By Josh Marks
The National Rifle Association headquarters is located in a nondescript corporate office complex off Interstate 66 in Fairfax. In the back of the building, on the lower level of the parking garage, is the NRA’s shooting range.
Here is not where one expects to find a Jewish guy from New York’s Lower East Side. But on this day Edward Friedman, editor-in-chief of Shooting Illustrated, the NRA monthly magazine, was standing at the entrance to greet a reporter. After an ID check and safety quiz, we put on plastic glasses and earmuffs and entered the range.
Friedman, 35, of Vienna, demonstrated how to properly handle our weapon, a Ruger SR22 semiautomatic pistol. The black gun was lightweight and easy to grip with a very light recoil. He loaded the magazine with five rounds of ammunition and we took turns firing away. As bullets flew toward the target and shells hit the ground, I was struck by how quiet and easy it was to shoot.
After the session, Friedman said that it would surprise a lot of people how many Jews own firearms and enjoy shooting, not only in Northern Virginia but around the country. Many Jewish gun owners are motivated by fear of anti-Semitic violence and memories of the Holocaust.
“Part of what made me a believer in the Second Amendment was what the Jewish people have gone through and the fact that we were, until the creation of the State of Israel, actually until the creation of the United States, never able to protect ourselves. In the U.S. it is individually, and in Israel it’s more collectively,” explained Friedman, whose family attends Chabad-Lubavitch of Reston and Herndon. “There are people out there who spew violent hatred toward Jews and all too often put that into action.”
He said he believes that having a firearm can help protect against anti-Semitic violence.
Marc Greidinger, 51, of Springfield, collects antique guns and in 2006 co-captained Sportsmen for Webb to help elect Virginia Democrat Jim Webb to the Senate. Greidinger, an attorney, said he relinquished his NRA membership because the organization became too political.
He supports some regulations to address gun violence, such as engineering a lock system into new guns, trigger locks on older guns and secure storage of guns in a locked safe. He is skeptical of others, such as closing the gun show loophole, which would require background checks for firearms purchased at gun shows from private individuals.
“I think there are some Jews who feel a certain sense of insecurity because of the way that history has treated Jews, and that’s one of the reasons why they might be attracted to firearms,” said Greidinger.
But for other Northern Virginia Jews, their Judaism guides their fight for stronger gun violence prevention laws.
Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Executive Director Josh Horowitz said that reducing gun violence aligns with tikkun olam, repairing the world, and the NRA’s advocacy for Stand Your Ground laws goes against the Hebrew Bible’s text to spare human life whenever possible.
“I don’t think people are against responsible gun owners having a gun for self-protection. I think what the response needs to be is how we mitigate the risk of people who are not responsible from having firearms and I think there’s a lot of textual support for that and I think that’s something the Jewish community in general supports,” said Horowitz, a member of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church.
While Horowitz said there have been discussion groups around the topic of gun violence at his synagogue, not every Northern Virginia congregation is ready to talk about the controversial issue.
“Even though I am very concerned about guns and gun violence and trying to prevent gun violence, this is a topic that we haven’t even broached on my social action committee because I’ve been told that it is too political,” said Congregation Adat Reyim Social Action Chair Randi Adleberg, 59, of Springfield.
According to Jewish Community Relations Council Executive Director Ron Halber, a majority of Jews strongly support gun control; the JCRC supports stronger gun laws in Richmond.
“We don’t have problems with people wanting to hunt and do other things, but we do not believe that the proliferation of guns in society or easy access to firearms is good for the Commonwealth of Virginia or any other state,” Halber said.
Long guns and handguns are not required to be registered in Virginia. In Maryland, all handguns and assault weapons must be registered with the state police. In Washington, all firearms must be registered with the police.
While background-check data for each state is tracked through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System, known as NICS, there is no accurate estimate of gun sales in Virginia. Federal law does not require checks for private sales between individuals. In addition, a single background check can cover the purchase of several weapons.
State laws differ, however, around unlicensed private sellers. Locally, Washington requires universal background checks at the point of sale for all classes of firearms, and Maryland requires background checks at the point of transfer for handguns and assault weapons. In Washington and Maryland, the private transactions must be processed through a licensed dealer or law enforcement agency, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
As of April 30, there have been 148,555 NICS background checks performed in Virginia this year, compared to 39,523 in Maryland and 233 in Washington, according to the FBI.
Despite gun violence prevention groups such as the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence proclaiming that they want to protect responsible gun owners, some Jewish gun rights activists see a slippery slope to eventual confiscation.
“If you left it up to certain groups of people, such as those at CSGV and others who are being financially backed by former (New York City) Mayor (Michael) Bloomberg, I think that those groups, if they had every option at their disposal, would push legislation to confiscate firearms,” said Michael Scher, 33, an engineer who lives in Fairfax City.
Scher, who attends Congregation Olam Tikvah, said he is attempting to form a Northern Virginia Jewish gun club. He grew up in West Virginia around hunters (Scher keeps kosher and doesn’t hunt) who taught their children gun safety and respect for firearms. He encourages proper handling and storage of firearms and isn’t opposed to keeping guns away from convicted criminals and background checks as long as private transactions are exempted.
Adat Reyim’s Adleberg wishes that both sides of the gun debate would sit down and talk to each other.
“There is a lack of understanding, and instead there is all this fearmongering to keep everyone in their separate corners.”