Opinion: Taking a trip to the firing range was something I’d never do before October 7

Writer Amy Klein, a self-described "card-carrying liberal feminist," decided to learn how to use a gun in the aftermath of Hamas' October 7 attack on Israel.

Writer Amy Klein, a self-described “card-carrying liberal feminist,” decided to learn how to use a gun in the aftermath of Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel.Courtesy Kedem Deletis

Editor’s note: Amy Klein is a journalist and author who is working on a book about older motherhood. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.CNN — 

The sound is so painfully loud I have to leave.

Amy Klein headshots in Central Park on March 8, 2020

Amy KleinMira Zaki

I’ve seen plenty of gun ranges on TV and movie screens, but nothing comes close to the ear-splitting BOOM BOOM BOOM that’s making my soul shake despite my soundproof headphones — which are not so soundproof after all.

So I step out of the double doors — one can’t open till the other closes — to get earplugs to wear under the headphones. I put my clear plastic goggles back on and reenter the smoky range to learn how to shoot a gun.

Anyone who knows anything about me knows I’m a card-carrying liberal feminist, one who won’t even watch violent movies. I don’t believe private citizens should be armed — least of all because as a parent I know that guns were the leading cause of death among children and teens in 2020 and 2021, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

And yet.

With antisemitism reaching what the FBI deems a “historic level,” threats against Jewish students on campus proliferating at universities and massive anti-Israel demonstrations taking place around the world, it’s enough to make any Jew feel scared. In my own uptown New York City neighborhood, I know of a few people who have been attacked when arguing with people tearing down Israeli hostage posters, including the head of a Krav Maga studio.

That’s how I found myself at Gun for Hire, a gun range and club in New Jersey, to learn how to shoot. I wanted to confront the question: Could my fear of violence against Jews outweigh my distrust of firearms?

‘You should be prepared’

The first time I ever met religious Jews who owned guns was in 2021; I was driving from New York City to Long Island and heard AM radio ads for shooting ranges there. “Isn’t that funny? It’s like another country,” I had mentioned to my Long Island friends at a party. “I own a gun,” one friend said, “I have two!” said another, a nervous Woody Allen type of guy I wouldn’t trust with a Nerf gun. I’d chalked that up to a couple of outliers but told my husband we’d have to ask people if they had a gun in the house before we accepted a Shabbat dinner invitation on Long Island with our kid.

Police officers evacuate a woman and a child from a site hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, in Ashkelon, southern Israel, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. The rockets were fired as Hamas announced a new operation against Israel.

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That was then; this is now.

“This is the boiling point for something that’s been happening for a long time,” Rabbi Hillel Norry of Temple Beth David in Snellville, Georgia, told me. He’s a firearms instructor who calls himself a “liberal” gun owner; as he puts it, “We advocate for improvements in public safety and vigorous gun rights.”

Norry has owned guns for years but said he has seen a sharp uptick in requests for instruction since the Hamas attack; in one week recently, he told me he’s taught some 30 Jews to use a gun for the first time. “What happened to Israelis and the Jews on October 7 — not just that what happened but the response to it and the immediate explosion of antisemitism — gave wide feelings of danger to the Jewish people. I think we’re traumatized,” he said. “People feel like, ‘Why don’t I have a gun?!’ ” He said that acting out of fear is never good, “but if you have good reason to be afraid, you should be prepared.”

Worlds away from her life in Manhattan, Klein sought firearm training at Gun for Hire, a gun range and club in New Jersey.

Worlds away from her life in Manhattan, Klein sought firearm training at Gun for Hire, a gun range and club in New Jersey.Courtesy Amy Klein

Be prepared. That’s what I told myself as I pulled into a strip mall in New Jersey, half an hour — but worlds away — from my Manhattan life. It wasn’t exactly nondescript: There was a giant poster outside showing a smiling woman and her daughter, both wearing protective eye and ear gear, with the slogan, “America’s #1 Family Gun Range.”

A New York State Police Department cruiser is parked in front of Cornell University's Center for Jewish Living, in Ithaca, NY, Monday, Oct 30, 2023. Threatening statements about Jews on an internet discussion board have unnerved students at Cornell University and prompted officials to send police to guard a Jewish center and kosher dining hall. (AP Photo/David Bauder)

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Inside, filling multipage safety forms, different groups gathered round long black tables, including a yarmulke-wearing group of Jews, a family with two teenage boys, an older couple who might have been on a date and a group of shaved-headed, tattooed White men. I was joined by my friend Kedem, an Israeli American who had served in the elite brigade in the Israeli army 20 years earlier and was for the first time starting the process of getting a gun permit in America.

I looked down at our shooting target: a flimsy paper photo of a knife-wielding, stocky guy wearing a ski hat and sweatshirt with his guts and organs somehow showing. The paper vibrated as our buzzer went off, like we were at a Cheesecake Factory, not waiting our turn to use a Glock and a Walther. (“I want you to get the feel for both guns,” Kedem said.)

But I couldn’t do it. My hands were shaking too much.

For me, this wasn’t sport

“Fear is good. It’s good to be afraid around weapons,” said my instructor, Yosi, a religious Jew from Chile. It was his second day on the job; he’d been a club member for years and now works weekends. “Lots of Jews are coming now,” he said. “How’d you know we’re Jewish?” I asked. He pointed outside the shooting booth to where Kedem was standing, wearing an Israeli army T-shirt.

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It took me five times to learn each step of the gun-loading process: how to load a bullet into the magazine, how to snap the magazine in the gun, how to cock the gun (“Without your finger on the trigger!” Yosi shouted) and finally, how to hold the gun: “Always point it at the target!” he said, gently moving the Glock away from him and toward the paper target.

Klein writes that she felt afraid during target practice but wants to be prepared in a world where "everything seems upside down."

Klein writes that she felt afraid during target practice but wants to be prepared in a world where “everything seems upside down.”Courtesy Kedem Deletis

My hands shook not only because of the unnerving noise around me (“Some guys in the army cried themselves to sleep every night because of the sounds of gunshots,” Kedem recalled), but also because for me, this wasn’t sport, a fun date night, a video game come to life, a target practice to see how good my aim is. It was a weapon. A powerful firearm that could end a life.

“You don’t want to need it, but I’m afraid you might right now,” said Yosi, showing me how to clasp my right thumb over my left hand, the final step — before I fired.

I was afraid, but I am also afraid of the whole world right now. I want to be prepared. So I fired. The casing hit me in the shoulder. And then I loaded the magazine, not as slowly this time, clicked it into the gun, released the whatchamacallit, fired again.

People wave flags during a community solidarity gathering for Israel hosted by the Jewish United Fund of Chicago on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023, outside North Shore Congregation Israel in Glencoe, Illinois. (Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

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Kedem had told me I’d get used to the noise, and I did. As it turns out, I was OK with both guns, with pushing the bullets in, with shooting at a piece of paper that is ostensibly my enemy. If I came to the range a few more times, I know I could get the hang of shooting — and even excel at it.

But I didn’t enjoy myself. I didn’t say “yes,” https://documentsemua.com when Kedem asked me afterward, “Wasn’t that fun?” I didn’t feel powerful or godly or safe, and no matter how dire the situation we Jews may be in, I still can’t picture going through the process of buying a gun.

I thought of the literary term “Chekhov’s Gun”: “One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn’t going to go off,” the playwright famously said. He was referring to props, to literary promises not kept, but I think of it literally: Don’t have a gun unless you’re planning to use it.

I do not want to use it. Getting firearm training didn’t make me want a gun, but something has changed within me. Or maybe it’s just the world has changed — my world had changed.

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Since October 7, everything seems upside down: I’ve seen so many of my liberal allies fail to stand with me like I stood with their causes (which I’d thought were our causes). I’ve lost friends and lost respect for people like my longtime family doctor, who signed an open letter from Columbia University faculty that contained anti-Israel sentiment but failed to condemn Hamas. I can no longer distinguish between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. I find myself essentially fangirling far right-wingers I once eschewed, such as the nasally fast-talking Ben Shapiro, who opposes abortion but puts anti-Zionists in their place.

I do not know what it means to be a liberal Jew in America anymore. I don’t know what it means to be against gun violence or against people who have guns or just against having playdates at houses with people who own guns — not when those people are all around me, when those are my people. 

I may invest in what Rabbi Norry calls “second-best by far” options: a stun gun, mace or pepper spray. Or self-defense classes (Norry is a black belt in taekwondo). I am left thinking about something he told me: “Train and think about what you should do if someone grabs you. A person should know how to fight, because you might have to.”

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