As a Jewish woman and Harvard-educated lawyer who practiced law in Los Angeles, Sandra Froman admits that, at least on paper, she doesn't seem a natural choice to lead the National Rifle Association (NRA). But the Second Amendment, she said, is all about empowerment.
"I've never met a gun I didn't like," said Froman, 55, a California native who moved to Tucson in 1985. "I wish I had more time to practice. My favorite gun is normally the one I was able to take out most recently, but I shoot pistols, rifles, black-powder rifles."
Froman became the newest president of the almost 4 million-strong NRA in April, immediately presenting a different face for an organization whose vibe has been almost reflexively white and male.
Jewish, female, lawyer and Left Coast is about as unstereotypical as it gets for an NRA leader. But when it comes to gun politics, Froman is as NRA as they come.
"Firearms in America today represent freedom," Froman told The Journal. "They represent the ability to defend yourself individually, and they represent the ability to defend yourself as a country. Firearms are a means of guaranteeing freedom."
The NRA scored a victory this summer when the U.S. Senate passed the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which bans lawsuits against gun manufacturers and sellers when their products are used to commit crimes. The legislation now goes to the House.
Froman spoke approvingly of the legislation, but it's just one part of a crowded agenda. The NRA also has called for a boycott of ConocoPhillips until the oil company drops its ban on letting employees keep firearms in the company parking lot, demonstrating a sense of civics "worthy of the O.K. Corral," as The New York Times put it. Froman also aims to expand gun ownership among traditionally gun-averse groups, such as ethnic minorities, women and the Jewish community. She's not shy about invoking historically charged imagery: "Part of my feeling the importance of all of this is what I know about Jewish history. You look at what the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto were able to do because they had firearms, and you understand how necessary is the right to own a gun."
Froman cited her own experience, an attempted break-in when she lived in Los Angeles, as evidence that women especially need guns. A gun, she said, is a great equalizer: "We don't have the upper body strength. In a fistfight, a man is usually going to be able to prevail over just about any woman."
Such views put her ideologically at odds with the many Jews on the other side of the gun debate, including Roberta Schiller, former executive director of Women Against Gun Violence, who asserts that it's criminals and terrorists who are best able to take advantage of the free-wheeling U.S. market for gun sales that the NRA works so diligently to protect.
"While historically it might have been helpful for people to buy firearms," said Schiller, currently a board member of the anti-violence group, "now we're in a situation where terrorists coming into this country have a field day buying all sorts of firearms, AK-47s, assault weapons, with literally no background search in many of the 50 states.
"We don't live in ghettos," she said. "We don't have the need for a militia of women to counterforce some unknown enemy."
Froman didn't always love the smell of gunpowder or a shotgun's recoil. She grew up in a Jewish home in the Bay Area, raised by parents who didn't own firearms.
"I didn't care about guns," she said. "I didn't know anything about them. The most I knew was from westerns, where the good guys had guns, and the bad guys had bows and arrows."
After attending Stanford University, she headed east for Harvard Law School, returning to the Golden State to practice law with firm of Loeb & Loeb. It was at her home 25 years ago that someone attempted to break in while she slept.
"The noise woke me up," Froman said. "I came downstairs and saw this man trying to use a screwdriver to break through the lock on the door. I banged on the door. He stopped for a minute, and then kept trying to break in. I was scared to death. I didn't know what to do."
The would-be intruder didn't get in, and he left before police arrived, but Froman's outlook had utterly changed.
"Here I am trapped in my house with this man trying to get in -- it really frightened me. But they say time slows down, and I began thinking, 'How dare he try to get into my house,'" she said. "I got angry. Real angry. I decided to take control of the situation."
The next day, after looking up a gun store in the phone book, Froman signed up for firearms training. Soon after, she bought her first gun.
t's a tale Froman tells persuasively, but it doesn't pass muster with Schiller.
"The truth is that if a person is breaking into your house, you are probably asleep and it's unanticipated, so you're already not in a position to fight back on a fair playing field," Schiller said. "If you live in an apartment and someone breaks in and you're asleep, they can so easily wrest a gun from a woman's hands. The idea that just because you have a gun, it will make you safe is just untrue."
Having a gun introduces new risks, she added.
"Children always know where guns are, and then you can have a tragedy," Schiller said. "If you live with older children, they can come in late [at night] or unexpectedly, and you can mistakenly shoot one of your own family members."
There are dueling statistics on whether guns make their owners safer. Froman dismisses data about the danger of gun ownership as "just lies," citing the work of researcher John Lott as refuting anti-gun statistics.
Schiller and her organization consider Lott far out of the mainstream of credible researchers.
"Except for John Lott," she said, "every violence prevention study, every Department of Justice study, comes to the same conclusion" regarding owning guns: that owning guns is more dangerous than not owning them.
Both sides agree on the need for gun safety education, and the NRA has, sometimes grudgingly, accepted gun safety measures that fall short of banning, limiting or registering weapons. But the fine points of the debate were well beyond Froman when she went looking for that first firearm.
"So I found a gun store in the phone book and went to the gun store and told the man behind the counter I wanted to buy a gun and he said, 'Well, yes ma'am, what kind of a gun are you looking for?' And I said, 'Any gun!'"
When her law partners found out, some "were horrified," Froman said. "They didn't understand that I had the need to protect myself as a single woman living in Los Angeles."
One fellow attorney asked her, "What do you own a gun for?"
"For self-protection," she recalled telling him. "And he looked at me, and he just kind of shook his head, and he said, 'You're a dangerous person.'"
A former colleague, Howard Friedman, remembers her as "more of a liberal than I was. It just shows you can't deal in stereotypes."
"I was surprised to learn she was a gun enthusiast," added Friedman, a Loeb & Loeb attorney who also once headed the American Jewish Committee. "I was even more surprised when I heard she became president of the NRA."
Equally surprised was attorney Robert Holtzman, who'd recruited her to the Los Angeles firm.
"She was well into the top of her [Harvard] class," he said. "She was enthusiastic and spirited, and had a certain amount of charm and personality as well.
"In her days with the firm, she gave me the impression of being on the liberal side [politically]. I was aware much more recently that she'd been very active for NRA. I was not surprised when she reached the top."
Froman, a Republican, said she was essentially apolitical prior to her involvement with firearms.
"After I learned how to shoot a gun, it was then that I found out there were people who wanted to take my right away, people who wanted to ban guns, people who wanted to make sure that nobody had guns but the police and law enforcement," she said. "And my reaction to that, once I learned how to use a gun, was, 'That's stupid!'
"Why would anyone think I would be a danger? And why would anyone not want me to be able to protect myself? The police can't be everywhere at once."
Such feelings would lead her to join the NRA. She found that the transition from mere member to outspoken activist was fairly easy.
"I thought that it was perfectly appropriate for me to have a firearm, but I realized that there were others who thought that anyone who carried a gun was a criminal," she said.
Froman left Los Angeles after a divorce to teach at a Bay Area law school. Later, she and her second husband moved to Arizona, where they could have more land and enjoy a different lifestyle. Froman's passion for shooting is apparent in her personal life: She appears to appreciate a partner who knows how to shoot. Her second husband, who died in 1995, was a law enforcement officer, and so is the man she is currently dating.
One of her early political efforts was getting a law passed in Arizona that would allow most people to carry concealed weapons via an approved permit. Her rise in the NRA followed quickly.
In 1992, Froman ran for the NRA's board of directors and placed at the top of the ticket. Today, she is the second woman to serve as president.
She still enjoys taking out the uninitiated to the firing range and winning converts -- one firing-range target at a time. But will she bring droves of women, and especially Jews, to the fold?
Schiller of Women Against Gun Violence doubts it.
"Periodically, the NRA markets to women, and they do it by instilling fear," Schiller said. "Every so often, I guess they run out of white males to sell weapons to. So they try to make women fearful.
"And they market pink and purple guns, and holsters that women can wear in their bras or on the hip, or small guns women can put in their purse. It's just a cycle of marketing."
Besides, she joked, "I don't know that Sandra Froman can be more charismatic than [former NRA president] Charleton Heston was."
Predictably, Froman has a different take, one that she considers legitimately Jewish.
"Our history teaches us that it is our obligation to ensure that there is justice," she said. "And I believe that people have an obligation to protect themselves, to protect their own lives, to protect the lives of their families. And you can't do that unless you have the means of self-defense."
Froman added: "There was a saying when the Colt 1851 revolver was invented that God created men, but Colt made them all equal."
Portions of this article first appeared in the Jewish Exponent.