Progressive activists, many of them young people, took to streets and state capitols nationwide on March 24 to advocate for gun reform in the light of recent mass shootings. Democrats can usually rely on the youth vote, of which almost half leans or is solidly liberal.
But Judah Waxelbaum, director of membership for the University's chapter of College Republicans, goes against the political trends of his demographic. He sticks to his guns, on campus and at home.
From a young age, Judah, a political science freshman, was outspoken and confident in his opinions, raised around conservative ideals, around guns and with a sister who he said is his political opposite. The two have passionate exchanges on issues they disagree on, but never stayed angry at one another — a practice he wishes more would keep.
Dara Waxelbaum, his sister, who studies at Paradise Valley Community College, said she is liberal-minded, but even though her brother follows the family's conservative beliefs, they both found their beliefs on their own.
“Our views are definitely different, but he is honestly one of my best friends, and we get along so well,” Dara said. “It was never pushed one way or another – it was kind of like you led yourself to that belief.”
Both were surrounded by guns throughout their lives and were taught the same rules – if you see a gun, leave it there and tell an adult. Judah said he was taught about gun safety before he ever shot a gun, all through the National Rifle Association's youth program.
“Growing up, we had guns, but they were never seen," he said. "It wasn’t like we had an AR-15 above the fridge, but guns have existed in my house long before I was born and long after. I don’t think I saw one until I was about 10.”
Their dad, Philip, said he taught them gun safety first and then brought them shooting when they were a bit older.
“One of the first things that Judah and Dara were taught (was gun safety) because there were guns in the house, and there were no means of keeping them away from kids because that’s not an absolute,” he said.
He said the solution was to demystify the concept of the gun.
The relationship of the Waxelbaum siblings mirrors the country's political polarization, though their conversations are less hostile. Political discourse is dominated by controversial debates around gun reform and different interpretations of the Second Amendment.
Judah said people should strive to hear more from the “other side” and find common ground, rather than participating in the further polarization of the political climate. Although the solution to addressing gun violence is no easy one, he said having a discussion with those who oppose him would further the conversation.
“I think provoking anyone isn’t going to convince anyone of anything, especially after a recent tragedy,” Judah said. “We just have different viewpoints on how to address the issue, and once both sides can understand that neither side is going into this with ill will, that’s the only way we are going to have a discussion.”
Judah said he's pursued common ground while maintaining his personal beliefs his whole life. Throughout high school, he said he furthered his beliefs and shaped his public speaking skills as he immersed himself into extracurriculars like the debate team, hockey and football.
After injuring his pelvis playing hockey, Judah said he found the teen-aged Republicans club and quickly rose to a leadership role.
“So, I joined my school’s teen-aged Republicans club and quickly fell in love with it,” Judah said. “I already had a heavy involvement in politics – CNN and FOX news were already my favorite channels – but this gave me an outlet to treat politics as my favorite sport … I love anything politics.”
Judah joined the College Republicans at ASU and became the director of special events. Already, he said he was known as a public speaker and activist.
He used to be active by being a “keyboard warrior” but stopped after not seeing the results he wanted from only engaging in an algorithmically-sorted ideological echo chamber.
“I understand that on Facebook, for example, you only see what you want to see,” Judah said. “So, the people seeing my posts were people that already agreed with me, and that wasn’t changing anything.”
Now, he shows support by going to events and speaking to people directly. Last week, he went to the Trump Unity Rally organized by the Patriot Movement AZ in Phoenix. He was in the lineup of speakers with Republican senate candidates Kelli Ward and former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio.
“I went to a conservative rally just last week to go speak, and that’s what I do,” Judah said. “I go out. I talk to people because that’s the only way to make change – to have legitimate discussions with people.”
He reads left-wing literature and listens to Democrats speak in order to broaden his viewpoints and to further understand the other side of thinking and connect with people who may disagree.
Judah took his dad’s advice and found something that he loved to do: engage in political discourse. Most recently, he's been a strict advocate for Second Amendment rights amid popular youth movements in support of gun control.
“A lot of people will look at my brother and see that he’s Republican and that he’s conservative," Dara said. "They will act a certain way and think that he isn’t a good person … But I genuinely believe that my brother is an amazing person.”