(Bloomberg) -- Vicky Furer never thought she’d fire a gun, much less buy one. Then Hamas attacked Israel.

Furer, a 48-year-old teacher in South Florida, once worried it wasn’t safe to have a weapon around her three children, the youngest of whom is 11. Yet on a recent Wednesday night at Declaration Defense, a firing range in Pompano Beach, she lined up with other women from her synagogue to learn to shoot. Her hand shook as she aimed at a target depicting a human torso and its major organs. 

“It’s scary, holding this thing,” she said, “thinking of how I will ever be able to shoot at someone.” 

Following the instructor’s lead, Furer fired the pistol. The booming sound made her tremble. Now, she’s shopping for a handgun of her own.

Florida is home to almost 740,000 Jewish people, one of the largest concentrations outside Israel. It’s also one of the states where it’s easiest to acquire a gun. FBI criminal background checks — a proxy for gun purchases, which aren’t tracked in the US — had been falling in Florida since March, but that reversed last month.

The FBI handled almost 124,000 checks in Florida in October, up 30% from September and nearly four times the nationwide increase of 8%. Background checks in the state were up 12% from a year earlier.

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas assault, a number of Jews in Florida who spoke with Bloomberg News said they’d opted to arm themselves despite reservations about gun ownership.

While there is no reliable record of gun purchases by members of religious groups, Magen Am USA, a nonprofit that provides security services for Jews, said it has received 1,000 calls from around the US for firearms training, armed guards for schools, and advice on gun purchases since the attack, more than in all of 2022.

Gun-shop owners, firearms trainers and rabbis interviewed by Bloomberg said more Jews have been buying guns in Florida in recent weeks. Store owners and instructors said that customers had identified themselves as Jewish and specifically cited concern about the Hamas attack and antisemitism when inquiring about weapons. 

Furer and the other women at Declaration Defense, most of them mothers, fear their children could be targeted for being Jewish. 

“It was just not in my beliefs to have a gun in the house,” Furer said, “but all that changed.”

Signs and Slogans

Jews in the US have recently been assaulted and harassed in greater numbers, and have been rattled by protests that have included antisemitic signs and slogans. There were 312 antisemitic incidents nationwide in the two weeks after the attack, according to the Anti Defamation League, up 400% from a year earlier.

Threats against US Muslims have also risen. The Council on American-Islamic Relations has documented 774 Islamophobic incidents since Oct. 7, the most since 2015. A 6-year-old Muslim boy was stabbed to death in Chicago last month in what police called a hate crime. 

“We live in fear because of where we come from or how we worship,” said Wilfredo Ruiz, a former Navy chaplain who leads community outreach in Florida for the council. Ruiz said he is unaware of anyone buying a gun for protection.

Furer, who emigrated from Israel to the US as a child, has stopped going to religious services out of fear — even though the rabbi at her synagogue allows many people to bring a gun.

Jacob Solomon, president of the Greater Miami Jewish Foundation, which represents the estimated 123,000 Jews and 50 synagogues in Miami-Dade County, said anxiety among Jewish people is at an unprecedented level. 

“The Jewish community is confronting two interrelated but different sets of trauma,” Solomon said.

“One of them, of course, is deep concern over what happened in Israel,” he said. Additionally, “you have a minority of voices, but very well publicized voices, blaming Israel for it.”

Solomon said he knows Jews who aren’t wearing their kippah, or yarmulke, in public. He said he has heard that some Jews are choosing to buy guns, a decision he respects. Still, he recommends ways for people to protect themselves that don’t require a weapon, like watching for suspicious activity and being prepared to seek safety.

Fear and Tauma

Americans own roughly 400 million guns, and according to estimates from firearms safety advocate SafeHome.org, annual sales topped 17.4 million last year. 

Sales often increase significantly after mass shootings and terror attacks, and some states make it easier and faster for people worried about their safety to act on their fears. In Florida, a purchaser can take a gun home in three days after clearing a simple background check. In New York, it can take six months or more to get a handgun permit.

Senior Rabbi Gayle Pomerantz of Temple Beth Sholom, a liberal reform synagogue in Miami Beach, said she understands the fear and trauma driving the gun purchases, but that she can’t support them.

“I can’t tell you how strongly I feel about this subject, which is why we passed a rule that no firearms are allowed in this synagogue,” said Pomerantz. Roughly three-quarters of US Jews said it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect the constitutional rights of firearms ownership in a 2018 survey by the American Jewish Committee. 

Pomerantz said she respects that some members of her temple have a gun at home, and she has helped organize training on firearm safety. The fear of being targeted for being Jewish is palpable — she feels it, too. 

“There’s a reasonableness to that fear,” she said. “But running out to buy a gun may not be the best solution because of all the risks involved.”  

Living With Threats

Fear of attacks pushed Joshua Pariente, 32, to buy a gun for the first time. 

Pariente, a Sephardic Jew, moved to the US in 2011 after being kidnapped and robbed in Venezuela. In Miami, he has felt secure walking to temple with his wife and infant son, wearing his yarmulke and frequenting kosher businesses. Pariente said he never wanted to own a gun, even after being robbed in Caracas.

Feeling a need to protect his family after the Oct. 7 attack, Pariente sought the advice of Rabbi Daniel Hadar, who leads his North Miami Beach synagogue. Hadar explained that the Jewish faith allows the use of deadly force for self defense.

“I get the feeling that the hatred is coming from everywhere,” said Pariente, who purchased a 9mm pistol. “Personally, I never thought I would have a gun, but that changed.”

Such conversations led Hadar to talk to his friend Jack Benveniste, 83, who runs a small gun shop in North Miami Beach. Benveniste, who is Jewish, said he’s sold out of guns, reordered, and run out again since the Hamas attacks. Most customers are Jews, he said. 

Hadar, sitting in Benveniste’s store on a recent Monday, said he has long resisted arming himself. Threats have been a way of life for Jews, he said, especially since a white supremacist killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. There are armed security guards and metal detectors at the entrance of his temple, and volunteers come to prayer services armed. 

Still, he’s startled whenever anyone opens the temple doors during prayer services. 

“It’s fear for those around me who would be targets, just for the way they dress, their faith, their closeness to me,” Hadar said. “For the first time in my life, I am seriously considering buying a gun.”

Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates gun-safety measures, is backed by Michael Bloomberg , founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.

--With assistance from Felipe Marques and Eric Fan.

©2023 Bloomberg L.P.