It’s been a long time since the phrase "every Jew a .22" resonated at JDL protests. But as it becomes apparent that people around the world, and in New York in particular, seem to be increasingly targeting Jews with a frightening fervor, as evidenced by the arrests this week of two alleged homegrown "lone wolf" terrorists, it’s likely that at least in some quarters more Jews will argue for taking up arms.
Looking only at U.S. incidents, in the past 15 years or so there have been attacks on a busload of chasidic students in Brooklyn; a JCC in Los Angeles; a federation office in Seattle; the El Al terminal at LAX; the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and the Riverdale synagogue bomb plot and now this latest incident mercifully aborted by the quick and fearless forces of the NYPD and Manhattan DA. You might also figure in the attack on Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who spoke openly about Judaism.
Almost every time there is a violent shooting incident or near miss people will react according to their political bias, with left-wingers claiming it shows the need for stronger gun control and right-wingers making the Archie Bunker argument that we should hand out guns to everyone so that no one has an advantage. (Norman Lear’s sitcom icon made that argument in a guest TV editorial comment.)
Judging by opinion studies, we Jews are overwhelmingly in favor of fewer guns in the hands of civilians, although there may be some shift because of recent events. A commenter on our story about the terror arrests asks what might have happened had this alleged sick plot come to fruition with, God forbid, heavily armed and malicious men entering a synagogue as did terrorists at the Chabad center in Mumbai. How many shuls have armed guards? How many worshippers are packing pistols?
Can we rely completely on the NYPD and other law enforcement agencies to protect us? The answer is in the track record. So far Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Ray Kelly’s forces, working with federal and state counterparts have sent a strong message that they have eyes and ears in the right places. We still don’t know all the details about how Ahmed Ferhani and Mohamed Mamdouh wound up on the cops’ radar. But as opposed to the 2009 Riverdale plot that was cooked up from soup to nuts under the eyes of the feds, this seems to be a plot that evolved organically and was flagged in time to be monitored and stopped when it came close to fruition.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to think of the Holocaust Memorial attack of June, 2009, and how in that case a deranged man with a rifle got no further than the door because a quick-acting, heroic armed security guard, Stephen Tyrone Johns took him down, at the expense of his own life. Tragic as that was, it’s frightening to think what worse calamity might have unfoled in that lobby had there been no guards, or unarmed guards.
As good and dedicated as law enforcement is, it can’t be everywhere. Maybe you don’t have to be Archie Bunker or the JDL to think it’s a good idea for more Jewish organizations and synagogues to employ well-trained, professional heroes like Stephen Johns, with licensed weapons, as a backup.