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[2A Group] Jews For The Preservation Of Firearms Ownership

We now live in an era where every American has experienced significant disruptions to their daily life. Whether from a disease, an increase in sociopolitical angst and even violence, tension surrounding racial issues, or all of the above, many communities are considering firearms as a source of safety, some for the very first time. 

Being part of an underrepresented or minority community can feel like an additional load on top of the already weighty burden we’ve all experienced, even when it doesn’t feel like there’s an active target on your back.

Antisemitic incidents reached an all-time high in 2021, with a total of 2,717 reports of assault, harassment, and vandalism, according to the Anti-Defamation League, making that target feel very active for some Jewish Americans. This has led to calls for a response that ran the gamut from arming rabbis to disarming the general populace. 

Recently, we had a chance to speak to someone who believes that all Americans — especially the Jewish community — should be leading the call for the expansion of the right to keep and bear arms.

Founded by Jews in 1989, JPFO initially aimed at educating the Jewish community about the historical evils that Jews have suffered when they have been disarmed. JPFO has always welcomed people of all religious beliefs who share a common goal of opposing and reversing victim-disarmament policies while advancing liberty for all.

From a history steeped in lessons on what happens when the state holds a monopoly on violence, to a present seemingly bent on reminding us of it, Alan Korwin is helping spread the gospel of the gun to his Jewish community and beyond.

RECOIL: Who are you, and what is Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership?

Alan Korwin: My name is Alan Korwin. I’m the author of 14 books, 10 of them on gun law, and I run the website gunlaw.com. I’m also a consultant to JPFO (Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership), a civil rights group that’s been around for over 30 years, started by a Holocaust survivor, that’s full of really hard-core gun rights/self-defense people.

Is it safe to assume most people could easily understand the motivation that a community such as yours would have for preserving firearms ownership?

AK: Yes, but many Jews don’t feel that way. It’s an anomaly that stuns many people, which has an explanation that’s long and involved.

We’ve discovered that you aren’t alone. In speaking to many gun rights groups organized around a particular demographic, a common thread is that there’s often a segment that feels that way and can’t imagine why their community would want to encourage gun ownership. What have you seen?

AK: In our experience, most Jews are anti-gun through ignorance on the topic. They may be more secular, and less concerned that the holocaust might become relevant again, even though there are entire countries whose stated policy is against the continued existence of Israel or Jews in general. They, therefore, have little concern about self-defense, self-preservation, and freedom. They would, in fact, like to see armed authorities come and take your guns away. 

JPFO was the brainchild of Aaron Zelman (1946 to 2010), a leading national civil-rights activist.

Do you feel that’s something that could be addressed more through cultural outreach or along religious lines?

AK: Yes to both. There are more religious people who seem to understand and don’t mind having armed people in their congregations providing a degree of safety. We see more resistance to this in less traditionally religious segments of the Jewish community, where cultural outreach might be more effective.

Is this more of an American thing, or do you find this in the Jewish diaspora elsewhere in the world?

AK: Just like with any religion, there are degrees of Judaism. We have “church on Christmas and Easter” style members just like Christians do. The Orthodox community seems to be very aware, but the Reform segment, especially here in the U.S., seems to be much less so, and often dislikes discussing the topic. There is a Jewish word we use for those who get it — “shomrim,” which means “the watchers” or “the vigilant,” and those shomrim are more likely to join JPFO and support its beliefs and policy wherever they are from. 

What does your membership roster look like and has it changed significantly over the last two years?

AK: Headquarters keeps track of this, but it’s not made public. A few years back it was mentioned in a Supreme Court brief as being 13,000. It goes up and down obviously, but we can’t really tell who in the group is Jewish. The founder Aaron Zelman was surprised that Jews didn’t flock to join, but the large number of non-Jews who did, did so because they saw that we get it and share our concerns. Based on the salons we hold here in Phoenix to discuss politics, I would guess about two-thirds of the attendees are Jewish.

Speaking of Zelman, after his untimely passing in 2010, the organization seemed like it might be on the brink of dissolution. If you don’t mind, we’re curious what happened, and how did the group come through that?

AK: That’s a great question. We actually have an essay on JPFO.org that details what exactly happened when Aaron left us. Any organization that loses its “Moses” flounders a little, and Aaron didn’t have a particular replacement chosen. The inner circle kept things going while people came and went, and some others also sadly passed away. Eventually Charles Heller, one of the AZ Citizens Defense League founders, came to serve as director for about two years. After he left, I stepped in as a consultant to help guide the organization. Incidentally, we are still actively looking for an executive director, and if anyone reading is interested in such a job, you can reach out at JPFO.org. 

Like many others, JPFO believes in calling for an end to mass-media glorification of mass murderers. Their “Don’t Inspire Evil” initiative is focused on a quest to adopt a new ethical journalism guideline: “Refrain from gratuitous or repetitious portrayal of mass murderers’ names and images.”

Speaking of leadership roles, you personally have a long history of success in business consulting and especially publishing, often supporting 2A behind the scenes. Was your taking the spotlight a long-time coming, or more of a road to Damascus moment?

AK: I think it’s a personality trait. I’ve always started businesses, invented things, or written books. It’s that “fuel of creation” that drives you more than any boss can, and that’s how I ran my publishing company — we put out more than 300 books in three decades. I think it’s just who I am; I can’t really do things any other way.

Turning that personality loose on the JPFO, what does the organization bring to 2A advocacy that didn’t exist prior?

AK: Before JPFO, there was no cooperation between the Jewish community and those who kept arms to bring teeth to the mantra of “never again.” These days you more often hear “never forget,” which I find feckless and weak by comparison. JPFO believes “never again” means you must be armed, trained, and capable to defend your right to be Jewish and free — all things America is struggling with now. 

Along that same vein, in doing our research on JPFO we found that the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) had a lot to say about you, calling you panic-mongers or worse. How would you respond to that characterization to someone who knows nothing about JPFO?

AK: We’ve found that it’s common in the Jewish community at large to see anyone who supports gun rights as a lunatic, but we feel the reverse is true: With so much animosity and literal calls for wiping out Jews, not supporting the right to bear arms is pure insanity. 

The ADL got its start with a lot of violence, and has since become a very moderate, compromising political force as many lobbies are. We know each other, and unfortunately there’s no love lost. If the ADL had its head on straight, we feel they would support us hook, line, and sinker, and they’re all welcome to join. We’re the ones preparing for the threats they call out. 

Want to volunteer with JPFO? Go to their website at jpfo.org.

That’s a problem of perspective that unfortunately knows no religious boundaries. 

AK: Well, one of our mottos is: “You don’t have to be Jewish to join JPFO, you just have to love liberty.”

On that topic, what would you say is JPFO’s greatest accomplishment?

AK: That’s a tough one, as we do a lot and it’s difficult to say one of our events, publications, or meetings is more important than the rest. Honestly, simply existing may be our greatest accomplishment. I will say that we’ve filed amicus briefs for two recent supreme court gun cases. Most recently in Bruen, we were mentioned in the decision for pointing out that minorities and groups that aren’t in public favor need arms perhaps more than others. 

That’s a welcome refrain that’s growing much more popular recently, and the anti-gun side is having trouble coming up with much to counter it, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. How do you measure success in a struggle that seemingly has no end in sight?

AK: The word “struggle” implies that there is no end. Certain things are a struggle and are ongoing, and I think we recognize that as an organization, which is the foundation of our success. We constantly solicit more members, get them training, inform politicians who are terribly misled, and straighten out the media who get the issue backward and upside down all the time. 

One of my favorite questions for reporters who ask me “Why do you need so many guns?” is “Have you ever done a story on the good that guns do?” It’s like a deer in headlights. They aren’t aware that guns can do good, let alone keep good people safe, yet they consider themselves unbiased, neutral reporters of fact, while being the furthest thing from it.

There’s a sociologist named David Yamane who “came to Jesus” if you will, discovering the value of gun ownership later in life, who has helped popularize the idea of “Gun Culture 2.0.” He frames it, more or less, as an evolution from “old white guys hunting” to “every American who wants to be should be armed.” Within that framework, what’s your personal gun culture, and where do you see it going next?

AK: That’s a clever way to frame it, and every clever idea that helps move the ball forward I’m in favor of. The media certainly needs a hand in getting an accurate picture of the issue, so I hope this helps. I’m not sure I’d classify two centuries of American gun ownership as “1.0,” given how many facets there are, but more and more Americans of every stripe are definitely looking to guns as an issue of freedom, minorities especially. The Dredd Scott decision is a perfect example of gun control harming minorities, and more people are waking up to it. 

To address your other question, gun culture, as I’ve experienced it, is simply “people who own guns.” You run into someone who’s a million miles away from you culturally, but gun ownership becomes a point of similarity to build on. Suddenly someone you had nothing in common with is your pal, and you’re talking about what you shoot, where you shoot, self-defense, etc. 

There’s a bond there because you’ve understood 2A and its relation to freedom. If you go to a gun show, it’s a cross-section of humanity in attendance with all sorts of people represented, but they can all start up a conversation with each other because they share a fundamental belief that they are free.

That’s an impressive observation, mostly for how simple and true it is — the things we often get told are destroying the country wind up functioning as a focal point of comradery and friendship for a diverse group of Americans.  If one were looking to learn more about the JPFO or how they might join, what would be the best way to do that?

AK: Go to www.JPFO.org. We’ve got lots of information, all of Aaron’s old writing, merchandise, and you can sign up right on the website if you wish. Even if you don’t join, you can learn a ton. 

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