Carrying a handgun comes with a tremendous amount of responsibility. More than I originally thought. Aside from the obvious precautions one must take inside one’s own home, it opened up a whole new way of thinking, whether I carry it or not.
Ever since we made Aliyah over twenty years ago from Brooklyn, I had thoughts of owning a handgun. Interestingly, I did not feel the same way living in Brooklyn. I never felt the need to be armed because I learned which areas to avoid. As long as I stayed away from those areas, I was pretty much on safe turf. But living in Israel made me want to defend our country in any way I can. Since I was too old to be drafted into the army, I figured that I could otherwise contribute as a law-abiding citizen. Moreover, the Arab population as a whole have shown a lot more chutzpah of late, and they are constantly looking for opportunities to make life miserable for Israelis. What better way to be in a position to defend our rights in our God-given land should the situation warrant it.
Having said that, there were two other reasons that propelled me forward to purchasing a gun. The first was the psychological aftermath from the massacre at the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul on Rechov Agassi in Har Nof. By nature, almost anybody walking into any shul in Jerusalem during the course of the ensuing month, had the terrorist image playing in their heads.
I was firmly ensconced among that group. Who knew where and when the next pre-planned group ambush or lone wolf attack would occur? It is a horribly sad state of affairs to be thinking like this, but that was the reality until the imminent fear slowly wears off and you somehow adjust back to a relative comfort zone. For me, the feeling lasted to the extent that I couldn’t walk into my minyan without having a volunteer guard stand at the entrance to the building – even if unarmed. It was at that point that I decided that I had to do something more about it.
Then the second reason kicked in. The period of time during October – November 2014, where the number of terrorist acts skyrocketed in our capital with innocent people mowed down waiting at a bus stop or rail station, caused a shift in gun ownership policy. Beginning in December 2014 Jerusalem was newly designated as an area where the plain citizen could now legally apply for a gun license. That was all I needed to know, and the 4-month process for me began shortly thereafter.
Despite the new designation in Jerusalem, the gun licensing board is very careful in doing its due diligence on all applicants. Many security background checks are performed, including a personal interview, and written forms explaining why I felt I needed a gun. After the formal approval, I was directed to take an official instruction on handling a gun, shooting a gun, and then choosing my firearm. After a period of carrying a temporary license, my official license came through.
With the purchase of my new Cherokee 9mm, I became a changed person. Due to pikuach nefesh, Rabbanim here sanctioned the carrying of a weapon on Shabbat and yom tov. So do I take it with me wherever I go? When is it safe not to carry it? Is it safe to leave it at home if I run to the mall to quickly pick up something, or do I take it if I will be in a public place for a long period of time?
Well, my whole thesis was to ensure our safety while davening, so of course I now take it with me anytime I walk into any shul. I have been told by fellow congregants that they feel a bit safer knowing that someone in the room is armed, even though the chances of something happening in our particular area of Jerusalem is slim.
My own sense of responsibility and awareness increased tenfold, as I now take note of the building surroundings, and playback various scenarios in my mind of what might chas v’shalom happen if a terrorist walked in. I have found my level of kavana while davening plummet because I am half thinking of what might be and how I will react. I now pick and choose the best spot to sit in shul so that I am not caught off-guard by anyone entering without my noticing. I have even shortened the time I cover my eyes when saying the Shema so that I maintain maximum awareness.
While it is indeed a sad commentary on life in 2015 Jerusalem, for me it is a small price to pay in order that others can daven with increased kavana.
Most people in my neighborhood are not armed – not even close. After all, there are many people living in hostile areas in Yehuda and Shomron who do not carry weapons. Certainly, those that do, have all the more reason to protect themselves and their community, even more than my own personal reasons to carry one in the city.
Please be assured that despite all you’ve read here, we are not living in the wild west, equivalent to a place where there is no law and order. We have a police force, the National Guard, and an army that protect us citizens. Thank God for them. However, our enemies who reside within our municipality subject us to potential situations that cause one to be prudent. No doubt, owning and carrying a gun can be an onus. I am not looking for trouble nor do I have illusions of grandeur of becoming a hero. At the same time, when that sense of comfort is threatened, then a dose of responsibility to protect all that is dear to me kicks in and overrides all other considerations.
Dr. Baruch Kastner is a psychotherapist residing in Jerusalem.