In January, several EU ministers received a petition from Rabbi Menachem Margolin, the head of the European Jewish Association. He requested that in the wake of the Paris terrorism, it would be sensible for, “people in the Jewish communities and institutions to own weapons to protect against anti-Semitism, racism, and intolerance.” In fact, many in the American Jewish community have no experience or familiarity with firearms but there exists, in Orange County, a social club that wants to change this. Bullets and Bagels is a social club that trains people in the Jewish community to use firearms while at the same time offering great noshing, interesting guest speakers, a unique venue to network and form great camaraderie with like-minded Jews.
There are many people that join gun organizations and shooting ranges because they want to be proactive in their self-defense. 4.5 million Americans are members of the NRA and for them, there is a sense of honor in knowing how to handle a gun. The reality is that we live in a country which has a gun culture that runs alongside misinformation and confusion as to gun laws, the right to self-defense and the reality of handling a gun.
In contrast, Bullets and Bagels are not a dogmatic or militant gun-rights advocacy group. This is not an “angry” group of right-wing conservatives with a political agenda. Political action is non-existent. Instead, this is a social club with a warm and friendly atmosphere, but firearms are discussed and used. This is a group for people who are interested in either sport or defensive firearm training and who have previously been intimidated to delve into the world of firearms.
Dr. Fred Kogen, a longtime resident from Orange County, invests hours of time and effort in Bullets and Bagels. He brings attendees together so they can learn how to conquer a fear of firearms, learn the fundamental concepts to safely handle guns and ammunition, shoot a gun, know the safety rules of handling bullets, and equally important, enjoy a social event besides. “We want to be comfortable and safety is our number one concern. Here is a group that supports and encourages this. There are so many people who have pre-conceived ideas and incorrect notions. I want to bring knowledge to the table and as you know, some like to nosh and golf, we like to nosh and shoot”.”
This year, Kogen is actively looking to increase membership. More than 300 men and women have attended meetings at some time. This year, Bullets and Bagels are offering paid membership and nearly 50 have joined. The average age of the members is 40 or maybe older. About 10% of the shooters are women and this number is climbing. There is a 90-something Holocaust survivor and his balabusta wife who are vibrant participants with mesmerizing stories they share at ease.
The club is comprised of lawyers, doctors, accountants and business folk, and there are Rabbi’s, law enforcement members and community members too. Some are liberal, and not everyone is Jewish, but everyone is Jewish affiliated in some way, perhaps through a family member or through the work environment
Every other month, Bullets and Bagels meet at a local shooting range on a Sunday morning. Bullets and Bagels have met at the shooting range at LAX, and in Orange County, handling small handguns because they are cost-effective, light in weight and the easiest to use. Perhaps half the group is highly competent shooters, but many have never fired a gun before and just want to experience in a safe, controlled and supportive environment, surrounded by fellow Yiddin.
To start with, brunch plates are piled high with the delectable offerings of a glatt kosher bagel bar and a guest lecturer educates the group on a chosen subject. Then participants are shown how to use a gun by an experienced instructor who first teaches safety. At the last meeting, the instructor was Sgt. Richard Garcia, a well-built 9 year experienced Marine veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan who was a most popular and successful teacher.
Guest lecturers have transfixed the attendees. Rabbi Aba Peremulter from the Shul by the Shore in Long Beach presented a powerful lecture on the halachah of self-defense from a Torah perspective. A Vietnam War veteran, awarded the prestigious Bronze Star for valor in the 1970’s, also came to speak. Chuck Michel’s legal firm, Michel and Associates, sent a senior partner to explain the California State and Federal law as it relates to guns; the Michel law firm is a nationally recognized leader in the gun-rights advocacy movement.
In case you wondered, this is by no means the only Jewish shooting club. There are others throughout the country, sporting equally poignant names. JewsCanShoot is an LA self-defense group that promises to teach the basics of gun usage and safety in just five hours and for a minimal fee. Glock and Bagels is a group out of Houston, New Jersey has a frum shooting club. There is also the longstanding pressure group, Jews for the Preservation of Firearm Ownership.
How competent do the members become in shooting and handling a gun? It’s impossible to tell as there is no examination, nor practical application of the skills learned. Kogen explains that after performing 8,000 circumcisions he certainly knows the amount of hours needed to become competent at his job, but he explains, “Shooting is a different scene entirely. I don’t promise any level of competence will be achieved and I don’t think the shooting skills of this social group is intended as an answer to today’s terrorist attacks. On the other hand, I don’t think we should sit on our high and mighty chair either. Gun violence against Jews worldwide is a problem. It is our problem. In my opinion, Jews should be comfortable and competent with firearms. What would have happened if someone in the Paris Kosher supermarket had kept a small firearm behind the counter? Four innocent Jewish lives may have been spared. A modicum of rational reasonableness would be a good step for us to take. Security issues should be our concern.”