"You gotta fight back."


The first rabbis appeared in 3rd Century BC Babylon, during the first Jewish diaspora. 


Back then the rabbi was taken to be more than a lawgiver and a spiritual leader. He was also believed to be in possession of powerful magic, which he would readily use to protect his congregation or defend the Name of God. "‘The Legislating Sorcerers of Babylon," they were nicknamed by Yuval Noah Harrari, a history professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (and author of the world-wide bestseller "Sapiens").


One man seems intent on taking the rabbi figure back to its protective roots.


In the wake of a mass shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday, a concerned Colorado gunshop owner has offered to donate firearms to rabbis. Each rabbi would need to pass a background check before receiving a free AR-15 and 100 rounds of ammunition. 


The owner of Dragon Arms, Mel Bernstein, compared an active shooter situation to a fire during an interview with News5, shared to the local NBC affiliate's YouTube page Wednesday. 


"Okay. Let's say there's a fire in a synagogue ... What do you grab?" Bernstein, nicknamed "Dragon Man," said before picking up a fire extinguisher. 

He continued: "Let's say, somebody comes in and starts shooting everyone. What are you going to grab?" 


"You'll grab your AR-15, or a rifle, or a handgun," Bernstein said in response to his own question. "You gotta fight back. People sitting in the synagogue, they were sitting ducks. The guy just goes around and, 'Boom. Boom. Boom.' And nobody's stopping him."


Bernstein, who once ​dubbed himself "The Most Armed Man in America," would likely subscribe to the so-called "good guy with a gun" theory, a line of argument often used by gun rights proponents, and arduously rejected by advocates of gun control.


Echoing former NRA president Wayne LaPierre's famous remarks ("the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun") ​made in the aftermath of the 2012 Sandy Hook shooting, supporters of gun rights argue that public safety is increased when responsible citizens carry firearms to protect themselves.


In a 1997 ​study, economist John Lott and fellow researchers examined data from 1977-1992 and determined that more concealed weapons in an area resulted in lower crime rates.


Lott's findings have been ​hotly contested by subsequent researchers. In a comprehensive 2017 study of 37 years' worth of data led by Stanford Law professor John Donohue, researchers ​found that states that enacted right-to-carry laws experienced higher crime rates than states that didn't adopt the laws.


But the ​complex issue of American gun culture ​goes deeper than just the numbers. And it's doubtful any single study will change that.


Bernstein ended his interview with News5 by holding up an AR-15, a gun used by various mass shooters in the United States throughout the years -- a fact that has locked Americans into an ideological battle to figure out what ​the weapon itself signifies. 


For the "Dragon Man," the answer is simple:


"You have to have a tool to fight back. And this is the tool," he told News5.


Juan Leon is Pluralist's managing editor. He can be reached @juanemel


Cover image: Colorado Springs gunstore owner Mel Bernstein holds an AR-15 during an interview with News5 shared to YouTube on October 31, 2018. (Screenshot from YouTube.)