Heading toward a Starbucks on the pricey side of town, Rob Farago is packing. The Glock 30SF lives on his right hip, holstered under his jacket, with 10 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber. Backup ammo is in another pocket.
Farago didn’t used to be a gun guy. He was a car guy. He had a popular blog called the Truth About Cars. He sold it in 2009 and searched for a new consumer topic, landing on guns.
He bought his first gun a week before the debut of TheTruthAboutGuns.com. He took a firearms class. He filled out the paperwork and went through the background check to get a permit to carry a gun. He now owns 18 guns.
“Once you put a gun on, you gain situational awareness,” he says. After he bought his first gun, he says, “I felt grown up. It was like a coming-of-age thing. I felt like an adult.”
Farago talks of the visceral pleasure of firing a gun. There is the moment before, and the moment after. Time slows. It almost stops.
“It’s a Zen thing,” he says. “You can control time down to that 1/1,000th of a second.”
But there are other visceral emotions in New England these days. There’s horror. There’s revulsion. There’s gut-churning pain. No one can talk about guns, not even the gun rights people, without reference to what happened in December in Newtown, Conn. This past week, parents of slain first-graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School testified in gun-control hearings at the State Capitol in Connecticut. One mother said of her slain son, “He lies forever motionless in the earth.”
New York state has already tightened its ban on assault weapons and limited ammunition magazines to seven rounds. Just a couple of miles from Farago’s house, the Rhode Island legislature is considering gun-control laws just as tight as those in New York.
Farago wants to move to Texas, which is more gun-friendly than Rhode Island. But in the meantime, his blog is going gangbusters. Page views have spiked since the massacre in Newtown and the resulting push for gun control.
There’s a run across the country on ammo, and on military-style semiautomatic rifles. The gun rights advocates have long feared that the government would come after their firearms. They’re in the fight of their lives. They’re geared up, on high alert and situationally aware.
Farago, 53, lives in an elegant house on the east side of town. He drives a Mercedes. He’s got an exquisite art collection. He has beautiful Persian rugs. Before he takes his miniature schnauzers on a walk in his upscale neighborhood, he fits them with doggie parkas.
His parents were major art benefactors, and his mother donated a huge collection of works to a fine arts museum in Boston. She’s a liberal who doesn’t like his new interest in guns and won’t let him discuss the subject at family gatherings. He says his father, who died three years ago, cherished his Second Amendment rights, but now Rob is the only gun person in his family.
Farago (fa-RAH-go) has been through many transitions. Years ago he worked for CNN as a cameraman and producer. He lived for a while in England, freelancing articles. He’s twice divorced, with two grown kids from the first marriage and a 9-year-old daughter, who lives with him, from the second. He speaks often of his desire to be a protective father, to keep the child safe in a dangerous world.
He doesn’t have a job, other than the blog, and he pays a managing editor to run it hour to hour. He had almost 7 million page views in January. He says the blog just breaks even financially, but he has made good investments and is financially secure.
When he’s interested in dating someone, he mentions early on that he has a firearms blog, just in case it’s a deal-breaker. One time he took a woman to the firing range on a first date. She was a lousy shot and didn’t enjoy the experience. So that didn’t work out.
“If they’re not into guns, I can’t hang with them,” he says.
Gun owners come in many shapes and sizes and demographic categories and political ideologies, and no individual — not even National Rifle Association Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, who testified this past week on Capitol Hill — speaks for all of them. Farago certainly doesn’t pretend to be a spokesman. His blog has a running feature in which people of different ages, races and backgrounds pose for a picture holding a statement describing themselves, including the line “I am a gun owner.”
“Most people think of gun owners as right-wing conservatives,” he says. “Old white fat guys — OWFGs, we call them on the site. That’s certainly how the NRA looks, but that’s not the fact of gun ownership around the country.”
He’s drawn sharp criticism from other gun bloggers for not being a true gun guy, and they’ve accused him of copyright infringement. He denies that, saying that while it’s true he aggregates material from other sources, he sticks to what is legally defined as fair use.
He boasts that his is the biggest firearms blog in the world, and says of his critics: “What can I tell you? They’re jealous.”
Over time, he has bought a lot of guns. He now owns 12 pistols and six long guns, including an AR-15-style semiautomatic (an FN SCAR-16 — Special Forces Combat Assault Rifle). But early on he realized that, to be a true gun guy — to join “the people of the gun,” as he puts it — he needed more than hardware.
What did he know about the Second Amendment? Not much, he says. He initially thought some regulations were good, including background checks. But he found himself listening to his readers, following their lead on politics. He became a Second Amendment absolutist.
He also realized he needed to learn more about self-defense, and so he sought out a teacher. That’s how he found his mentor, the man he calls “the Rabbi.”
David Kenik lives in rural Rhode Island, close to Massachusetts, in a spacious house on a quiet cul-de-sac. Kenik makes self-defense training films and sells them commercially. He owns many guns, including about 20 AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles, civilian versions of the military’s M-16. Kenik keeps them in a safe, around the corner from a sprawling miniature train set.
Such weapons have been a surging part of the firearms market for years, and there are now probably several million AR-15-style guns in civilian hands in the United States, though exact numbers are hard to nail down. They’re relatively lightweight, easy to use, easy to accessorize, and many gun owners like the way they look and feel. The firearms industry calls them “modern sporting rifles,” though the gun enthusiasts often refer to them simply as “black rifles,” because that’s the usual look.
Sitting in his living room with Farago looking on, Kenik shows off a couple of his black rifles. Farago generally defers to Kenik’s expertise on technical firearms issues. They’re something of an odd couple: Farago is tall, mild-mannered, bespectacled, and with his gun on his hip could pass for a plainclothes detective. Kenik is short, round and intense, prone to emphatic declarations.
Both are Jewish, and both lost grandparents in the Holocaust — surely a source, Farago says, of their wariness of government. Farago says he feels betrayed and abandoned by fellow Jews who favor gun control.
“Because of all the people on the face of the Earth who should be pro-gun, the Jews should be right at the top of that list,” he says. “How many Jews have to die before they realize that ‘never again’ means being prepared — personally prepared?”
Kenik carries two pistols, one for each hand, both concealed. Like Farago, Kenik has never had to use guns in self-defense. Few states have a lower crime rate than Rhode Island, and he lives in one of the most bucolic parts of the state. But he says armed robbers hit the convenience store nearby a couple of years ago.
Kenik is more strident than Farago and says he believes the ultimate goal of gun-control advocates is to eliminate private ownership of firearms. He got his first pellet gun at 13 and started carrying a revolver at 18. Only in the past 10 years has he become an absolutist about gun rights.
“We have sheep and we have sheepdogs. Robert and I are sheepdogs,” Kenik says. “Getting rid of the sheepdogs will not get rid of the wolves.”
He’s not a gunslinger looking for a shootout: “I don’t carry a gun to get into a gunfight. I carry a gun to get out of a gunfight.”
But he’s prepared for what might happen at any moment. A truism among gun people is that when seconds matter, the police are only minutes away.
“If someone kicks in my front door, I’m the first responder,” Kenik says.
The national debate about gun violence is often framed around the question of why anyone would need an assault rifle, or a 30-round magazine, to hunt a deer. But the gun fundamentalists, such as Farago and Kenik, scoff at the focus on hunting. The Second Amendment isn’t about hunting, they say. This is a matter of self-defense, and freedom from tyranny, and they don’t believe they have to justify their choice of firearm, or the number of rounds in their magazines. They think background checks on gun purchasers impede the right to own a gun.
“ ‘Shall not be infringed’ means shall not be infringed,” Farago says.
Kenik and Farago say, however, that they do not think the right to bear arms includes weapons that kill indiscriminately, such as bazookas.
“We’re not crazy people,” Farago says.
The two men drive to a gun club north of Providence to demonstrate some of their weapons for visiting Washington Post journalists who have limited familiarity with firearms. No one is at the range — it’s cold, with light snow falling.
“Range clear! Eyes and ears!” Kenik shouts, and with the onlookers wearing eye and ear protection he fires an AR-15 at a paper target about 100 yards away, clustering the bullets in a space the size of his palm.
He uses 30-round magazines. Such “high capacity” magazines are targeted by gun-control advocates, who point out that they were used by the killer in Newtown.
“ ‘High capacity’ is a term created by the gun grabbers,” Kenik says. “Just like ‘assault weapons.’ ”
Farago suggests that Kenik avoid the “gun grabbers” term.
“We call them ‘proponents of civilian disarmament,’ ” Farago says.
A couple of hours later, the two men dig into dinner at a swank Italian restaurant, both of them choosing chairs that let them face the entrance.
“Look at the way Robert and I are facing,” Kenik says. “Crime happens everywhere. There’s no place to feel safe.”
“That’s your opinion,” Farago says, distancing himself a bit.
“It’s in the back of my mind,” Kenik says.
Back home, Farago greets his daughter, Lola. His nanny calls a cab. Lola is in third grade and attends a Quaker school. That’s a bit awkward for the gun blogger, and he tries to keep his interests “on the down-low.”
Lola briefly joins the interview in the living room, sitting near the warm fire in the hearth. After she answers a few questions from a reporter, her father asks a few himself, and brings up Newtown.
“How do you think you could have stopped that?” he says.
“The teachers having guns,” the 9-year-old says.
“Do you think your teachers should be able to have a gun?”
“So they can defend us?” she says.
“Is it true that violence isn’t the answer?” he asks.
“Well, it shouldn’t be your first answer,” she says. “If someone’s trying to kill you, yes.”
Farago’s position on mass shootings is that people needed to be prepared to shoot back.
“There’s no way to keep guns out of the hands of criminals, madmen and terrorists,” he says. “That’s the reality that we all have to deal with. We have to defend ourselves against evil. And the best way to do that is for law-abiding people to carry a firearm.”
The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported 31,672 deaths from firearms in 2010. That included 11,078 homicides. Most of the rest — more than 19,000 deaths — were suicides.
Over a sushi lunch, Farago addresses the fact that so many people turn guns on themselves.
“Why should society be organized to stop those suicides?” he says. “Do we as a society intervene to prevent people from hurting themselves? Freedom isn’t free. People are going to die. People die all the time.”
Exiting the restaurant, he poses a question: What business in this little commercial area would criminals most likely target? The jewelry store, obviously. That’s situational awareness.
Standing on the patio at Starbucks, he tells a story. A while back, he was right in this spot when the alarm went off across the street at the Bank of America branch office. Amazingly, people ignored it. They kept walking up to the bank to use the ATM. They didn’t seem to register the alarm at all.
Farago reckoned that, if a gunman emerged from the bank, he’d take cover inside the Starbucks, putting a brick wall between himself and the shooter.
“If I have incoming fire, I’ve got a plan ready to go,” he says.
There was no gunman. Just a false alarm.
But that’s not the point. The point is that Farago was alert to the potential danger in the world. He was prepared to defend himself, if absolutely necessary, with his Glock. Even though, so far in his incarnation as a gun guy, he’s never had any reason.