Meet Aaron Zelman, the Jew Who Loved Guns

Polite Arizonan Saw Guns as Only Path to Jewish Survival

getty images

By Dan Baum

Published March 05, 2013, issue of March 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

I always thought Jews avoided guns.

As a kid, I didn’t know of any gun ranges near my New Jersey suburb, because taking me to one would have been the last thing my gentle, mercantile father would have dreamed of. Neither my parents nor anybody in their circle of suburban Reform Jewish Democrats ever hunted or owned a gun. “Jews make guns and sell guns,” my mother’s friend Bubbles said once, with a gravelly laugh. “We don’t shoot guns.”

Aaron Zelman
courtesy of jews for the preservation of firearms ownership
Aaron Zelman

About halfway into the reporting for my latest book, “Gun Guys,” which I had intended largely as an anthropological journey into the world of gun culture, I realized that I couldn’t entirely avoid gun politics. I had to grapple with the fight over gun rights because nearly every gun owner I met — from an African-American concealed-carry instructor in Detroit to a women’s run-and-gun champion in Kentucky — brought up our country’s endless struggle over them.

Being wary of bullies and shouters, I went looking for an honest, reasonable and soft-spoken gun-rights activist to take me by the hand and explain his worldview. I expected a compromiser, but to my surprise, the man best able to give me the gun-rights viewpoint without raising his voice was the founder of an organization widely revered by gun-rights activists as so absolutist that it made the National Rifle Association look like a bunch of milk-and-water sissies.

He was a courtly, learned, likable man of 64 named Aaron Zelman, and when I first heard the name of his organization I thought it was a joke: Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

Aaron met me at the Mineshaft, a big saloon-style restaurant in downtown Hartford, Wis., about an hour from Milwaukee. He was 6 feet 7 inches tall and achingly thin; in a big straw hat, he looked a little like Pete Seeger.

“The NRA doesn’t want to end gun control,” he told me, between nibbles of his Golden Skittle Special (hold the ham). “They get too much out of it. The NRA is interested in one thing: the NRA.”

Aaron grew up on a dirt road outside Tucson, Ariz. As he recalled it, the Mexicans lived their way, the cowboys theirs, the Indians theirs and the Jews theirs.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "Despite the great pain and sadness surrounding a captured soldier, this should not shape the face of this particular conflict – not in making concessions and not in negotiations, not in sobering assessments of this operation’s achievements or the need to either retreat or move forward." Do you agree?
  • Why genocide is always wrong, period. And the fact that some are talking about it shows just how much damage the war in Gaza has already done.
  • Construction workers found a 75-year-old deli sign behind a closing Harlem bodega earlier this month. Should it be preserved?
  • "The painful irony in Israel’s current dilemma is that it has been here before." Read J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis of the conflict:
  • Law professor Dan Markel waited a shocking 19 minutes for an ambulance as he lay dying after being ambushed in his driveway. Read the stunning 911 transcript as neighbor pleaded for help.
  • Happy birthday to the Boy Who Lived! July 31 marks the day that Harry Potter — and his creator, J.K. Rowling — first entered the world. Harry is a loyal Gryffindorian, a matchless wizard, a native Parseltongue speaker, and…a Jew?
  • "Orwell would side with Israel for building a flourishing democracy, rather than Hamas, which imposed a floundering dictatorship. He would applaud the IDF, which warns civilians before bombing them in a justified war, not Hamas terrorists who cower behind their own civilians, target neighboring civilians, and planned to swarm civilian settlements on the Jewish New Year." Read Gil Troy's response to Daniel May's opinion piece:
  • "My dear Penelope, when you accuse Israel of committing 'genocide,' do you actually know what you are talking about?"
  • What's for #Shabbat dinner? Try Molly Yeh's coconut quinoa with dates and nuts. Recipe here:
  • Can animals suffer from PTSD?
  • Is anti-Zionism the new anti-Semitism?
  • "I thought I was the only Jew on a Harley Davidson, but I was wrong." — Gil Paul, member of the Hillel's Angels. http://jd.fo/g4cjH
  • “This is a dangerous region, even for people who don’t live there and say, merely express the mildest of concern about the humanitarian tragedy of civilians who have nothing to do with the warring factions, only to catch a rash of *** (bleeped) from everyone who went to your bar mitzvah! Statute of limitations! Look, a $50 savings bond does not buy you a lifetime of criticism.”
  • That sound you hear? That's your childhood going up in smoke.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.