is a reasonable belief of an unlawful threat, and without the obligation to first retreat. 

Until this case exploded, I had no idea there could be such an idiotic interpretation of what would otherwise be a common-sense law. People attacked in their home should be able to stand their ground. But claiming every piece of Florida sidewalk as “your ground” defies logic. It’s an outrage. 

Of course we must have the right to defend ourselves against imminent threat. “One who comes to slay you,” the Talmud says, “rise up and slay him.” Yet the Jewish law of din rodef, literally, the case of the pursuer, obligates us to defend ourselves and others from a pursuer come to do us harm. Ours is not the religion of “turn the other cheek.” Ours is the religion of Yael, who didn’t wait for Sisera to lead an army against the Israelites. The night before battle, she lulled Sisera to sleep, then drove a spike through his head. Jewish law — and common-sense law — gives us the right to preempt our destruction. 

But Martin had as much right to stand on that ground as Zimmerman. If Zimmerman had to defend himself, it was because he chased a boy he had no business pursuing. It’s likely Martin was the one who felt he was standing his ground. But we’ll never know, because he wasn’t the one with the gun.

Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law mocks the common sense of self-defense. It gives individuals the right to preempt their own imagined destruction. Killing someone who comes to kill you is ethical. Chasing after someone who looks like you imagine someone who might want to kill you looks — that’s immoral. When you get a gun and go looking for trouble, chances are you’ll find it. 

What outrages me about the Zimmerman verdict is how it may only reaffirm this behavior.

“What the verdict says, to the astonishment of tens of millions of us, is that you can go looking for trouble in Florida, with a gun and a great deal of racial bias, and you can find that trouble, and you can act upon that trouble in a way that leaves a young man dead, and none of it guarantees that you will be convicted of a crime,” Andrew Cohen wrote in The Atlantic.

The facts bear this out, as if common sense doesn’t. Since Florida passed the “Stand Your Ground” law in 2005, deaths due to self-defense have jumped 200 percent.

Maybe it should come as no surprise that the National Rifle Association, which has pushed concealed carry laws, obstructed efforts at common-sense background checks and never met a weapon it wanted to ban, played a key role in supporting Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. What fun are concealed weapons if you can’t shoot people with them?

There are 23 states with “Stand Your Ground” laws like Florida’s. In order that there never be a 24th, the rest of us must stand our ground.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Israel conducts illegal weapons amnesty

This story originally appeared on themedialine.org.

There are a lot of guns in Israel. You see them carried by soldiers as you walk down the street; on the hip of the security guard checking your bag as you enter the bank; and even by licensed civilians who live in or travel through areas Israel acquired in the 1967 war.

Israel’s Ministry of Public Security has embarked on an amnesty campaign to collect illegal, unlicensed firearms, promising that anyone who hands over their unlicensed gun will not be prosecuted. Unlike similar campaigns in the US where the concern is violent crime, misuse of firearms is a greater problem relative to suicides. 

Yakov Amit, the head of firearm licensing in the Ministry says there are 160,000 licensed civilian weapons in Israel, along with 130,000 guns licensed to institutions such as security companies. According to law, Israelis must renew their gun permits every three years, including a requirement for shooting practice.

According to officials, there are about 6,500 Israelis who have not renewed their gun licenses. 

“It is likely that these guns were stolen and they’re afraid to report it or they were sold illegally,” Amit told The Media Line. “We want to know how many people have done this. They must report it but there won’t be any criminal proceedings against them.”

In the first week of the campaign which began earlier this month, 200 Israelis came forward. Since then, there have been dozens more, although complete statistics are not yet available.

The issue gained prominence here earlier this month when a disgruntled customer opened fire in a bank in the southern Israeli city of Be’er Sheva, killing four people before turning the gun on himself. The gunman, Itamar Alon, was a former security guard who had won a commendation from the city for preventing a terrorist attack years ago.

His gun, Amit said, was licensed.

The shooting dominated the Israeli news for days, ironically pointing out how rare gun violence is in the country. Israeli officials say the difficult process required in order to obtain a gun weeds out potential misuse.

“Unlike in the US, in Israel there is no legal right to [own or carry] a gun,” Amit said. “Anyone who wants a gun needs to submit a request and explain why he needs that gun. He also has to undergo physical and psychological tests.”

Israel’s Ministry of Health is legally bound to report any changes in psychological health that could impact on a gun owner’s ability to use the weapon safely.

Anyone living in post-1967 areas, or on Israel’s northern and southern borders, is reasonably likely to obtain a license for a firearm, as well as people involved in businesses that include risk, like diamonds or money-transfer.

Most Israelis are familiar with guns from their mandatory army service. With the exception of ultra-Orthodox Jews and Arab citizens, all Israelis are drafted at the age of 18 and serve in the army – men for three years and women for two years. Even those in non-combat jobs complete at least three weeks of basic training that includes firing assault rifles.

Although violent crime involving gun use is considered rare in Israel, guns feature heavily in the high rate of suicide in both the civilian and military sectors.

The army does not like to release statistics, but after a blogger writing under a pseudonym wrote on the issue last year, the army revealed that 237 servicemen and women took their own lives over the past ten years, the vast majority using their army-issued weapons.

“There is a dangerous cultural combination of easy access to guns and the lack of awareness of depression and its prevalence in the 18 to 26 age group,” Sara Halevi, an adolescent cognitive behavioral therapist in Jerusalem told The Media Line. “That lends itself to a situation where suicide is unfortunately far too common.”

Halevi said she has noticed an increase in depression and stress-related illnesses in her practice, especially among 17-year-olds just before they enter the army.

“They feel unprepared for the responsibility that they are going to have put on them,” she said. “I’ve seen the incidence of depression go up significantly.”

There is still a stigma in Israel against seeking treatment, and many young Israelis worry that seeing a therapist could keep them out of important army jobs.

The army is also working to combat suicides of soldiers on active duty. In the past, most soldiers would bring their guns home with them when they came home for the weekend. Now, since the army began requiring that most soldiers keep their guns on their bases when on leave, suicides have decreased significantly.

Gun violence in America: Scandal!

Two years after his mother was shot and killed, Dallas Sonnier received a phone call from the police: His father had just been shot and killed.

Sonnier’s parents had divorced long before. That both were murdered was sheer coincidence — as if gun violence in America isn’t common enough to strike one family twice.

On July 12, 2010, Juan Gallegos, 62, the new husband of Sonnier’s mother, Becky J. Gallegos, 55, fired two bullets into her chest, then turned the gun on himself.

On July 11, 2012, police discovered the body of Sonnier’s father, Dr. Joseph Sonnier III, inside his Lubbock, Texas, home. Dr. Sonnier, 57, was the much-loved chief pathologist for the Covenant Health Systems. Days later, police arrested another doctor, Dr. Thomas Michael Dixon, the ex-lover of Dr. Sonnier’s girlfriend. He paid a hit man $9,000 in silver bars to break into Sonnier’s home and shoot him. Dixon provided the gun.

Dallas Sonnier, 32, is now an L.A.-based film producer. Tall, trim and soft-spoken, he’s a reminder that gun violence is ubiquitous and random. He told me his story over mimosas at a benefit for Women Against Gun Violence last Sunday afternoon, May 19. The story would likely be considered too far-fetched to be believed — if you didn’t know anything about America’s self-inflicted plague of gun violence.

“I’m just kind of coming out of it now,” Sonnier told me. “To see how I can make a difference.”

Since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 first-graders and six educators, two things have happened: 1) The United States Senate voted against passing a bill that would, along with a handful of limited, thoughtful gun control measures, have instituted universal background checks for all gun purchases, and, 2) more than 4,266 more Americans have been killed by guns. Wait, a third thing has happened: Washington and the 24-hour media monster have become consumed with a series of scandals — Benghazi, the Associated Press, the IRS. Politicians and pundits are frothing to express their outrage as they pound the president against the ropes.

It’s certainly true that the press and Congress should investigate wrongdoings in the executive branch — the digging into reporters’ phone records is particularly worrisome.

But between the media’s desire for dramatic headlines — Scandal! — and partisan hacks looking, since 2008, for any and every reason to take down this president, what happens is those stories become the only story. The more difficult problems, the less black-and-white issues — in other words, the Things This Country Really Needs — get shoved aside.  

So immigration, sequestration, health care, jobs, Syria and, yes, gun control, all fell off the agenda.

To me, that’s the outrage.

At the Women Against Gun Violence event, I just got angrier.

Patricia Maisch and Daniel Hernandez Jr., two survivors of the Tucson, Ariz., shooting that claimed six lives and badly wounded Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, spoke about how 16 seconds damaged the lives not just of the victims, but of their friends and loved ones.

“Every shooting has a ripple effect,” Hernandez said.

Hernandez was the last person to see 9-year-old Christina Green alive that day.  That turned him into an activist.

“I’m not anti-gun,” he said, “I’m pro-common sense.”

The problem, of course, is that common sense is often trumped by passion and extremism, which is what fuels the minority of Americans who opposed the Senate background checks bill. The leadership of the National Rifle Association and its hard-core zombie army can still turn senators into hand puppets.

But the diversity of both the honorees and audience at Sunday’s event indicate, perhaps, that the tide has turned. The honorees ranged from Hernandez and Maisch to Ralphs Grocery Co., which funds a gun-buyback program; to Juliet Leftwich, an attorney who left a lucrative law practice to work for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence; to my own parents, Sari and Aaron Eshman. My parents, thank God, haven’t been touched by gun violence, but, like the 90 percent of Americans who supported the bill the Senate voted against, they’ve had enough, they’re mad as hell and have become active in the cause. 

The audience was just as diverse: LAPD officers in uniform, South L.A. activists, Westside philanthropists and that film producer from Texas. If violence ripples outward like the rings of water when a pebble is thrown in, so does outrage.

Would such legislation have prevented the murders of Sonnier’s parents? Probably.

Sonnier told me that his mother’s husband had entered a paranoid tailspin in the year before the murder. Police found 100 guns on his property. He had purchased five to 10 each month in the year before he used one to kill Sonnier’s mother.

Common-sense federal legislation could limit the number of guns a single person could buy in a year, or tip off authorities when so many purchases are made. Common-sense legislation would require background checks on purchases made at gun shows or between private parties — something federal law doesn’t require today. The senators who stand in the way need to hear from you, today.

Washington is so caught up in scandal hunting, it has dropped the ball on these issues. To my mind, that’s the biggest scandal of them all.

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

Giffords: ‘Shame’ on senators who voted down gun checks

The U.S. senators who defeated a bill that would toughen background checks for gun purchasers “brought shame on themselves,” former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords said.

“The senators who voted against background checks for online and gun-show sales, and those who voted against checks to screen out would-be gun buyers with mental illness, failed to do their job,” Giffords wrote in an Op-Ed appearing Thursday in The New York Times Thursday, a day after the measure earned 56 votes — four short of the necessary 60 in the 100-member chamber.

Giffords, who was shot in the head in January 2011 in an assault that took the lives of six others, had joined President Obama and the families of 20 first-graders and six adults massacred in December in Newtown, Conn., in condemning the vote.

After the Newtown massacre, Giffords, who retired in 2012 to focus on her recovery, launched a gun control group with her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly.

“I’m furious,” she wrote. “I will not rest until we have righted the wrong these senators have done, and until we have changed our laws so we can look parents in the face and say: We are trying to keep your children safe. We cannot allow the status quo — desperately protected by the gun lobby so that they can make more money by spreading fear and misinformation — to go on.”

Giffords, who owns a gun, was scathing in her denunciation of the senators who once were her colleagues.

“Our democracy’s history is littered with names we neither remember nor celebrate — people who stood in the way of progress while protecting the powerful,” she said. “On Wednesday, a number of senators voted to join that list.”

Giffords, a conservative Democrat, was the first Jewish woman elected to federal office from Arizona.

Broad Jewish support for Obama’s gun proposals

President Obama's new gun control proposals drew broad Jewish communal support.

The uniformity of the Jewish response to the proposals unveiled Wednesday stood in contrast to Republican opposition to many of the suggested measures, including a ban on assault weapons and tighter background checks on gun purchasers.

Supportive statements came from the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella for public policy groups, as well as Reform, Conservative and Orthodox umbrella groups.

Obama said he plans to issue 23 executive orders while his vice president, Joe Biden, attempts to shepherd parallel legislation through Congress in the wake of the massacre last month of 20 children and seven adults in Newtown, Conn.

A number of the proposals, including hiring security officials for schools, are not controversial. But most fall on the fault line of the gun control debate that has for decades exercised the American public.

“We recognize that this is a complex issue,” Rabbi Steve Gutow, the JCPA's president, said in a statement. “The memory of Newtown is still fresh, and so is Aurora, Tucson, Fort Hood and other massacres that remind us that something must be done — and that there isn’t a single solution to preventing mass violence.  We appreciate the administration’s understanding that there are multiple causes which must be addressed. It is crucial that passions not ebb nor our country return to complacency.”

In its statement, the Orthodox Union said that it understood from conversations with White House officials that the security officials hired for schools would be available to parochial establishments as well.

“The Orthodox Union has been informed by the White House that the funding proposal may be used to place the new officers in Jewish and other nonpublic schools to provide security, counseling, and safety education,” it said in a statement.

Other organizations welcoming the initiative included Jewish Women International, the National Council of Jewish Women, the Reform movement's Religious Action Center, B'nai B'rith International, the National Jewish Democratic Council, the Conservative movement's Rabbinical Assembly, Bend the Arc: A Jewish Partnership for Justice as well as leading Jewish lawmakers, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).

The speech President Obama should have given after the Connecticut school shooting

When news of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School first broke, President Barack Obama stood before the nation, felt our grief and shed a tear.

It was a beautiful, touching moment — and I resented it.

I’m all for grown men crying. I’m all for presidents, in times of unexpected, shocking national tragedy, serving as a kind of pastor-in-chief, expressing our pain through their words.  

But the Sandy Hook massacre was neither shocking nor unexpected. Gunmen shooting at innocent children? Seen it — several times this year, actually. Deranged white male with access to an arsenal? As common as snowflakes. SWAT teams leading children out of schools? Grief-stricken parents arriving at the scene? Agonizing, senseless funerals? Teddy bears piled up along chain link fences? Check, check, check.

I’m not blasé — I’m angry. And Obama’s tears were exactly what I didn’t need. For comfort, I have friends and family. When I want pastoral care, I’ll see my rabbi — hey, she’s also family. What I want from my president is this: action.

So I sat down and typed out the speech I wish the president had given that afternoon, while the wounds were fresh and the nation looked to him for direction. Would the pundits have cried, “Too soon!” and accused him of politicizing the massacre? Probably, but so what? The right speech — the one I wrote — goes beyond partisan politics. 

This is the speech Obama should have given in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., shootings. Dry-eyed and tear-free:

My Fellow Americans:

“I know there’s not a parent in America who doesn’t feel the same overwhelming grief that I do. … But while we will shed tears with you, and lead this nation in mourning — again — my duty as your president does not stop there.

“My sworn duty is to protect and defend American lives, and in the wake of yet another shooting tragedy, that is what I intend to do.

I stand before you today, and face the grief-stricken parents of Newtown, and the traumatized children who survived the killer’s rampage, and I make this vow to you: I will do everything in my power as president to stop gun violence in America.

“What does this mean?

It means attacking the problem through our laws, our courts, our social services and our media.

“Make no mistake, this is a deep, festering problem that generations of politicians — including myself — have preferred not to confront head-on. There is no one simple solution. Our approach will be all encompassing and thorough. And our goal is clear: the end to gun violence in America.


“First, we will change the laws. We will enact smart and effective legislation that targets the most dangerous guns and keeps all guns out of the hands of the people most likely to use them to commit crimes. These laws will vastly improve criminal background checks to make it more difficult for criminals and the mentally ill to buy guns. We will push for a law that requires these checks for all gun sales. Right now, background checks only apply to sales by licensed gun dealers, who only account for 60 percent of all gun sales. That means 40 percent of all gun sales — via private parties and gun shows, for example — take place with no background check. 

“There are over 200 million guns in this country today. The Second Amendment protects the lawful ownership and use of firearms, and that is a constitutional right we hold dear. The vast majority of gun owners are law-abiding citizens. The goal of our legislation is not to reduce the safe, legal ownership of guns, but gun violence.

“Second, we will ensure that in every court throughout this land, those who commit violent crimes with guns, as well as those whose guns are used through negligence to commit a crime, will face maximum, mandatory penalties.


“Third, we will increase our support for intervention programs targeting the mentally ill, domestic abusers, gangs and other underlying causes of gun violence. In cases where there is inadequate funding or oversight, we will immediately fix it. Since too many of these mass shootings involve long-simmering hostilities that burst out into mayhem, we will educate communities to identify the risk factors and create swift intervention procedures before violence erupts. To focus solely on guns as the problem will not solve our problem: America is not the only country with high rates of gun ownership. Switzerland and Israel have a high percentage of gun ownership but low or negligible amounts of gun-related homicide.

“Finally, we will focus on the media. We will use all forms of media to educate our young people away from violence, to stop its relentless glorification, and to teach ways to recognize and thwart violent behavior. While we hold the First Amendment and right to free expression as sacrosanct, we must strive to use the power of the media to solve, and not exacerbate, one of our country’s gravest problems.

“My fellow Americans, as a parent, I mourn with you today. But as your president, I cannot stand idly by while the blood of my countrymen is wantonly shed.

“There are 35 victims each day in this country from gun violence. About 86,000 people are either killed or wounded by firearms each year, of which 12,612 people die. That means that 10 days after this tragic day, guns will have killed another 350 people.

“I stand before you as a parent and shed tears. I stand before you as president and say: ‘Enough!’ ”

Rob Eshman is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Tribe Media Corp. Follow him on Twitter @foodaism.  If you approve of this message, please forward to comments@whitehouse.gov.

Jews and guns: A day on the firing range

Susanne Reyto carefully loaded her rifle and switched the safety off. Peering into the scope attached to the top of the weapon, she pulled the trigger while former U.S. Army platoon leader Charlie Jasper looked on to ensure she was handling her weapon safely.

To their right, 29-year-old Sean Constine loaded bullets into his rifle’s magazine. Then he picked up the rifle and, having located his target — a steel plate attached to the top of a pole approximately 50 yards away — fired away.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Stern, a former member of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), corrected the shooting stance of a 20-something who’d never fired a weapon before.

They were among 25 individuals who visited the gun range at the Oak Tree Gun Club in Santa Clarita on Dec. 2 to fire rifles and handguns. Organizers of the daylong event said its purpose was to show that learning how to fire a gun can be a powerful experience that Jews, in particular, can benefit from.

“We wanted an event that was empowering, and we wanted an event that also discussed the moral imperative of Jewish self-defense,” said Orit Arfa, who organized the event. “Learning how to use a gun is, hopefully, not something that every Jew will have to take upon themselves, but we think learning how to use a weapon and not being afraid of using a weapon will influence people toward a certain courage.”

Arfa called the event timely, too, casting it as a way to celebrate Chanukah, which begins at sundown on Dec. 8 and commemorates a “Jewish victory achieved by Jewish warriors who took it upon themselves to rise up in arms.”

Zionists of Los Angeles, a Los Angeles-based ad hoc group created by Arfa, put on the event after the original sponsor, the Zionist Organization of America’s (ZOA) Western Region, opted out before the event took place, according to Arfa. (A former executive director of the ZOA-Western Region, Arfa was fired from the position last month.)

Jessica Felber, chair of ZOA-West’s young professionals group, helped plan the event, and most of the participants included adults in their 20s and 30s who regularly attend its programs. But others turned up as well, including Reyto and her husband, Robert, who is in his 70s. 

Hired instructors included Jasper, whose service in the Army included a 2008 stint in Iraq, and Stern, a professional shooting trainer who fought in the IDF during the Second Intifada as part of an infantry unit and as a sharpshooter.

Other instructors also had connections to the IDF. Shimi Baras, a shaliach (emissary) for Bnei Akiva of Los Angeles, a Zionist youth group, was a former member of the IDF, and several participants claimed that Avichai Perez serves on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal security team. (When asked if this was true, he said it was classified, but showed identification indicating that he works in the Defense Department in the office of the prime minister.)

The instructors weren’t the only ones with prior shooting experience. Some of the participants drew on a range of firearm knowledge.

Constine came in with so much experience firing guns, in fact, that he became a de facto instructor, showing other participants how to hold their weapons properly. A graduate of Emory University, Constine made aliyah in 2005 with the help of Garin Tzabar, a program that facilitates serving in the IDF for Diaspora Jews. He then served in the army.

“The idea of a strong Jew very much appeals to me,” said Constine, who saw combat in Lebanon and in the West Bank while serving in an infantry unit. He currently lives in Los Angeles.

Robert Reyto may have been the oldest person in the pack, but that certainly didn’t put him at a disadvantage. Born in Hungary, he suffered through Nazi Germany and communist Hungary. During the ’60s, Reyto served in the U.S. Navy, working as a dentist in a naval construction battalion unit. 

But, for some, it was their first time handling a weapon. That included Paula Perlman, 26, a graduate of California State University, Northridge; Tamar Union, 27, college campus coordinator at the Jewish outreach group Aish Los Angeles; and Susanne Reyto.

The latter struggled to see through her weapon’s scope, everything appearing as a blur. Still, she said, she was grateful for the opportunity to learn how to protect herself. Like her husband, Susanne, 68, who was born in Budapest one week before the Nazis invaded Hungary, lived through the Holocaust, during which she hid in a cellar with her mother. 

Gunshots filled the air as the group walked past the outdoor gun club’s shotgun skeet-shooting range and approached the rifle range. As they waited in a line to rent weapons and ammunition, the gunshots startled those who had never been to a shooting range before.

Before meeting at the gun range — where they took turns firing M4 semiautomatic rifles for nearly an hour, then moved on to handguns — the group gathered at a sports-memorabilia clubhouse owned by Marvin Markowitz, who also owns Factor’s Famous Deli. There, Stern, a member of the National Rifle Association, led a training session on gun safety and spoke in strong support of gun ownership. 

Not everyone agreed. Constine said he is in favor of gun control. 

“Israel and America are vastly different places. In Israel, you need to carry a gun. Here, you don’t,” he said.

Stern also spoke about what he called the problem of American Jews viewing themselves as victims of persecution. Learning how to operate a gun is a way to change that mindset, he said.

The people who participated in the event won’t be turning into Moshe Dayan overnight, he said, referring to Israel’s famous military leader. But, he concluded, this was a step in the right direction.

Gun is only way to fight Israel, Hamas head says

Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in Iran that armed resistance is the only way to fight against Israel.

The “gun is our only response to the Zionist regime,” Haniyeh said Monday in Tehran, according to the semi-official Iranian Fars news agency.

“In time, we have come to understand that we can obtain our goals only through fighting and armed resistance, and no compromise should be made with the enemy,” he reportedly said.

Haniyeh also said the Israeli presence “inside Palestine” is “the root of all regional problems.”

On Sunday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League at a meeting in Cairo that he will resume efforts in United Nations agencies to recognize a Palestinian state if Israel does not agree to his conditions for resuming peace negotiations.

The conditions, which Abbas said he will send in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, include basing talks on the 1967 lines, a halt to construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, and the release of Palestinians in Israeli jails.

Abbas also called on the Arab League to organize an international peace conference.

In response to Abbas’ statements, Netanyahu said, “Instead of entering into negotiations that will lead to an end to the conflict, Abbas prefers to join forces with the Hamas terrorist organization—the same Hamas that is embracing Iran.”

Under a Palestinian unity agreement signed between Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas, an interim government will be formed under the leadership of Abbas, with elections to be held later this year.

Reform cites Giffords shooting in urging clip ban

The Reform movement cited the attack that seriously wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and killed six others in urging Congress to ban high-capacity ammunition clips.

“The clips can hold 30, 50 or even 100 rounds, enabling shooters to cause serious casualties before needing to reload,” read the letter that Rabbi David Saperstein, the director of the movement’s Religious Action Center, sent to all members of Congress.

Saperstein cited the case of Jared Lee Loughner, who allegedly shot Giffords (D-Ariz.), a Jewish lawmaker, in Tucson on Jan. 8.

“The shooter in Tucson was able to fire 32 bullets in only 16 seconds, and was only able to be subdued by bystanders when he was forced to stop and change magazines,” the letter said. “Disasters like this could be greatly mitigated if we remove high capacity ammunition clips from our streets.”

Saperstein was endorsing a bill introduced by Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) in the weeks following the Tucson shooting. All of the measure’s 11 sponsors are Democrats and six are Jewish.

Analysis: Sarah Palin . . . and the Jews

When Sen. John McCain tapped Alaska Governor Sarah Palin to be his running mate today, the Jewish political blogosphere — as loud and fast and opinionated as (for lack of a better word) the Gentile Web — came to a screeching halt.

After all, you can fight about John McCain, and Barack Obama, and Joe Biden . . .but Sarah Palin?

It took an Internet eternity for Jewish Republicans to come out swinging for Sarah, an just as long for Jewish Democrats to hit back.

“Homerun!” Larry Greenfield, the California director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, wrote me via e-mail five hours after McCain’s announcement. “Governor Palin has a very close relationship with the Jewish community of Alaska, with Chabad (Rabbi Greenberg) and with AIPAC. She is close to the Frozen Chosen!”

Seconds later came a blast from Congressman Robert Wexler (D-FL) claiming Palin endorsed Pat Buchanan’s presidential run in 2000: “John McCain’s decision to select a vice presidential running mate that endorsed Pat Buchanan for President in 2000 is a direct affront to all Jewish Americans.”

Oh, now it’s getting good.

When Sen. Barack Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden last week, the Democrats had nothing but praise for the long term senator, citing positive comments from AIPAC and decades of foreign policy experience. And Jewish e-mail boxes filled with Biden’s now familiar quote: “You don’t have to be Jewish to be a Zionist, and I’m a Zionist.”

Then Republican Jews struck.

An e-mail quickly circulated linking to an article on a right-leaning web site claiming Biden was in the pocket of the Iranian mullahs. As for AIPAC’s kind words about Biden? “AIPAC has to say nice things,” a Republican activist told me. “They have to be bi-partisan.” And that pro-Zionist quote? Pretty words, just like his boss, Obama.

The Dems responded with a further defense of Biden’s record. If you could call Biden’s support for Israel into question, said the Executive Director of the National Jewish Democratic Council Ira Forman, then you could call Golda Meir’s loyalty to Israel in question.

The Veep debate among Jews is important because there are many Jewish voters who are still a bit leery about Obama. Jews traditionally vote Democratic (upwards of 75 percent voted for John Kerry in 2004 — and we didn’t even really like him). A growing number of Jews have found a home in the Republican party, and are fairly candidate-proof — they vote red no matter what.

A significant number of Jewish voters, however, will change their vote depending on which candidate they perceive as “better for Israel.” These voters believe that Israel is facing immediate existential threats from Palestinian terror, from a near-nuclear Iran, and from over-eager politicians forcing it to make dangerous territorial concessions for the sake of elusive peace. These voters — call them “Israel Firsters” — see their one vote as crucial to preventing another Holocaust, and theirs are the votes that Jewish Dems and Jewish Republicans are fighting over.

Obama and Israel is the battleground issue for Jewish voters in the 2008 election — these are the Jewish votes up for grabs in this race. If Republicans can paint Obama as a Muslim or Muslim sympathizer, as an appeaser to Iran, as inexperienced on foreign policy, as insufficiently caring about Israel in his kishkes — the Yiddish word for guts — then they can peel off Jewish votes.

This strategy won’t matter in heavily pro-Democratic states like California and New York, but it can matter in swing states like Ohio and Florida. And it matters elsewhere in the race: Jews give money, Jews get involved, Jews shape opinion far out of proportion to their numbers. (Yes, there are only six of us in the entire country. Amazing what controlling the media will get you!)

Enter Sarah.

If McCain had picked Mitt Romney or Tom Ridge or — cue the bar mitzvah band — Joe Lieberman, he would have unquestionably swept up the Israel Firsters. These men have track records and gravitas when it comes to Israel and foreign policy. (This debate among Jews and Israel reflects the larger foreign policy concerns about Obama that Republicans are making the centerpiece of their opposition. Many conflicts in Jewish life mirror conflicts in the larger culture — that’s Anthropology 101).

But he chose Sarah Palin: former mayor of a small Alaska town, governor of Alaska, devout Christian.

For Jews who are not necessarily Israel Firsters, she carries some positives and negatives. Positives: she is a crusader for good government and a fiscal conservative. She is smart and successful and patriotic. Jews like all these things.

“As governor of Alaska, Palin has enjoyed a strong working relationship with Alaska’s Jewish community. She has demonstrated sensitivity to the concerns of the community and has been accessible and responsive,” said Republican Jewish Coalition Executive Director Matt Brooks.

Negatives: She is anti-abortion.

Jews are among the largest pro-choice constituency in the country. She has, according to one web site, supported the idea of teaching Creationism and evolution in public schools. “‘Teach both,” she was quoted as saying on a local TV station. “You know, don’t be afraid of information. Healthy debate is so important, and it’s so valuable in our schools. I am a proponent of teaching both.'”

Dependence on foreign oil is a major issue for American Jews, since a lot of that oil comes from regimes that hate Israel and support terror.

Republican Jews are emphasizing Palin’s desire to drill Alaskan oil and develop domestic oil resources as away to decrease our dependence.

“Palin has been a leader on the critical issue of energy independence and lessening our need to buy oil from nations not sharing American and Israel’s foreign policy,” Brooks said in his statement.

But Jews are also pro-environment, and have jumped on the alternative energy (hybrid) bandwagon in a big way. Obama’s convention speech calling for a 10 year campaign to switch to alternative sources of energy may carry deeper resonance.

For the Israel Firsters, Palin may be a problem. Palin has no foreign policy experience. No Israel experience. Her AIPAC rating? When you enter her name on the AIPAC home page, you get this:

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No pages were found containing "palin".

The RJC’s Greenfield says her AIPAC relationships are great, but confined to Alaska. And Republicans are now marshalling a great comeback to the charge that Palin once supported Pat Buchanan.

Buchanan is anathema to the Jews. He is someone who has blamed Israel and American Jews for directing American foreign policy against American interests. He has spoken kindly of Adolph Hitler — who is not popular with Jews — and, well, this is going to be interesting.

Sarah Palin might cause the Israel Firsters, who seemed to be pretty much done with Obama, to take a second look.

Rob Eshman is Editor-in-Chief of The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles and JewishJournal.com.

Sarah Heath (Palin), sportscaster

Ready, Aim, Birthday!

It’s not every day that I am E-vited to a birthday party promising to feature live ammunition. Excitedly, I E-sponded with a resounding “yes.”

Paula was throwing a Wild West-themed shindig for her husband Bill’s birthday. It was a “BYOF” (Bring Your Own Firearm) affair.

“Don’t worry,” Paula said. “Dale and Pete are bringing extra guns and they’re willing to share.”

After my husband and I signed a long, pesky agreement at the counter, I saw Paula, Bill and our friends firing away. I tried to bolt for the range, but the guy at the counter pointed to a pile of earmuffs and said, “Hey! You’re going to need a pair of these.”

I slapped a set over my head, and when I finally got onto the range I immediately jumped in terror at the sheer decibel level of a dozen guns going off at once.

Our friends greeted us, and the birthday boy, sporting a .38 caliber, was grinning from ear to ear. He seemed to be saying something, but I couldn’t hear anything other than the rat-a-tat-tat of live ammo just a few feet away.

I had never known that Dale and Pete were marksmen, nor that Dale’s wife, Nancy, a sweet mother of two who might weigh 95 pounds wearing a dress of sand, could make Swiss cheese out of a target within 100 feet.

Dale showed me how to hold, load and aim his .38. He clipped a fresh target paper on a reel and sent it back about 15 feet. The target featured a masked gunman holding a hostage.

“OK now, that guy with the gun has just broken into your house,” Dale said. “The hostage is one of your kids. Go get him.”

That was all I needed to hear. I took aim, fired and shot off a hunk of the ceiling. A lot of good I’d do in an emergency.

I aimed again, lower this time, and got about two zip codes closer. By the time my turn was up, I had clipped the dirtbag’s shoulder and right knee. It was progress.

I stepped back to let my husband have a go at it, but I was eager for my next turn so I could focus on my target. In the meantime, Paula sidled over to me.

“I hate guns,” she said. “I can’t believe I’m doing this at all.”

“Love can make you do strange and terrible things,” I yelled, since our earmuffs made normal conversation impossible.

“I’m just waiting for the pizza and beer part. That’ll be a lot more fun,” she promised.

I wasn’t sure about that. I was itching to try Dale’s shotgun, which he soon put into my newly gunpowder-stained hands.

“Geez, this is heavy,” I said. “Someone could really get hurt with this thing.”

“That’s the idea. Now let’s have another go at the bad guy,” Dale said, clipping a new target on the reel and helped me position the gun against my shoulder.

“Watch out for the recoil,” he warned.

I steadied the gun, aimed and fired. The recoil was terrific, instantly bruising my shoulder. Amazingly, I got within the target, and my friends applauded and hollered. I began to turn to take a bow but Dale screamed, “Don’t turn the shotgun! Put that thing down!”

I put the gun down carefully, took my bow and resumed firing.

Our kids joined us at the pizza party after, where I proudly showed off my bullet-ridden target paper to the oldest teens.

“Your mom’s a good shot,” Dale warned them. “Better keep your room clean.”

I’m thinking of going back to the range for a couple shooting classes, to give me that euphoric rush that grocery shopping seldom delivers. Maybe, for my midlife crisis, instead of entering a deep depression, I’ll join the NRA and move to a state that allows you to carry a concealed weapon. No one will know why I will have a smirky “make my day” expression. But I’ll owe it all to Paula and her E-vite to Big Bill’s Birthday Blast.

Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on www.judygruen.com.


For the Children

“What do we want?” asked the speaker.
“Common sense gun laws!” came the response.
“When do we want them?”
“NOW!” roared the crowd.
Combining the high spirits of a pep rally with the solemnity of a memorial service, some 2,500 people massedSunday morning in front of the Federal Building in Westwood in support of the Million Mom March.The crowd ranged from babes in arms to 99-year-old Blanche W. Bettington, who hoisted a sign proclaiming “87 years of Activism.” Sharon Davis, wife of Gov. Gray Davis, expressed one of the rally themes, saying, “It is easier to childproof a gun than to bulletproof a child.” Actor Rob Reiner, reading a letter from U.S.Senator Barbara Boxer, hailed the moms marching here and across the country as “the founding mothers of a new America.”

The event, organized by Women Against Gun Violence, drew strong support by synagogues and Jewish organizations from theWestside and the San Fernando Valley. Hoisting banners were delegations from The Jewish Federation, ProgressiveJewish Alliance, Temple Emanuel, Temple Isaiah, Temple Ahavat Shalom and others.In a solemn ceremony, city, county and state public officials took turns reading the names of 143 children and teenagers who were killed by guns last year in Los Angeles County. As each name was read,youngsters placed a red or white carnation in a large, heart-shaped wreath.The idea for the march in Washington and across the nation grew out of the shooting spree last Augustat the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, in which three children and two others were wounded.Their families, and other JCC members, participated in the main march in Washington, together with California’s two Jewish women senators, Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.Across the street on Wilshire Boulevard, some 650 opponents of gun control held a counterdemonstration under the banner of the Second Amendment Sisters. According to the Los Angeles Times, the effort was coordinated by the local chapter of the National Rifle Association.

There was no contact between the opposing sides, separated by police cordons, but some Million Mom participants expressed resentment at SAS signs trying to link their cause to the Holocaust.One sign showed a large Star of David with the words, “Never Again”; another proclaimed, “Nazis Had Gun Control.”

A second local Million Mom March, billed as the Southern California regional march, was held in downtown Los Angeles, near historic Olvera Street, and drew some 5,000 supporters.Originally, only one Los Angeles march had been planned. It split into two, with the Westside event organized mainly by Jewish women and the downtown one primarily by Latina and other minority women. Resentment was voiced by some leaders of the downtown march at what they viewed as the “elitist” Westside organizers and their separate event. However, groups of Westsideand San Fernando Valley women joined the afternoon downtown march, while some downtown marchers participatedin the morning Westside event. Other California Million Mom Marches were held in San Diego, Oakland, Sacramento and Watsonville in Santa Cruz County.

Opposing Gun Violence

On Mother’s Day, May 14, they’ll be rallying in Washington, Los Angeles and 38 other cities across the nation to demand concrete action against the gun violence that scars the face of America like a festering wound.

In the ranks of the Million Mom March will be mothers, “honorary” mothers, husbands, and their parents and children.

The families whose children were in the line of fire during the horrifying shooting spree last year at the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC) will be in the vanguard of the march.

It was this attack by a lone gunman on Aug. 10 that shook the nation, triggered the concept of the Million Mom March, and has mobilized thousands of hitherto indifferent or half-hearted citizens.

“I’m going to Washington because I have to do it, I need to do it,” says Donna Finkelstein, who will be accompanied by her 17-year-old daughter Mindy, one of five wounded in the JCC attack, a second daughter, and her husband David.

On Guard in the West Bank

Is this me? Eight o’clock on a Tuesday evening, I’m strolling down the ordinary street of my town, carrying an M-16 rifle. Tonight, it’s my turn again to do shmirah, guard duty, a chore required about once a month of every male resident here at Beit Yattir, the West Bank village where I live part time.

The slender M-16 is a meter long and weighs about 7 pounds. I like it. I appreciate the smooth simplicity of its design, and its oiled, metallic weight feels good in my hand. And beyond the physical satisfactions of a gun, I understand that I am in the presence of the Angel of Death. Fear and reverence abide with me as well.

I shove the curved ammunition clip up into its shaft, where it locks in with a satisfying thump and click. As a safety drill, I pull the bolt back twice to check visually that no bullet is in the chamber; then I move the selector switch from safety to semiautomatic and, aiming the rifle away from the houses, pull the trigger. Click. No bullet. The gun is at rest, all its power latent.

Part of what I like about shmirah is that it so clearly distinguishes my Israeli present from my American past. In my past, there are no firearms. My grandfather, who escaped from the Czar’s army, circa 1900, was the last male in the family to do military service. We’re urban American Jews, lovers of peace and the life of the mind; less nobly, we shrink from the notion of responsibility for our own protection.

I slip behind the wheel of the security Jeep, tucking the M-16 into the space between the front seats. With another man — and another rifle — for company, I’ll spend the next five hours slowly driving the roads of our village, concentrating on the dark, unpaved perimeter roads (most of them no wider than the vehicle), shining a searchlight over the black, rocky landscape as if expecting to pinpoint intruders coming to disturb our nighttime quiet.

In actuality, an intruder would have to be a half-wit to get caught by the Jeep’s searchlight. Anyone out there would see our lights coming from far away, lie still behind a rock, and wait for us to pass.

Shmirah is partially symbolic: We are letting our Arab neighbors know that we are on guard and that, as driveway signs sometimes put it in the United States, any intrusion will be met with an armed response.

My training for this duty was minimal. First, a fellow resident named Itamar, a skinny, cheerful guy about 30, taught me to handle the unloaded rifle — how to hold it, how to stand balanced for the best shooting, how to fire. We were in his living room, with two of his children, 3 and 5 years old, looking on with interest — mostly at me, since I was a stranger, whereas the weapon was a familiar object. It felt peculiar to stand aiming a rifle at the bookshelves in this pleasant fellow’s parlor.

A week later, some 15 of us went for practice to the outdoor shooting range in the nearby village of Maon. About half in the group were women who, though free of the obligation of shmirah, wanted gun training in case they ever needed to use one. We were coached through firing 15 rounds with an M-16 (five standing, five kneeling, five lying down) and then an equal number with an Uzi — the rifle stock kicking back into the shoulder, the explosive blasts sharp in the ear. Afterward, we strolled down across the no man’s land between us and the targets to see how well we had done. There the holes were, some of them pretty good shots, chest or stomach high, definitely sufficient to stop the human animal. I was ready.

My shmirah partner and I chat as we drive, getting to know each other, then gradually fall silent, thinking our own thoughts. A wild rabbit, panicked by our spotlight, leaps away over rocks. In the early part of the evening, residents out for a walk or returning by car from work wave a greeting to us. At 9:30, we open the main gate for the local bus to Beersheba. The evening drags on. Around 10:30, the boys playing on the basketball court finally switch off the lights and disperse to their homes. Two dogs bark continuously in the Arab village below us. For a while, we park up on the hillside to enjoy the elevated view: the roofs and yards of our village, the highway traveling through hillsides to Jerusalem, the lights of Jewish and Arab towns stretching to the horizon. Then we go on our rounds again.

Shortly before 1 a.m., we wake two of the young soldiers sleeping in a trailer at the north edge of the village. Three soldiers are assigned to Beit Yattir on two-week rotations, and one of their jobs is to take over late-night guard duty on foot, walking the perimeter fences and checking the gates until sunup.

They are slow to wake. We wait outside until they stumble from the trailer with their M-16s slung over their shoulders, zipping up their khaki army jackets against the cold. We hand over the two-way radio that will connect them to the regional security base near Hebron, then park the Jeep. At last, my shmirah partner and I are finished.

Back in my house, I extract the ammunition clip from the M-16, check the chamber again, lean the rifle against the bedroom wall, to be returned in the morning. Something about even these small formalities excites me, as if I am a little boy playing soldier, pretending danger and courage.

It is a foolish pretense, I remind myself. Although there has never been a terrorist intrusion at Beit Yattir, the neighboring village has not been so lucky; it is not completely out of the question that I will one day be forced to face my fellow man with my weapon and his between us.

But not tonight. Tonight, I can enjoy the ordinary peaceful quiet of our rural village. Nonetheless, before I go to sleep, I double-lock the door. This, I note, was always my final gesture of the day in America, too. There, no less than here, a brutish danger lurks outside somewhere, unpredictable. Double-locking the door behind me, I recognize myself again.

David Margolis writes from Israel. He can be reached at djmargol@netvision.net.il.