Al­ways on alert

Blog­ger, rel­a­tively new to guns, is ready to pro­tect him­self and his right to bear arms

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY JOEL ACHEN­BACH IN PROV­I­DENCE, R. I.

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. Hehad 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 New

town, Conn. This past week, par­ents of slain first-graders at Sandy Hook Ele­men­tary School tes­ti­fied in gun-con­trol hear

ings 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.

DHis 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 rightwing 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.” AVID 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, mild­man­nered, 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 30round 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?” “Yes.” “Why?” “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.

PHO­TOS BY LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

Rob Farago of Prov­i­dence, R.I., has been a gun owner for only a few years. Now he has 18 firearms, and an in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar blog, TheTruthAbout­Guns.com. Above, his col­lec­tion of gun per­mits.

PHO­TOS BY LINDA DAVID­SON/THE WASHINGTON POST

TOP: Rob Farago secures his guns in a safe in the base­ment of his Prov­i­dence, R.I., home.

Farago wears a hol­stered Glock 30SF at home with his 9-year-old daugh­ter, Lola. He speaks of­ten of his de­sire to be a pro­tec­tive fa­ther.

ABOVE: Farago, far left, and the man he calls “the Rabbi,” David Kenik, at a shoot­ing range in Manville, R.I., fire AR-15-style semi­au­to­matic ri­fles and, at cen­ter, per­form a self­de­fense drill. Kenik, stand­ing by one of the range’s shot-up tar­gets at right, makes self­de­fense train­ing films and sells them com­mer­cially.

I For more im­ages of Farago and Kenik, view the photo gallery at wapo.st/gun­blog­ger.

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