November 19, 2018

The Parkland Dilemma

A memorial seen outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as students arrive for the first time since the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mary Beth Koeth

I bought my first gun when I was 28 years old. I grew up in a home without guns; I never even fired a gun until I was in law school. Like a lot of people raised in Los Angeles, I had a knee-jerk aversion to firearms. Although in principle I supported the founding argument for the Second Amendment — I believe that an armed population acts as a final check on the possibility of a tyrannical government — I never felt the necessity to get a gun for home defense.

All that changed in 2013 — ironically, after a debate about gun control. That January, I appeared on CNN with Piers Morgan, who had spent the previous few weeks decrying the prevalence of firearms ownership in the United States, in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Most of all, Morgan had relied on shallow emotional appeal: He had suggested, wrongly, that those who disagreed with his gun control proposals were hard-hearted regarding the deaths of the children.

During my interview with Morgan, I said he was acting like a bully — that he was standing on the graves of the children of Sandy Hook to push his political agenda. I pointed out that everyone on both sides of the aisle cares about the murder of innocent children, even if we disagree about the best ways to prevent such murders.

Within hours, I began to receive threatening messages. One such message noted my home address. I had a security system installed, and I purchased a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun, on the advice of a police officer.

During the most recent election cycle, I again received a bevy of death threats — this time thanks to my opposition to President Donald Trump’s candidacy. I received approximately 40 percent of all anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists during the election cycle. I received threatening letters and death threats by phone. And so I purchased a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, again on the advice of a police officer. I have often considered carrying it in violation of the law, though I have never done so; the old Second Amendment adage “better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6” began to hit home during those difficult days.

Now, for owning two weapons for self-defense, I’m being labeled immoral again. All gun-owners are, collectively. How else are we to read the comments of Parkland, Fla., student Cameron Kasky, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that thanks to his support for gun rights, Rubio resembled the Parkland shooter? How else are we to listen to the comments of Parkland student David Hogg, who said that National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch “doesn’t care about these children’s lives”? I know Dana. We’re friends. She has two children, and she cares deeply about their safety. If she were local, there’s no one else I’d call first if my family were in danger and I needed help.

We’re all Americans. And we all care about the slaughter of children.

We’re all Americans. And we all care about the slaughter of children. That’s why I’ve called for the revision of federal law to allow gun violence restraining orders, a way for family members and friends of dangerously mentally ill people to apply to courts to restrict Second Amendment rights. That’s why my media outlet, The Daily Wire, has stopped naming and showing the faces of mass shooters, in an attempt to curb the publicity that often spawns such shootings. That’s why I’ve suggested a dramatic hardening of school security around the country: I went to YULA Boys High School, where security is top-notch — and I was there when the West Valley Jewish Community Center mass shooter drove right past our school, saw the security there, and kept driving. All children should feel just as safe as I did in high school.

Yes, we all care. And what’s more, I’m not going to give up my guns just because gun control advocates browbeat me. The Parkland students were failed by the FBI, which was warned twice about the shooter but did nothing. They were failed by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which received literally dozens of warnings but did nothing — and then they were failed again when armed deputies refused to storm the building.

The last line of defense isn’t the government. It’s me and my weapon. I’m keeping that weapon, and standing for Second Amendment rights, specifically because I care about my children. I assume those who disagree with me care about my kids, too. But there’s no way we’ll ever be able to find rational solutions if we shout at one another that our disagreements are evidence of our malice toward innocent children.

Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

The Limits of Proposed Gun Laws

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Rabbi Mordecai Finley, Ohr HaTorah

Another tragedy has ripped open a national wound that will not heal. People cry out that we have to do something.

I want to offer a basic truth: The only gun control that would make a significant difference in mass shootings would be banning the sale of and confiscating all semi-automatic weapons.

I’m not talking about an “assault weapon” ban. That doesn’t go far enough, because many semi-automatic firearms don’t fall into this category. Even if the notorious AR-15 — the rifle used in the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla. — were made illegal, plenty of models just as deadly would still be available. Banning the AR-15 or its lookalikes would accomplish nothing.

The elimination of all semi-automatic rifles leaves handguns, the weapon used in the vast majority of gun homicides in the United States each year. A mass shooter without a rifle could use a handgun.

If the U.S. bans all semi-automatic long guns and handguns — those fed by magazines — only relatively slow-to-load bolt- and pump-action long guns, revolvers and the like would be legal to own. We’d probably have to repeal the Second Amendment.

Furthermore, a ban without confiscation means that some of the 300 million or so firearms already owned by Americans could find their way to an illegal market, where a measure such as background checks would make no difference.

Gun control laws are not bulletproof.

In November 2015, 130 people were murdered in a mass shooting in Paris, yet France has strict gun control. In 2011, 69 people were murdered in a mass shooting in Norway, a country that also has strict gun control. Mexico has gun control laws, yet that country’s interior ministry reported there were more than 29,000 homicides there last year. Brazil, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Uruguay all have gun control laws, but each has twice to several times the number of gun homicides as the U.S., per capita.

To address the issue of mass shootings and our atrocious homicide and suicide rate, we must confront the fact that we live in a violent society. In addition to laws banning and confiscating weapons, we will have to look at the inner lives of people who want to kill others or kill themselves.

What the Second Amendment Does Not Guarantee

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

David N. Myers, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA

Benjamin Franklin once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In surveying the carnage from the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., it is hard to resist the view that the repetition of this drama reflects a twisted and self-defeating distortion. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, addressing the Revolutionary War-era presence of a “well regulated Militia,” states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” It does not state that Americans possess the inalienable right to own any and all firearms, including those capable of inflicting the massive loss of life that was perpetrated in Florida last week. At what cost to our collective well-being — to the lives of our precious kids — will we perpetuate this madness?

There is an alternative path. We can learn from others. Another society with a robust “live and let live” attitude stepped back from the brink and imposed restrictions on unrestrained gun ownership. In 1996, two weeks after a mass shooting that killed 35 people in Tasmania, the conservative Australian prime minister introduced the National Firearms Agreement, which imposed tight control on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, insisted on a waiting period before purchase, and prompted a national buy-back that collected 700,000 weapons. Since that time, there have been no mass shootings in Australia.

Is it not time for Americans to learn from this example? Should we not recall the Mishnaic principle that destroying a single life — especially of a child — is to destroy the whole world?

Shot and Scarred at 6 Years Old

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Joshua Stepakoff, gun violence survivor

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” — Hillel

I learned Hillel’s lesson the hardest way: After I was shot twice during a mass shooting at the North Valley Jewish Community Center in 1999, I expected my elected leaders to “be for me” and pass sensible gun control laws. They did not.

I was 6 years old when I survived a mass shooting, along with three other children — ages 5, 6, 16 — and one adult. While attending summer camp, a white supremacist set foot on campus with an Uzi-like submachine gun and a Glock semi-automatic pistol and began spraying bullets. I was shot in my left shin and a second bullet lodged in my hip, narrowly missing my spine. Since then, I have been in and out of therapy, coping with the pernicious effects of post-traumatic stress disorder, which plagues me to this day, every day.

It has been 18 years since I was shot — I’m 25 now — but I still do not feel my country’s elected officials have done anything “for me.” I hoped they might do something for the children of Sandy Hook, Conn., or for the families of those killed in Las Vegas, Aurora, Colo., and now Parkland, Fla. But they continue to disappoint me as well as a growing community of victims and survivors.

The problem of gun violence is not a mental health issue; it is not a school security issue; it is not an issue of protecting your home. It is an issue of too many guns, too easily accessible. Every country in the world copes with mental illness and personal protection rights yet they do not have anywhere near the same number of mass shootings that we do.

Make no mistake: I do not want to abolish our Second Amendment rights, but we are doing our nation a disservice by prioritizing gun manufacturers over precious children’s lives. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, passed in 2005, which grants the gun industry immunity from nearly all lawsuits. This is a miscarriage of justice, preventing victims of gun violence from filing civil lawsuits against irresponsible manufacturers and sellers.

There is an epidemic of gun violence in America. If you are not willing to admit that, then you are part of the problem.

It is time to put partisanship aside and recognize that innocent people are being slaughtered by weapons of war on a daily basis.

It is not enough to talk about gun violence. Our politicians need to commit to common sense gun violence prevention measures such as universal background checks on all gun sales, repealing the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act and reinstating an assault weapons ban.

Until then, Hillel’s question remains: When will our elected officials be for you?  When will they be for me? And if not now, when?

In America, Life Should Come Before Total Liberty

Students from Western High School carrying placards, take part in a protest in support of the gun control, following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Davie, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

“I get through every day by focusing totally on my work, to the point of distraction. And especially when milestones come up — Dylan’s birthday, 12/14; when school gets out, when school starts; seeing buses. I push all my emotion down and distract myself with work. I’ve been doing that for five years now, and it’s not healthy.”

Those are the words of Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in 2012 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., when he was 6 years old. He died in the arms of his special-education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, who also was killed. Hockley spoke those words to two teens from Parkland, Fla., when they met last week in front of CBS cameras. Hockley’s face was etched with grief; the visible wound of endless emptiness, of persistent and permanent loss.

The reason we must tell and retell the stories of murdered children is because we must be reminded what is at stake in the gun control debate. It is not American liberty; it is American life. It is your child, your sibling, your teacher, your neighbor, your fellow citizen. And the lives at stake are not just the victims of gun violence — those who succumb to their wounds and never see another day — but the bereft survivors they leave behind.

We can argue endlessly about the means and measures necessary to protect and preserve American life, but we must at least start with a shared premise: Preservation of American life is paramount. This is the most fundamental expression of our decency and humanity as a society.

This shouldn’t be a radical idea. As Americans, we are promised much more. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But too many of us don’t appreciate what that means.

Almost 25 years ago, philosopher Isaiah Berlin delivered a prophetic commencement address at the University of Toronto, in which he distilled a lifetime of wisdom into “A Message to the 21st Century.” He began with the premise that, although human history has been riddled with violence and tragedy, the horrors of the 20th century carried out by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were “unparalleled.”

“Compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen.” — Isaiah Berlin

“They were not natural disasters,” Berlin said, “but preventable human crimes [and] they could have been averted.”

The calamities of history, Berlin said, are products of a belief in absolute ideals, even the noblest ones. Once a society commits entirely to any ideal — let’s say the Second Amendment or even democracy itself — it will do almost anything to preserve that ideal, even if it means resorting to coercion or violence. Everything is justified by the goal of attaining the ideal.

What Berlin understood is this: “The central values by which most men have lived are not always harmonious with each other. … Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality — if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep.”

Instead, Berlin counsels, we must compromise.

“Compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion … [because] values clash.”

All Americans are entitled to liberty, but the preservation of the “total liberty” that the National Rifle Association preaches comes at the cost of others’ lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If we want to live in a decent society, individual liberties must sometimes be moderated to make room for additional cherished values — like the value of life itself.

Does Nicole Hockley have any less right to the pursuit of happiness than another American? The tragic reality is that the effort to preserve someone else’s total liberty denied Hockley her right to happiness and her son Dylan’s right to live.

Why Hasn’t Israel Had Mass Shootings?

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth holds a toy gun near a man holding a chicken during the Kaparot ritual, where white chickens are slaughtered as a symbolic gesture of atonement, ahead of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, in Jerusalem's Mea Shearim neighbourhood September 27, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

Rob Portnoe, a Jewish educator from Minneapolis, is visiting family in Israel. He thinks it’s his 10th visit, and one of his sons served as an infantry soldier in the Israeli army. He is accustomed to seeing guns in Israel, from those toted by soldiers on leave to those carried by security guards. But, he says, the gun culture in Israel is different than in the United States.

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right,” Portnoe said. “There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.”

“Israelis view guns as a necessity while Americans see them as a right. There is a sense in Israel that if people didn’t feel they needed those guns, they wouldn’t carry them. In the U.S., people feel entitled to carry a gun.” – Rob Portnoe, a frequent American visitor to Israel.

Israel has compulsory military service and many citizens continue to do reserve duty well into adulthood. They are trained to view guns as potentially dangerous and are drilled in their safety.

What is regarded in Israel as a mass shooting occurs when a gunman kills at least four people, and outside of terrorist attacks, this has happened only once in recent years. In 2013, a disaffected man killed four Israelis in a bank in the southern town of Beersheva before committing suicide when police arrived.

In the U.S. during the same period, there have been some 1,500 mass shootings, which killed more than 1,700 people and wounded 6,000 more, according to the Gun Violence Archive. The Congressional Research Service estimates Americans own more than 300 million guns.

Israel limits the approval of gun permits, with 40 percent of applications denied. Permits are granted only if the government believes the person in question has a specific need for a gun — for example, if an individual lives in the West Bank, where there have been many Palestinian attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians. Permits must be renewed yearly, and every six years, gun owners must undergo a psychological evaluation.

Gun owners in Israel are allowed to own only one handgun and 50 rounds of ammunition. Supporters of these restrictive laws say they are the reason Israel has not been plagued by mass shootings.

Robby Berman, the head of an organ donation society in Israel, applied for a gun permit in 1991 when he was living in Jerusalem’s Old City. His application was approved, and he purchased a pistol and went to a shooting range, where he learned to use the gun.

Several years later, he says, he went through a period of depression and began seeing a therapist. She insisted that he give up the gun, fearing he could harm himself, and he agreed.

“Two years ago, when all of the stabbing attacks happened in Jerusalem, I wished I had the gun,” Berman said. “So I started carrying a switchblade and Mace with me. Once at a mall in Jerusalem, the knife set off the metal detector at the entrance. When I asked the security guard if he wanted me to leave it with him while I shopped, he said, ‘No, everyone here has a knife. Go ahead.’ ”

The Israeli army has grown increasingly concerned about guns being used by soldiers to commit suicide. About 15 soldiers each year do so with military-issued guns. The army recently changed its regulations, with soldiers going home on extended leave told to leave their weapons on base rather than bring them home with them.

Some in Israel, however, believe the country should be more like the U.S. when it comes to owning guns.

“The right to defend oneself and carry a gun is a basic human right, not a right that the government gives you,” said Moshe Feiglin, a former Israeli parliamentarian who recently formed his own political party called Zehut. “I am not talking about an AK-47 or an M-16 but a pistol for self-defense.”

As a first step, he said, anyone who has served in the Israeli army and knows how to use a gun should be given a gun permit automatically. He said that in the 1990s, Jerusalem made a mistake by allowing Palestinian policemen to carry AK-47s, and these guns have been used to kill many Israelis in the years since then.

In the U.S., the cities of Chicago, Baltimore, Washington and Detroit are responsible for 25 percent of gun deaths, and all four have restrictive gun laws. Accordingly, Feiglin says the idea that more restrictive gun laws will protect people is a fallacy. By contrast, he says that if more people in Las Vegas were trained to use guns properly, perhaps they could have stopped the recent mass shooting earlier.

The Second Amendment Does Not Exist in a Vacuum

A piece of 3/4 inch (19mm) steel is shown with .50 caliber bullet holes displayed next to the rounds at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right to own arms, unless you happen to be in a well-regulated militia. It would be reasonable and consistent with a strict construction of the Second Amendment to argue that since there are no such militias in 2017, the issue is moot.

Nonetheless, many Americans seem to believe that the Second Amendment guarantees everyone the right to own arms — in any number, of any type, anywhere and at any time. It would be patently absurd to view the amendment as a guarantee of that magnitude. Weapons that are created solely for the purpose of killing human beings have, at most, a very limited place in modern civil society. Do we or do we not want to protect American lives?

We often overlook the fact that the Constitution was written shortly after the American War of Independence, in which well-regulated militias fought for the security of the soon-to-be-born United States of America. Militiamen didn’t have access to the weapons of modern-day warfare. They were authorized to use their muskets and musket balls for military use to protect the security of their nation; i.e., the lives of Americans.

But if we must parse the amendment beyond literal reading, let’s remember that it wasn’t until 2008 that the law of our land expanded the right to own guns beyond militias, to the legal use of handguns for self-protection in the home. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, was a very controversial 5-4 decision with powerful dissents. It provides the broadest interpretation of the Second Amendment to date — and it provides absolutely no constitutional protection to automatic or semi-automatic weapons.

There is nothing in the Constitution nor in Supreme Curt jurisprudence that restricts the government from limiting the purchase or ownership of weapons capable of mass slaughter, such as assault weapons and the retrofitting of ostensibly legal weapons to empower them to fire automatically. Shouldn’t our government therefore be enacting policies and laws to limit ownership of such weapons?

In our recent history, assault weapons were banned by federal law, constitutionally, without violating the Second Amendment.  Unfortunately, the ban expired and was not renewed by Congress. But since it is clearly constitutional to prohibit the ownership of certain weapons used for the killing of others, we must acknowledge that said prohibition is lawful; it would not restrict the right to defend yourself in your home with a handgun or to hunt with a hunting rifle.

Have we forgotten the basic premises upon which our nation was conceived, built and exists today? Have we abdicated common sense at the expense of our lives?

The Second Amendment does not exist in a vacuum. Before there was a Constitution, there was a Declaration of Independence, without which the Constitution would have been irrelevant and unnecessary. Our government was created specifically to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of our citizens.

To date, we have failed miserably in the mission our Founding Fathers entrusted to us. 

The Constitution declares in its preamble that its purpose is to ensure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, among other things. Both terms refer to the protection of the lives of our citizens — in common parlance, public safety.  When we allow mass murders of Americans to occur day after day, under the guise of Second Amendment protection, we ignore the most fundamental mandate of the Constitution.

The public safety that America allegedly holds dear, and which our various levels of government purport to be their raison d’être, obviously requires policies and laws that prevent the mass murders of civilians.  And if we don’t believe in anarchy, this requires a prohibition on the ownership of military-style weapons, at the very least.

Simply put, the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to own arms. It is much more nuanced than that. The current state of the law interprets the amendment to allow limited use of certain weapons, by qualified people, for specific purposes. Anything beyond what is protected may be and should be prohibited.

To date, we have failed miserably in the mission our Founding Fathers entrusted to us. We have not done our best to safeguard American lives. We know what has to be done. 

Karen Kaskey is a Pennsylvania attorney who volunteers at CeaseFirePA.

Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality

A selection of AK and AR rifles are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. Many Americans are stocking up on weapons after the country's worst mass shooting in three years. Gun retailers are reporting surging sales, with customers saying they want to keep handguns and rifles at hand for self-defense in the event of another attack. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, good-hearted people immediately begin looking for ways to prevent the next act of evil. That’s natural, and it’s worthwhile. What isn’t worthwhile is substituting emotional manipulation for evidence-based policymaking. And unfortunately, after the Las Vegas massacre, that’s precisely what’s been happening.

We’ve heard from Democratic politicians that those who don’t immediately leap to “do something” — anything, presumably — about guns are somehow cold-hearted. Jimmy Kimmel went so far as to suggest that those who don’t support his gun control agenda have blood on their hands.

But here’s the problem: Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. Furthermore, there is no correlation between states with high rates of gun ownership and states with high rates of gun homicide.

So, how do we make good gun policy?

Let’s begin with the facts: You have an individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Any supposition that your rights to self-defense are relegated to your membership in a “well-regulated militia” are legally groundless and historically ignorant. That’s why the Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that “the operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

There’s a reason for the Founding Fathers’ logic here — and that reasoning is still relevant .

First, bad people are capable of getting arms in the U.S. That is a simple fact. According to epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Health, the vast majority of perpetrators in crimes involving guns in Pittsburgh — nearly 80 percent — obtained their guns illegally. And relying on the police to defend you is often impossible — the police can only respond to crimes, they can’t forestall them. That means that your last line of self-defense is your ability to use a weapon. Gun rights advocates state that guns are used millions of times a year to stop a crime — but even the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that guns are used in this way well over 67,000 times per year.

Second, the Founders feared the possibility of tyranny, and they supported state militias and individual gun ownership to prevent such tyrannies from arising. It makes perfect sense that the first gun control laws promulgated in the United States were pushed by the Ku Klux Klan, which was seeking to prevent Black gun ownership after the Civil War. As UCLA constitutional scholar Adam Winkler has written, “It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt. … The KKK began as a gun control organization.” There also is a reason that when it attained power, Hitler’s regime sought to remove guns from Jews. It’s somewhat ironic to hear those who think President Donald Trump is an incipient fascist insist they trust Trump to seize millions of firearms from law-abiding Americans.

With all of that said, there are limitations on the Second Amendment: Your right to keep and bear arms does not apply to nuclear weapons, for example. In determining the best policies, we must balance the need and right to firearms with public policy concerns, including the risk that a machine gun will be used in public.  That’s why federal machine gun sale has been illegal since 1986.

Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. 

So, what do we do about situations like Las Vegas? We begin with the premise that we’re all brothers and sisters who want to prevent evil acts. Then we move on to the evidence.

It’s well worth discussing the banning of “bump stocks” (devices added to semi-automatic rifles that allow them to simulate automatic rates of fire), for example. We also should look at ways of enforcing federal laws banning the sale of guns to the mentally ill, without violating the due process rights of those suspected of mental illness. But to suggest banning all guns would be unwise as well as immoral: How exactly do gun control proponents suggest disarming 100 million Americans of 300 million guns, when we’ve been told that we can’t even identify 11 million illegal immigrants? Such an effort would end in bloodshed, even if it were desirable — which, of course, it isn’t, since criminals don’t tend to pay much attention to laws. 

Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American

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

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.

Ben Carson, the nutty neurosurgeon

What does it say about higher education that you can graduate from Yale and still believe that “>declare, “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away”?

Along with Donald Trump, Dr. Ben Carson is way ahead of the pack for the Republican presidential nomination.  When Trump, an alumnus of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, “>denies that climate change is man-made, or “>blames gun control for the extent of the Holocaust, I think he truly believes it.

It’s conceivable that the exceptional hand-eye coordination and 3D vision that enabled Carson to separate conjoined twins is a compartmentalized gift, wholly independent of his intellectual acuity. But he could not have risen to the top of his profession “>without knowing that life on earth began more than 6,000 years ago (pre-meds have to take biology), “>spouting scientific nonsense?

This hasn’t hindered his campaign.  Participants in “>report, 46 percent of Carson supporters (and 61 percent of Trump supporters) think President Obama was not born in the U.S., and 61 percent of Carson supporters (and 66 percent of Trump supporters) think the president is a Muslim.  Carson’s being called brilliant by that base ain’t baffling. 

What I don’t get is how his rigorous scientific education and professional training gave Carson’s blind spots a pass.  Was it, in George W. Bush’s memorable phrase, “the soft tyranny of low expectations”?  Or was it the tyranny of fundamentalism over facts?

In the humanities, the equivalent conundrum is the failure of a deep appreciation for masterworks of art, literature and music to instill virtue.  I first came across this disturbing indictment when I was an undergraduate at the chief rival of Carson’s alma mater.  My field of concentration (Harvard’s pretentious term for “major”) was molecular biology, and I would have quickly flamed out if I’d maintained that science was consistent with creationism, or any of the other canards that survived Carson’s education.  But I was also in love with literature, and ended up with a doctorate in it.  On the way there, what troubled me about my studies was an essay called “To Civilize Our Gentlemen” by George Steiner. Its thesis ran so counter to the bedrock of an elite education – the belief that the humanities humanize – that I went to England for two years to study at Cambridge with Steiner, as passionate an embodiment of academic high culture as could be, in order to reconcile my love for humanistic learning with its apparent inability to prevent barbarism. 

My copy of the essay, and the book it appeared in, “Language and Silence,” is full of a 20-year-old’s underlining and marginalia (“right on!”).  These are some of the passages that jangled me:  

“We know now that a man can read Goethe or Rilke in the evening, that he can play Bach and Schubert, and go to the day’s work at Auschwitz in the morning. To say that he has read them without understanding or that is ear is gross, is cant…. The simple yet appalling fact is that we have very little solid evidence that literary studies do very much to enrich or stabilize moral perception, that they humanize…. Indeed, I would go further: it is at least conceivable that the focusing of consciousness on a written text… diminishes the sharpness and readiness of our actual moral response…. The capacity for [moral response]… is not limitless; on the contrary, it can be rapidly absorbed by fictions, and thus the cry in the poem may come to sound louder, more urgent, more real than the cry in the street outside. The death in the novel may move us more potently than the death in the next room…. [S]urely there is something terrible in our doubt whether the study and delight a man finds in Shakespeare makes him any less capable of organizing a concentration camp.”

When Wolf Blitzer asked Carson if he wanted to amend or take back his comparison of Obama’s America to Nazi Germany, he   

After Newtown, some gun owners ready to consider control measures

The day Eric Schaefer learned that a .233 caliber semiautomatic Bushmaster rifle — a type of weapon he owned — was used to kill 26 people in Newtown, Conn., he sold his rifle to local law enforcement near his home in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Schaefer, a 40-year-old commercial real estate agent, says he has been hit by an unshakable feeling of shame, and he no longer wants his two children exposed to the many weapons he owns for sporting purposes — guns he keeps locked up and away from the house.

“There’s a sense of embarrassment now to being a gun owner, I don’t feel proud of it,” Schaefer told JTA. “I have my guns as a personal enthusiast, but I can’t say I support all the language and laws associated with guns. It’s far too easy to come across them in this country.”

The mass shooting at a suburban elementary school that left 20 children and six adults dead two weeks ago has reignited the country’s longstanding debate over gun control, pitting supporters of tighter restrictions against those who fear any infringement on their Second Amendment rights.

But while the gun-rights lobby has made clear that it opposes any measures to limit the availability of deadly weapons, some Jewish gun owners acknowledge that they are uncomfortable with the current regulations on firearms sales.

Schaefer says authorities should constantly check the mental state of gun owners and he would like to see the wait time for gun purchases extended — a measure that could buy time for those acting on instinct to reconsider their actions.

“I feel like it ought to be excruciatingly difficult to own a gun, and those who really want one should be able to tough through a more rigorous, difficult process to get one,” Schaefer told JTA. “Law-abiding citizens that want guns for safe reasons like myself should want to tether gun restrictions, so the country can use weapons properly.”

Rabbi Jonathan Siger, a law enforcement chaplain and former NRA shooting instructor from Spring, Tex., says bearing weapons is a God-given right — especially for Jews. But Siger says he would support tighter controls, like requiring two character witnesses to acquire a carry permit and closing the so-called gun show loophole that enables buyers to circumvent a federal background check.

“I don’t understand how some people get their hands on guns,” Siger said. “It seems to me the glaring problem is there is not enough control over who is selling what to whom.”

Such measures, widely touted in the wake of Newtown, were opposed by the National Rifle Association, the country’s premier gun-rights lobby. Wayne LaPierre, the group’s executive vice president, responded to the Newtown shooting by proposing a number of new measures, such as placing armed guards in each of the nation’s public schools and focusing on mental health issues.

The NRA’s response was widely criticized — even by some noteworthy conservatives such as the columnist Ann Coulter and media mogul Rupert Murdoch. But some Jewish gun owners said LaPierre didn’t go far enough.

“The NRA is way too soft on the issue,” said Charles Heller, the executive director of the Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, an advocacy group. “We should be increasing the layers of security in our school by training teachers and administrators who want to work also as security.”

Heller, whose organization has linked gun control to genocide, recommended offering tax breaks to veteran special-forces soldiers and retired policemen in exchange for protecting schools. A society with fewer guns, he said, would be more violent.

“Don’t punish the innocent for the acts of the guilty,” Heller said. “That’s not very Jewish.”

After the Newtown shooting, a broad range of Jewish groups — the Religious Action Center, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, B’nai Brith International and the National Council of Jewish Women, among others — threw their support behind measures to limit the availability of guns.

To many Jewish gun enthusiasts, however, history provides ample justification for arming civilians and refusing to rely solely on police protection. They routinely invoke the powerlessness of Jews during the Holocaust and the current security threats to Jewish institutions, and are dumbfounded by Jews who favor gun control.

“It is one of the most frustrating feelings to watch those who have been and continue to be the most persecuted people on the planet deny themselves the inherent right of self-defense,” said Zev Nadler, an NRA-certified instructor in Arizona. “A firearm is a great equalizer in that those who wish to do a Jew harm know that they may be armed. And suddenly we are not the easy prey we used to be.”

But the Newtown shooting, with its grisly details and 20 dead children, has left some gun owners ready for change. President Obama has conveyed his support for a reinstatement of the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 and the restricting of high-capacity gun magazines. The outright refusal to even discuss such an approach, these gun owners say, isn’t viable.

“To me, this is a clear example that something needs to be done,” said a criminal defense attorney from Michigan who did not want his name printed as a gun owner. “An assault ban on certain weapons wouldn’t help because a gun is a gun, and they are dangerous. But the NRA needs to be open to sitting down and talking because now is when we need an open debate about realistic measures of change.”