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Amid rising antisemitism, more South Florida Jews choose to arm themselves

Firearms are displayed in a gun shop. The Middle East war has spurred an increase in antisemitic attacks and more Jewish Americans are purchasing guns in response.
Firearms are displayed in a gun shop. The Middle East war has spurred an increase in antisemitic attacks and more Jewish Americans are purchasing guns in response.

The Middle East war has spurred an increase in antisemitic incidents and attacks on Jewish Americans. With Florida's new "permitless carry" law in place, more Jews are purchasing guns in response.

Florida has seen some major changes to its gun control policies over the past year, such as the permitless carry law that went into effect in July.

While that significant change has caused some firearm businesses to see an increase in purchases, the most drastic of increases came after Hamas militants invaded Israel this fall, according to local firearm businesses.

The State Department has designated Hamas a terrorist group. The European Union and other Western countries also consider it a terrorist organization.

“Most of what I’m hearing is, ‘I’m Jewish, and now I have a target on my back because I’m Jewish,’” said Nathaneal Michon, sales clerk at Guns and Range Training Center in West Palm Beach.

Michon is also an firearms instructor who teaches customers. He said that prior to the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, he was able to schedule someone for a class with one day's notice. But since then, he said, customers need to schedule classes at least two weeks in advance. A majority of the new customers are of Jewish descent, he said.

A similar business boom is occurring at other firearm shops as well. Evan Cohen, owner of South Florida Armory in West Palm Beach, said that he has seen a drastic increase in first-time buyers since the conflict began.

“Now we get seven to eight [first-time buyers] from that alone,” said Cohen. “It’s a direct correlation. People are afraid of something similar happening locally.”

Rise in antisemitic incidents

The Anti-Defamation League said it recorded 2,031 antisemitic incidents between Oct. 7 and Dec. 7. Reported incidents of assault, harassment and vandalism increased by 337% over the same period a year earlier, the organization said in a report released on Dec. 11. The increased tension around the globe as a result of the conflict appears to be keeping the Jewish community on edge as they fear for their own safety.

Many Jews in Florida who didn't feel the need to own a firearm until now have begun to see a need for self-defense.

Devon Robbins, who is Jewish, said he plans on getting a concealed carry weapon license as a result of the increased tension.

“The tensions produced by this war have created a stronger hatred for people with antisemitic views and perspectives,” said Robbins, 21. “It added fuel to the fire.”

Robbins added that even those who are not Jewish should own a firearm for their protection, but that they should first receive the proper training.

Robbins said, however, that his Jewish faith keeps him safe even during this turbulent period.

“I have full trust in divine protection and guidance,” he said.

Cohen added that South Florida Armory saw a roughly “10 to 20%” increase in new customers after the permitless carry law was put into effect over the summer, though he indicated that the increase was not as significant compared to the reaction after the Hamas attack.

One notable change Michon has noticed at Guns and Range Training Center is that the volume of questions he gets from new customers has increased, especially when it comes to educating them on the current laws on firearm possession in the state.

“There hasn’t really been a change in the types of questions I’ve been getting,” said Michon. “But, there’s been a lot more explaining that I’ve had to do. A lot more handholding when it comes to people figuring out the laws.”

One of the things he has had to explain the most is that with the new permitless carry law, the process of purchasing a firearm — such as undergoing a background check — remains the same, and the only real difference is that someone is able to carry a legally purchased firearm without a permit outside of the home.

Cohen said that at South Florida Armory, people are still willing to get a permit to conceal carry their firearm even under the new law.

“We still highly encourage [it], and most times we’re successful with people signing up to get their concealed carry after we tell them the reasons why you still want to have it,” said Cohen. “Nine times out of 10, I get them to sign up to get their CCW training and permit.”

This story was produced by MediaLab@FAU, a project of Florida Atlantic University School of Communication and Multimedia Studies, as part of a content sharing partnership with the WLRN newsroom. The reporter can be reached here

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