(JTA) — The Jewish owner of a gun shop in Colorado has offered to give rabbis semi-automatic rifles for free following the murder of 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Mel Bernstein, who owns Dragon Arms near Colorado Springs, made the offer in an item aired Wednesday on KOAA-TV’s News5.
“Lets say there’s a fire in a synagogue. What do you grab? You grab a fire extinguisher right?” Bernstein, who goes by the name Dragonman, said on the NBC affiliate’s program. “OK, lets say somebody comes in and starts shooting everybody. What are you going to grab? You grab your AR-15 or a rifle or a handgun.”
During the shooting Saturday, “people sitting in the synagogue, they were sitting ducks,” and “nobody’s stopping him,” Bernstein said of the shooter, who authorities say was right-wing extremist Robert Bowers. “You have to have the tool to fight back, and this is the tool, and I’m donating these to the rabbis.”
Each gun that Bernstein hopes to give the local religious leaders is valued at an estimated $650, and the store was clear that each rabbi would have to pass a background check to take possession of the weapon, the Western Journal reported.
Rabbi Jeff Ader of Temple Beit Torah in Colorado Springs told KOAA that he thought the offer was very generous and thoughtful, and that he’d have to think about it. Ader also talked to Bersntein about giving some people the concealed weapons training he offers.
Another local rabbi said he’d prefer not to comment on the offer, News5 reported.
Scott Levin of the Anti-Defamation League serving Colorado told News5 that a rabbi with a gun causes image issues and a potential disruption of the sanctity of a synagogue. Levin also said that he believes there should be panic buttons installed and that he’s fine with armed security personnel, but that armed clergy sends the wrong message.
After the shootings, President Donald Trump said, “This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside, they may have been able to stop him immediately. Maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him maybe.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is Jewish, rejected the idea.
“I certainly don’t agree with his suggestion that this could have been avoided or mitigated if they’d had someone armed in the synagogue. That’s not the answer,” The Guardian quoted Schiff as saying. “The broader issue is what kind of climate are we creating in the country.”