Institutional Preparedness Alone is Not Enough, Say Jewish Gun Owners

Written by Rachel Kohn on . Posted in Community News

CORRECTION (5.23.19 2:15 p.m.): A Utah concealed carry permit is honored in 36 states, not 38; and it is not recognized by Maryland and DC, only Virginia. Before traveling with firearms, one should check relevant public safety websites for any updates to regulations.


On May 30, the Secure Community Network (SCN) is partnering with The Chesed Fund & Project Ezra (two Baltimore-based safety and security organizations) for an inaugural regional security planning and preparedness conference for Baltimore and the Greater Washington area. SCN was established in 2004 as the first national nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to homeland security initiatives on behalf of the American Jewish community.

Titled “Safe and Secure? Empowering Jewish Communities after Pittsburgh and Poway,” the conference will be open to everyone from security professionals and directors of Jewish institutions to lay leaders and business owners. Sessions will cover subjects such as active threat response, Stop the Bleed training, and evacuation and lockdown practices and procedures. The entry fee to the entire event is $36, which also covers kosher meals for the day.

“Training is one of the most important things we can do as a community, and it costs very little money,” said Michael Masters, SCN national director and CEO. “It is an investment that has innumerable benefits. Best practices and strategies can reduce vulnerability. Well-thought-out security plans need to be implemented, trained, and exercised everywhere.”

“In today’s ‘new normal,’ we must face the reality of growing anti-Semitism and terror and become proactive rather than reactive,” added Frank Storch, founder and director of The Chesed Fund & Project Ezra.

A spokesperson for The Chesed Fund & Project Ezra confirmed that there will be no speaker or informational sessions focused on firearms, obtaining concealed carry permits, and/or how people who lawfully carry should or should not engage an attacker in an active shooter situation.

“We want to stay as apolitical as possible,” she said.

For some Jewish gun owners in the Greater Washington area, however, depending on institutional security measures is not enough and politics are not the question. The attack on Chabad of Poway and the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in October 2018 in Pittsburgh only strengthened their certainty that institutional preparedness must be supplemented with individual readiness in the event of future attacks on Jews in America.

Jared Fusia of Silver Spring, Maryland, is a member of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership. “Jewish history is filled with persecution and abuse and death. Jews, more than anyone else, should be for exercising the right to bear arms to protect ourselves and uphold the mitzvah of shmirat hanefesh [guarding one’s life],” he said.

According to a report published by the FBI in April 2018, 16% of domestic crimes in 2016 and 2017 that qualified as active shooter incidents “were stopped by a law-abiding citizen with a gun.” The FBI defines an active shooter as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area. (The report did not include the cases from the same time period of armed civilians who successfully stopped attackers who were stabbing rather than shooting people.)

Of the 50 active shooter incidents covered in the report, civilians with firearms were present and engaged active shooters in six of them:

· In four incidents, a lawful gun carrier successfully stopped the shooter. In two of these, there was an exchange of gunfire; in the other two, the shooter was held at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived.

· In one incident, a lawful gun carrier exchanging gunfire with the shooter caused the shooter to flee the scene (but the shooter kept firing elsewhere after).

· In one incident, a lawful gun carrier was wounded before he could fire at the shooter.

In none of these cases did armed civilians accidentally injure or kill any bystanders, according to the report.

Fusia has owned guns in Maryland for two years and in Florida for 10. He has a Handgun Qualification License (HQL), which any Maryland resident must possess before purchasing, renting, or receiving a handgun. He is also working on qualifying for a Utah concealed carry permit — sought after because it is honored in 36 states (including Virginia).

State law requires a fingerprint-based background check to apply for an HQL. Additionally, applicants must demonstrate satisfactory completion of a firearms safety training course, taught by a state-approved instructor, within three years prior to the submission of their application. Training must consist of at least four hours of instruction that includes state firearm law; home firearm safety; handgun mechanisms and operation; and an operation and handling demonstration. Certain groups are exempt from the training requirement of the HQL, such as honorably discharged members of the U.S. armed forces or National Guard.

Concealed carrying is the practice of carrying a weapon in public in a concealed manner, either on one’s person or in close proximity. There is no federal statutory law regulating how concealed-carry permits are issued. All 50 states have passed laws that allow qualifying individuals to carry certain concealed firearms in public, either without a permit or after obtaining a permit from a designated government authority at the state and/or local level; but in many states, though they have passed concealed carry permit laws, they either do not issue permits or make it difficult to obtain one. Qualifications for Utah's concealed carry permit, for instance, include zero history of convictions for domestic violence and alcohol- or drug-related offenses. (Mental health screenings are not on this list.)

Roni Bat Lavi lives in Virginia and is a concealed carry permit holder. She runs the DMV Jewish Firearm Interest Group on Facebook. The group was formed in January 2018; membership has been available by invitation only to keep member identity and posts private, but people can email Bat Lavi if they are interested in joining.

“We go shooting together, go to gun shows together, teach new people how to shoot, give each other advice about firearms and carry permits, hold educational classes such as about the laws of self-defense, and socialize with like-minded folks,” said Bat Lavi. “We have some certified instructors in the group as well as military folks with years of experience, and they often help people get started.”

There are currently 133 people in the Facebook group, but anywhere from two to 20 people come out to events. There was an uptick in membership after Pittsburgh and Poway, as well as an increase in people looking for information on obtaining concealed carry permits.

Synagogue security is a common subject of conversation, and was one of the main reasons the group was started — “to help make citizen defense of synagogues more organized,” said Bat Lavi. For those who would argue that the risk of an accidental injury or death is too great for people to bring guns into public spaces, particularly ones with children, she countered with the statement that a properly secured gun isn’t going to harm anyone.

“The key is to always practice firearms safety,” she said.

One group member, who asked that his name not be used, served in a counterterrorism unit in the IDF; also trained as a tactical/SWAT medic, he is presently a volunteer firefighter in the Greater Washington area.

“I would not take someone who just completed a [concealed carry] class and put them on a volunteer security team within a synagogue where they may be called upon to act,” he said. He doesn’t think governments are great at developing tactical training curriculum.

People who want to become a part of volunteer teams within their synagogues, or synagogues that wish to form such teams, have opportunities for people to get the expertise they need right here, he said.

“The key for that is to ensure the training is dynamic ... Our brains naturally freeze and struggle to process when we encounter unfamiliar stressors, so the dynamic training is designed to provide ‘stress inoculation’ — to get your brain used to responding a certain way under stress so that you do not freeze and can continue to function when your adrenaline dumps and your heart rate skyrockets."

“The Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events (CRASE) training teaches ‘Avoid, Deny, Defend,’ comparable to the [Department of Homeland Security’s] ‘Run, Hide, Fight,'" he continued. "If a congregant is comfortable and confident with the safe operation of a firearm and they are in the position where they could not avoid, or deny, and had to defend themselves, the firearm as a tool increases the chance that they can stop the shooter and still go home to their loved ones.”

 By Rachel Kohn


 Rachel Kohn is editor in chief of Kol HaBirah.