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Charles Heller is a self-defense civil rights activist in Arizona, and is state certified to teach the use of firearms and the laws of self defense for the CCW permit course. He is co-founder, along with three others, of the Arizona Citizens Defense League, an organization which has twice in the last 6 years been recognized as the most successful grass roots civil rights (self-defense) activism lobby in the United States. He is also a talk show host in Tucson with three programs, the free market “Swap Shop,” “Liberty Watch,” about government remaining servant, not master, and “America Armed & Free,” about things with a muzzle or a blade.
KF: Charles, tell us something about your upbringing. Where were you born and raised?
CH: Chicago, North Side, in a somewhat Jewish neighborhood, West Rogers Park. I attended B’nai Jacob Hebrew School, and graduated from Lane Tech High School there.
KF: Chicago has a reputation as being something of a tough city. Was yours a rough neighborhood? Did you deal with bullies and school yard pecking orders?
CH: Not so much. We had our share of theft, but fairly little violence. We did have a couple of school bullies that I had brushes with. But I didn’t fight back. However, when the same bully who went after me tried to steal my pal Mike’s lunch, Mike punched the kid real hard in the stomach. The bully always walked around Mike after that. After seeing this I changed my philosophy on the use of force.
KF: Were you exposed to firearms in your youth?
CH: I was shooting something or another from age six. When I was six I had a “Man From U.N.C.L.E” gun that shot peas. Used to ride my bike with it and look for Cadillac hubcaps to “ping.” Today it would cause a Homeland Security Incident.
In summer day camp, I Shot BB guns at various targets floating by in the Des Planes River. Killed a lot of tires and bottles. Deadly, I was.
KF: Some parents these days would never think of allowing their children to handle “images of violence”. For example, toy guns are probably going to be illegal in Hawaii. How can you explain this radical cultural change?
CH: Stupidity and ignorance. The gun was, and is, a necessary and proper part of our culture. It is one of the spokes in the wheel of the American Experience. Taking out one of those spokes, via editorial fiat, imbalances the wheel of our culture.
KF: What was your first exposure to an actually “goes bang,” firearm?
CH: Also when I was six. My Dad took out his unassembled .45 he kept at Grandpa’s house (we visited almost every Saturday for Shabbat). Dad assembled the 1911 Model, and showed me how to hold it. He told me not to point it at anything I did not want to shoot.
Then he took it apart, pocketed the ammo, and told me that when I could demonstrate that I could put it together and take it apart again, I could shoot it. Over the next few years, he let me try the assembly more or less whenever I asked … if my grades and behavior were good, that is.
Then, one Saturday, when I was ten, I did it! I then put it back, assembled, in its blue zipper bag, zipped it up, and said nothing. The next Saturday, I asked again. When he opened the bag, there was the assembled gun. He asked how that happened, and I just grinned. He asked me to show him how I’d done it, so I did. Then he said, “Okay, when do ya want to shoot it?” I told him for my birthday!
So in late March, 1967, we went to Bell’s Gun Shop, with its indoor range, on Manheim, near O’Hare Field in Chicago. That 1911 (actually made in 1911!) made music so sweet that I never lost the tune.
Then, for my twelfth birthday I got an 1894 style Daisy BB gun, and installed a range for it in my Grandfather’s basement. The target was an empty Danish cookie tin. I fired tens of thousands of BB’s at that tin. All that practice made me a decent marksman. (Not that a BB gun is that inherently accurate.)
KF: Did other neighborhood kids have BB guns? Or was it politically incorrect, even back in those days?
CH: It wasn’t a matter of “political correctness.” Nobody would have thought it remarkable then. It’s just that no one had a place in the city to shoot one.
KF: Your next exposure to firearms?
CH: About my sixteenth birthday, I got into an Explorer Scouts Post that shot .22 rifles at the National Guard Armory on Foster and California in Chicago. I learned some better habits and rifle skills, there.
KF: What made you decide to actually own a firearm? Was there a significant event in your life that was a “tipping point” in the matter? What led you to make the decision to go from unarmed to armed?
CH: Being willing to seriously defend myself developed in grade school, with the 2 bullies. That was the seed of the common sense idea of self defense. There’s more than school yard bullies out there now.
KF: Where did you buy your first firearm?
CH: First one was at age 21, from JC Penney, when I moved to Phoenix, Arizona.
KF: Hold on a second. You moved to Arizona from Chicago? That’s a seriously big “cultural” change, isn’t it? What brought that on?
CH: The right to keep and bear arms. Arizona embraces it. Illinois desecrates it. Why should I give the tin pan dictators in Illinois government one dollar of my money, if they don’t respect my rights?
KF: Twenty one years old and you’re already pro Second Amendment? What brought that on?
CH: Oh heck, I was libertarian oriented from about fifth grade. Judge for a Grandfather and a law enforcement guy for a Dad. Both very principled people, and I spent lots of time with both. I knew what certiorari was before I ever heard of the infield fly rule.
KF: Okay. Now back to your first gun.
CH: At Penney’s I paid about $180 for a Ruger Super Red Hawk in .44 mag. Got some Hunter leather, a holster and belt, and wore it right out of the store. Boy, was I “walking tall”.
KF: So you immediately exercised your “open carry” right in Arizona, didn’t you?
CH: Yep. That’s why I moved there.
KF: Something tells me you didn’t stop with the .44. Next guns?
CH: I began my search for the perfect .22. I also picked up a 12 gauge coach gun for about $80. Traded that for a Harrington and Richardson Model 949 in .22, with the brother of a girl I was dating.
KF: Arizona truly is a “gun culture” isn’t it?
CH: Yes! It has never stopped being one since territorial days.
KF: After you got that first .44, what about learning to handle and shoot it safely? What did you do next?
CH: Went shooting with my cousins, who taught me basic marksmanship, but not much about safety, such as ear plugs. I figured that one out for myself pretty quickly. A .44 is very loud. Of course we had always used muffs in Explorer Scouts.
KF: To whom had you disclosed your “Gun Owner” status at this point?
CH: Heck, everyone. As you noted, we have lawful open carry in Arizona, so I wore it everywhere except bars and work.
KF: How does the average Arizonan react to open carry?
CH: They don’t usually notice, as it’s just not remarkable. Sometimes people ask you what model Glock it is. Friendly curiosity. No sense of worry or anything.
KF: What was your initial reaction to that first Ruger in actual use? The noise, the kick, the potential lethality of the weapon?
CH: I thought it was neat. It represented the four basic joys of shooting: noise, smoke, recoil, and muzzle flash! That Ruger Redhawk in .44 magnum is a serious handful. A lot of its velocity was up, not just back. However, the real recoil was from the price of that ammo, even in reloads.
KF: After all these years, what is your single favorite gun?
CH: Rifles are my tool of choice. I most enjoy my AR-10 in .308. The guns I have also enjoyed shooting the most are the Thompson sub-machine gun, and the Quigley Rifle (45-110 Shiloh-Sharps. The “buffalo” gun.)
Today I carry an AR-15 in the rear vault (big steel box bolted into the back of my station wagon) in my car, and a Glock .40 cal on me. But can’t say I really have a “favorite”.
KF: Okay then, let me ask you the “if you could only have one gun” question.
CH: My Glock 23 with a threaded barrel for my suppressor, and a conversion kit for .22 with my second suppressor.
KF: You have a silencer for your Glock? Aren’t silencers illegal?
CH: No! Of course not. You purchase a tax stamp for $200 from the BATFE. It takes about 6 months for the paper work. Some states do ban them, but the majority do not. I use it for teaching the state certified concealed weapons class with the shooting portion in a one-lane shooting range in the basement of the gun shop in which it’s held. It gets a little noisy in a 3’ x 5’ concrete tunnel without the silencer.
KF: Did you eventually get a concealed carry permit?
CH: Yes, in September, 1994.
KF: Why did you even bother with concealed if you were so “outspoken” about open carry?
CH: I did it to have to option when it became available in 1994. “Constitutional Carry,” only became the law in 2010. I carry at work, in radio sales. Open carry is not a legal problem, but sometimes meeting a person for the first time in sales might increase a prospect’s reluctance to see me for the first time. Even in Arizona, the gun issue is becoming more polarized.
KF: Tell me about what has recently been accomplished in Arizona regarding unlicensed concealed carry.
CH: Licenses have never been required for open carry. That’s tradition that has come down from the “Old West” to today. However, I was part of the effort to make it unnecessary for licenses to be required for concealed carry. Now, after a terrific political victory, Arizona is one of only four states in which we have won back our freedom to carry, open or concealed, without a permit. Alaska, Wyoming, and Vermont are the other three.
Some people call this “Constitutional Carry”. A carry permit is an infringement on the right to bear arms. That is simply, on its face, un-Constitutional. And Arizona legislators realized this. I salute them.
I still have a concealed carry permit and intend to keep it. Doing so gives me reciprocity with 32 other states, and no wait to purchase from an FFL Dealer for a background check. I’ve already had all that done to get the permit in the first place.
So last year, in Arizona, we won “Constitutional Carry.” The moon and the stars aligned properly, it got through both houses and the governor signed it. I was very proud to be a part of that victorious effort.
In truth, what constitutional carry was for us was more the relaxation of a dress code. If it’s legal to carry a gun openly (or any other weapon) why should it be illegal to tuck your shirt over it?
KF: Why did you choose to actually take your gun advocacy quite a few steps further and become a personal firearms instructor?
CH: A number of reasons. It was a job I believed in, a place to take a stand to make civil rights arguments, a way to make money from something I enjoyed, and because of some of the dumb gun handling I’d seen.
KF: How does anyone, in his or her heart, come to the decision to take a human life to defend one’s own life, or the life of an innocent?
CH: I made that decision at eight or nine when talking to my Dad about his time in the military. He said that all life is precious, but if you are meeting an opponent in battle or a criminal who wants to hurt you or your family, he said “shoot to kill and don’t worry about it.”
Of course today, as an instructor, I know better than to direct anyone to “shoot to kill.” We shoot to “stop the attack”. “Shooting to kill,” is today defined as “ratsach” (Hebrew for “murder”). We shoot to stop the threat.
KF: What do you say to people who tell you they could not kill anyone under any circumstances?
CH: Either get a Nerf bat, so that your attacker will be laughing too hard to attack, or something that will stop someone without killing them. A Taser is not bad if it is legal where you live. I do not like pepper spray for outdoors, but if it is all you can legally do, do that. Do something. Carry a cane and learn “Cane-fu”. You do not have to be a victim, unless you so choose.
KF: When did you become aware that there was an organization called “Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership”?
CH: About 1991 or 92. I think I joined in about 94.
KF: Why are Jews so anti-gun? They should be the most self defense focused ethnic group on Earth!
CH: By a perversion of classical philosophy. By people misreading the original, “ratsach,” to mean killing, instead of “murder” in the Sixth Commandment.
Frankly, I think we either got lazy from having it too good in America, or by forgetting our roots. Do you think that the Macabees won through arbitration?
We kicked touchas with swords, not Torah scrolls! There’s a time to be cerebral (at which we excel) and there’s a time to spit on your hands and pick up the modern version of the sword, a gun.
There is also the “last ditch”, but heroic, mentality of the uprising in the Polish Ghetto in 1943. 9 Jews held off 1000 men of the SS for over a month with 9 guns. In the end, the Nazis could not face the threat of snipers and alley way attacks. The only way to overcome them was for the jackboots to burn down the ghetto. Why wait until it’s at that point, be the threat crime or something worse?
Be responsibly armed, trained, and mentally ready to use force righteously. History shows that before every genocide, the people were first disarmed. See - "Innocents Betrayed" and "Death by Gun Control"
KF: What initiated your decision to become so politically active regarding gun rights?
CH: I did so when I discovered the Chicago Scam. The scam is that it has always been legal to own a handgun there, as long as it was continuously registered since 1978. Buy a new gun and try to register that? “Sorry, we don’t accept those.” I voted with my feet in 1978. I left Illinois.
Again, any government which does not respect my rights, does not get my tax money. That’s why I moved when I was 21 to Arizona, where free men and women carry guns if they so choose.
KF: In closing, is there anything in particular you would like to say to your fellow Jews, and Americans in general?
CH: Yes: Wake up! There is NO LAW which requires any part of government or law enforcement to protect you! Read “Dial 911 and Die,” by Richard Stevens from JFPO. For the morality aspect, read “Self-Defense And The Torah,” by David Kopel, and also Rabbi Bendory of JPFO has his terrific “Ten Commandments of Self Defense” on CD.
I know that a lot of us are culturally biased towards professions which are not related to guns. Some of you just don’t like them. I get it. NOW GET OVER IT! There’s no law that says you have to own or carry a gun. But don’t step on my unalienable right to do so!
And, especially if you are a believing Jew, you have a direction from G-d, a moral duty, to protect yourself and your family, and those who cannot defend themselves. Do your moral duty! If you don’t own one good rifle, one good pistol, one good shotgun, and at least one .22 with which to practice (less noise and cheaper ammo), and a good deal of ammo for all, you are not performing your civic duty as an honest and free American.
KF: Thank you, Charles Heller from Arizona. May you never be forced to actually use what you have learned and teach.
CH: Amen. You too.
© Copyright Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.