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Jews affiliated with the Republican Party or who live in areas where gun ownership is widespread tend to demonstrate more support for gun rights. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, a Virginia Republican, holds a top rating from the NRA and received $7,450 in campaign contributions this election cycle from the gun lobby. Still, even minor, seemingly incidental brushes that Cantor has had over the years with restrictions on unlimited access to guns — such as his appearance at a GOP rally for families held last October at a venue that banned firearms — have provoked attacks against him from a local pro-gun rights organization. At the event, dozens of signs were placed, noting that the NRA has endorsed Cantor, a measure seen as essential in order to overcome criticism of being soft on guns.
Democrats, even from the South, face a more complex situation. Tennessee Rep. Steve Cohen owns a .38 Special, a police handgun that, he told the Forward, was given to his father by one of Elvis Presley’s bodyguards. Cohen has a license allowing him to carry a concealed weapon, but he does not go around with the gun.
“I support the right to carry pistols and rifles, but I don’t think it should be unlimited,” Cohen said. His legislative record reflects this approach. Cohen sponsored the bill allowing concealed weapons in Tennessee, but he added safeguards to the legislation. He also supports banning the sale of semi-automatic assault rifles and of high-capacity magazines, two of the proposed limitations that are due to be presented to Congress this year.
Cohen, who grew up in the South, said there are many Jewish residents in his district who “love their guns,” although he admitted that the Jewish community is not a “bastion” of gun culture. “There are no Hopalong Cohens,” he said.
Kentucky’s Jewish congressman, John Yarmuth, is an avid supporter of gun control, despite the fact that he represents a state that has many gun owners. Yarmuth, a Democrat, prides himself as being “the only member of the Kentucky delegation to receive an ‘F’ rating from the NRA.”
Former Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who retired from the House of Representatives after sustaining severe gunshots injuries during an assassination attempt, was also a gun owner who held a complex approach to gun control. Giffords supported a ban on the sale of assault weapons but, at the same time, opposed limits on carrying weapons in the District of Columbia, a battle that gun control advocates had lost in Congress. After the Newtown shooting, Giffords visited the town to express her condolences. She met with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a show of support for his campaign to limit the sale of guns.