“There’s another order coming from Hamas to kill the Jews. I happen to be Jewish, and I don’t want to be killed.”
That’s the succinct explanation Joshua, a doctor in Los Angeles, gave for why he decided to buy his first gun this week. He’s far from alone. New owners and trainers alike described scenes of gun stores and safety classes full of Jewish Americans hoping to protect themselves from the kind of slaughter that played out on October 7th when Hamas terrorists streamed over the border into Israel and ruthlessly slaughtered more than 1,400 men, women, and children.
“I was at a local gun store a couple of days ago, where my wife was doing her firearms training test, and it was full,” Joshua, who–like several others who spoke to The Reload for this story–did not want his real name revealed in large part due to safety concerns, said. “There was a line outside to get in for people to do their tests, or buy firearms, or practice on the range. And I would say it was 90% Jewish people and Israelis.”
He said the motivation of those in line was clear.
“We all know what happened in Israel. It was a horrific attack on civilians by Hamas with the tally now up close to 1,500 dead,” Joshua said. “It’s the worst attack against Jews since the Holocaust. I never thought I’d say this, but it’s almost worse than the Nazis. They buried the bodies or cremated the bodies. The Nazis hid their atrocities. Hamas is live streaming their atrocities where they kill babies, shoot the elderly waiting at bus stops, rape women, and mow down young people at a music festival for peace.”
35-year-old Simon, an Israeli-American also living in Los Angeles, recoiled at the awful attacks. Then he too bought a gun.
“Watching the events unfold in Israel since October 7th has been gut-wrenching and unreal,” he told The Reload. “Unfortunately for us Jews around the world, our security situation has worsened. Now is the time to arm myself and protect my family. So, I’ve decided to purchase my first firearm and undergo firearm, general situational awareness, and home defense training.”
Simon said he turned to Magen Am, a Jewish non-profit organization licensed to provide armed security services on the West Coast, when he decided to get a firearm. Rabbi Yossi Eilfort, the group’s founder and president, said Simon is just one of hundreds who’ve reached out for help since the attack.
“We are frequently faced with responding to anti-Semitic attacks, but I can say that from what our organization has seen firsthand, the last week and a half has certainly been the largest spike,” he told The Reload. “The day that the attack happened, we had 638 calls to our hotline number from Sunday to Thursday of last week, which for a small organization like us is a lot to balance. On an average week, I’d say we maybe get 40 or 50. All of last year, we had around 950 calls to that hotline. So, obviously, we’re working on rescheduling our training courses and trying to move things faster to keep up with what’s going on.”
Yehuda Remer, an author and gun-rights advocate also known as The Pew Pew Jew, said he’s also seen massive interest in firearms ownership from fellow Jews in the wake of the attacks. He said he’s received exponentially more calls and messages after this event than previous anti-Semitic violence, such as the 2018 Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
“I cannot even begin to tell you how busy I am,” Remer said. “I’ve been just non-stop advising people on what to do. It’s been pretty crazy.”
Many who spoke with The Reload noted that, despite previous wars and terror attacks, Israel has long been viewed as a safe haven for Jews worldwide. Ross, a University of Michigan alumni with a graduate degree from the University of Chicago who now works at a software company and lives in the suburbs, said the October 7th attacks pierced that feeling of safety for many Jewish people.
“Israel is the one place in the world where Jews have always been told this is home, you can go there to be safe, you don’t have to worry about things,” he said. “Obviously, you know you’re in sort of a hostile region where people aren’t exactly your best friends. But you think about the military and security apparatus within Israel, and you just tell yourself, ‘They have it under control, they would never let anything happen.’ And I think for many Jews it was, to say the least, a splash of cold water to the face, seeing these unspeakable and horrific tragedies committed against civilians, and that they were simply unable to do anything about it. We all saw pictures and videos of the atrocities that were committed, and they literally had no fighting chance. There was no opportunity because guns are, for civilians, largely not legal in Israel. And for many Jews, they thought if it can happen in Israel, it can happen anywhere.”
He bought his first gun in the wake of the 2020 riots but said he now plans to upgrade his collection with something more powerful.
“The most important thing for me is my family, and I never ever ever want to feel vulnerable the way that these poor souls in Israel felt vulnerable,” Ross said. “So, I’m without a doubt going to purchase more guns. Part of it is buying more weapons, frankly. And part of it is pushing fellow Jews to buy them.”
David Rice, a bond trader living in Chicago who also became a gun owner in the wake of the 2020 chaos and has since become involved in the gun-rights movement, said he’s heard Jews from all walks of life start asking about how to properly arm themselves. And he argued it wasn’t just the attacks themselves that disturbed them. It was also the reaction in the streets of American cities and on campuses nationwide.
“Evil is going door to door looking for Jewish children to murder, rape, or kidnap, and there are tens of thousands of people here in the United States that are celebrating in the streets,” Rice told The Reload. “The public demonstrations, statements from academics, and poisonous chants make clear there is a contingency of people in our own country who are ‘exhilarated’ at the prospect of shedding Jewish blood in America as they did in Israel.”
“The tension and the anger is palpable,” he said. “And the calls that you’re seeing come out of these rallies, it’s not let’s get along with our Jewish brothers and sisters, let’s coexist. You hear things like, ‘From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.’ That’s not a call for peace. That’s a call for the eradication of Jews from Israel. That literally means from the river to the sea, that’s referring to all of Israel. They want they want the entire land. And these aren’t isolated incidents.”
He pointed to anti-Semitic incidents across the globe. Outside the Sydney Opera House in Australia, protesters chanted, “Gas the Jews.” A swastika was held up during a rally in New York City’s Times Square, and another was drawn on a famous Jewish Deli in the city. Iconography of paragliders, which Hamas terrorists used in their attack, has been featured at numerous protests throughout the country and the world.
There was broad agreement among those who spoke with The Reload that the recent protests did not represent mere criticism of Israeli government policies but were instead condoning the violence against Jews.
“I mean, when it was still happening, people were going out into the streets to support it. I think that holistically, the Palestinians certainly have some very legitimate beefs. But there wasn’t any retaliatory action or campaign going on Saturday afternoon. It was images of grandmas slaughtered at a bus stop that were coming out, and that’s just all I could think of when I saw those large groups in the streets. And a lot of these people quite honestly are unhinged, and you don’t know what they’re capable of,” Ross said. “You’re seeing these like ultra-violent chants. And for many of us, we have grandparents who survived or perished in the Holocaust. You’d be unable to find a Jew who didn’t have family that perished in the Holocaust. This isn’t something that happened 300 years ago, and the memories have faded. The wounds of the Holocaust are still felt to this day.”
Simon noted the recent anti-Israeli protests have a different feel to them than those that came before, arguing they created an “unprecedented” security situation for Jews throughout the world. He said the “apathetic” reaction to them has been equally troubling.
“No matter how many reputable news outlets verify the tragedy that unfolded on October 7th and no matter how many images circulate, there are still people on that side of the protest that deny these events, or twist reality, or simply turn a blind eye,” he said.
Eilfort said Magen Am has received reports of other anti-Semitic incidents at the protests and even schools.
“I’ve seen people who were assaulted at the protests, people who were followed home from the protests, people who were doxxed because of the protests,” he said. “We’ve also responded to calls for preschools getting threatened and elementary schools too.”
As with many other Jewish families around the country, Remer and his family have had to contemplate taking their children out of school at points when there were heightened threats. He’s even pulled security duty at a number of Jewish community events since the Hamas attacks.
“I see every single person,” he said. “I’m sitting there with my Ruger PC charger, fully locked and loaded with a 30-round mag and my suppressor, just sitting on the front seat, completely ready to go. In case, g-d forbid, someone came.”
But Remer noted this is far from the first major anti-Semitic attack to garner global attention, and the others have not led many Jews to buy guns.
“The problem in my community, and I’m sure it’s like this with a lot of communities, is they don’t think it’s ever gonna happen to them,” he said. “Because they don’t think it’s ever gonna happen to them. They don’t care about getting training. It’s only once anti-Semitism is on the rise will they actually be like, ‘Oh, maybe we need to get some firearms training.'”
Public polling doesn’t often break down American gun ownership rates by religion. So, hard data can be challenging to come by. However, a 2005 report from The American Jewish Committee claims Jews have traditionally been far less likely to own guns than other non-Jews. It found just 13 percent of Jewish Americans said they had a gun in their home, and 10 percent claimed to personally own a firearm compared to 41 percent and 26 percent for non-Jews.
Joshua’s experience suggests those numbers still ring true. He said the negative perception of firearms in the Jewish community is another one of the reasons he didn’t want to be named.
“It’s unfortunate I have to be anonymous on this, but there is a stigma attached, especially in the Jewish community, which is traditionally fairly liberal. Probably 80% vote Democrat,” he said. “If you’re Jewish and you go running around telling people you own guns, you may be stigmatized.”
Rice agreed the stigma exists. He criticized American Jewish groups for discouraging armed self-defense, especially those who have filed Supreme Court briefs in opposition to expanding Second Amendment protections.
“There’s a multi-generational ingrained anti-gun stigma within the Jewish community, which I’ve never fully understood,” he said. “A whole generation of Jewish leadership (AJC, Federation, JUF, ADL, etc) has failed us by teaching young people that they could defend themselves from anti-Semitism with hashtags.”
But he said the fallout from the October 7th attacks has changed things.
“I lived through the Second Intifada and numerous other operations over the last 20 years, and the feeling among the Jewish community here in the States and in Israel… I’ve never seen anything remotely close to it–the sense of vulnerability. The sadness,” Rice said. “Everybody knows somebody who’s directly impacted. It’s difficult.”
He said he’s had so many people reach out to him for advice on buying guns and getting their gun-carry permit that he put together a makeshift guide for first-timers. And people are following through on those queries.
“Yesterday evening, after knuckle dragging for months, another Jewish father in my neighborhood asked to accompany me to my bi-monthly pistol skills class,” he said. “Not only did he gush at the experience after, but he was also amazed by the camaraderie and support for the Jewish people within the Chicago gun community and went home and applied for his Firearm Owner ID card. People are rightly asking themselves if they are prepared to defend themselves and their families.”
Remer and Eilfort have seen the same thing.
“After the last incident, I think that I maybe had six, seven people reach out to me for firearms training, and nothing ever came from it,” Remer said. “Because, you know, after a week, it dies down. And then they don’t necessarily care anymore because, ‘Oh, well, we can push it off now because everything’s safe.’ This time it’s different. I’ve had 47 people reach out to me, and I’ve already given classes to a few.”
“Oftentimes in our community, I think people talk when they’re afraid, talk when they’re upset, but now we’re seeing people take action,” Eilfort said. “We’re really, really pushing to make sure you do it right. Make sure you’re buying from a reputable company, and make sure you’re seeking training. Do all the things that responsible gun ownership requires. And we’re doing our best to put on more trainings and just make it all as available as possible so that people have somewhere to turn.”
Ross said those who used to make fun of his interest in firearms have changed their tune.
“I can tell you on a personal level, I have family who used to mock me for wanting a gun or friends who used to mock me for wanting a gun,” he said. “I’ll tell you what, they’re most certainly not mocking me now.”
Joshua has noticed things are different in his community, too. The changes are happening quietly, but they are happening.
“I will say that a lot more Jewish people, they’re not publicizing it a lot, but they are getting themselves armed,” he said. “They have family. They see what’s going on around the world. And this specific example, right in Israel, where evil people decided to go and slaughter entire families and babies in cribs. So, they don’t want that to happen to them. And if something happens, at least we’ll go down fighting. We’re not going to be herded into gas chambers like they did in the 1940s.”
He pointed to the story of 25-year-old Inbar Lieberman as an inspiration for that fighting spirit. Lieberman led the security team for kibbutz Nir Am during the attack and killed numerous terrorists, according to The Daily Mail. While many other kibbutz were devastated during the onslaught, The Times of Israel reported Nir Am didn’t lose anyone.
“When she heard what was going on, she went to the armory and got several firearms for her and her friends,” Joshua said. “They took up positions. They were able to repel the Hamas terrorists, and they didn’t lose anyone. So, that’s a great example of how properly trained civilians can repel someone with bad intent.”
Now, he and his wife are working to equip themselves for a potential worst-case scenario.
“My wife wanted a weapon as well because I’ll be in the front,” he said. “So, she’ll be the last line of defense if something happens to me.”
She ended up getting a revolver because it was a bit simpler to load and operate than the semi-automatic pistol she was first interested in.
“We’re going to do everything in a safe manner,” Joshua said. “We’ve signed up for lessons.”
But he hopes they never have to put those lessons into practice.
“Hopefully, God willing, neither of us will have to use any of that. I just want to be prepared.”