Yet Rosenberg's own zeal for self-protection was spurred by two rather more personal incidents. A few years ago, intruders broke into his home while he and his wife slept. Rosenberg was able to scare them off with the .22 pistol he kept handy. Then he began getting e-mail death threats. "They would say, 'You're a dead Jew,' with 'dead' almost invariably misspelled, or 'Stay away from the white women,' with 'white' spelled 'w-i-t-e.'"
Rosenberg once suspected that the threats might have something to do with his Metzada novels--"I do write about Jews in space with big guns." But to this day, he doesn't know anything about his stalker, except that he or she is violently anti-Semitic, and unlikely to win any spelling bees.
Rosenberg let me tag along on one of his training seminars, held in the basement of a Bloomington VFW post decorated with advertisements for ammunition. The class consists of perhaps 20 people, most of whom appear, like Rosenberg, to be men in the ripeness of middle age. Though punctuated by anecdotes from the author's long, mostly antagonistic relationship with the Minneapolis Police Department--who, Rosenberg says, have previously attempted to deny him a gun permit--the seminar's primary focus is on acquainting handgun owners with the state's new gun law.
"Dirty Harry is one of my favorite movies," Rosenberg tells the class. "I kiddingly refer to Dirty Harry as my hero. But a permit does not change me into James Bond. Did anyone here mistake me for James Bond?" Then, to clear up any lingering confusion, Rosenberg retrieves two loaded revolvers from his underpants.
Rosenberg's seminar mostly follows his book, Everything You Need to Know About (Legally) Carrying a Handgun in Minnesota.Among the topics covered: Where to strap your nine when going out on the town (a fanny-pack is one popular option); how to navigate a trip to the urinal while wearing a holster (don't leave your gun on the edge of the sink); what to do if attacked (run); and the legal ramifications of shooting someone (very sticky, apparently, and thoroughly discouraged). Rosenberg's advice on this last point seems eminently sensible--even if (to take a hypothetical) you think that the Minnesota Personal Protection Act is insane, and that its Republican supporters are a horde of jackbooted theocrats.
Still, one might look for insight into Rosenberg's mindset in his recently published mystery novel, Home Front. Here, a cranky, middle-aged small-town copy editor named Ernest "Sparky" Hemingway has his tranquil life ruptured by an invasion of "gangbangers" from big, scary Minneapolis. His first impulse, naturally, is to arm himself: "Old habits die hard. I dropped the magazine and worked the slide--the chamber was empty--and then slammed the magazine home, racked the slide again, and flicked the safety with my thumb without more than half thinking about it." (The Freudian implications of the scene aren't lost on Rosenberg).
Yet, while Rosenberg's Hemingway makes more productive use of his gun than did his suicidal namesake, he also manages to resolve his gangbanger problem without firing a shot. This, Rosenberg explains, was intentional: "I wanted to play with the old dramatic notion you always see on television--that if you put a gun in a story, someone has to get shot."
Which is, it seems, precisely the message Rosenberg is attempting to impart to the amateur Sparky Hemingways in his seminar. Striking a Dirty Harry pose with his snubby revolver, Rosenberg warns, "People who have notions that they're going to be Rambo should probably just stick to watching the movies. I like those movies, too. But that's not how the world works."
The students nod solemnly, and, satisfied that his point has been made, Rosenberg tucks his weapon back into his pants.