Law & Order: The growing threat of guns
Firearms offenses are on the rise, and shootings are occurring in civilian areas. Is the public at risk?
Weapons seized by police. Photo: Israel Police
Two young men stood under a residential building in Rehovot’s Kiryat Moshe
neighborhood last week, having a chat. Suddenly, shots were fired, probably from
close range, and the two fell to the ground with gaping gunshot
What followed is a scene that has played itself out repeatedly in
recent years. Shocked neighbors rushed to the scene. Within minutes, the sirens
of ambulances drew closer, before paramedics arrived to rush the victims to
hospital. Police came shortly afterward.
Officer sealed off the shooting
scene, and forensic teams marked the bullets casings with small yellow plastic
tags and photographed findings.
Both men survived the attack, although
one remains in critical condition at the Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot.
Police have not arrested any suspects yet, but are investigating the possibility
that the shooting followed a dispute between local youths.
later, in an unrelated incident, two men sat in a car in west Rishon Lezion,
when several shots were fired at their vehicle. These men were not as fortunate,
and both were found dead in the car by paramedics who rushed to the
Although the incidents are not linked, they both represent
shocking use of firearms in the heart of built-up areas teeming with
The second incident, police suspect, was a gangland slaying,
and the victims are well known to police due to lengthy criminal
Whether they are used in organized crime wars or to settle
scores on the street, guns are a fact of life in criminal incidents and remain
one of the Israel Police’s biggest challenges. It set the goal of bringing down
firearms offenses years ago, but has not yet had any apparent
The police were unable to provide figures showing how many
recorded firearms offenses were carried out this year or the previous one,
despite repeated requests.
It did note in a 2010 crime report that use of
weapons in criminal incidents is high, “despite [police] organizational attempts
[to bring it down].”
Police frequently launch arms raids against
suspects, and seize all manners of weapons, although this has not managed to
stem the flow of guns.
“It’s definitely getting worse. That’s
self-evident,” said Cmdr. (ret.) Yaakov Borovsky, former head of the northern
police district. “The number of criminals has grown, and so have the number of
“Statistically, we see a rise in the number of violent
incidents involving firearms, such as armed robberies or people threatening
others using guns,” he added. “There are shootings in built-up areas. The number
of these offenses is on the rise.”
Borovsky stressed that not all gun
crime is linked to homicides, noting that firearms are often used for
When criminals wish to send messages, they sometimes open
fire on the homes and properties of rivals.
“The public is in danger,
because there are more guns on the street. You know never when weapons will next
be used, against whom and to what extent. The weapons are available, and that’s
the danger,” he said.
The failure to stop the illegal firearms trade on
the black market is the main factor behind the rise in gun crimes, he added.
“Today there is a whole illegal arms industry.
Weapons can be obtained
with ease, and they’re not expensive,” Borovsky said.
The best way to
combat the problem is to create legal deterrence against illegal possession of
firearms, Borovsky argued. At the moment, light punishments for such offenses
mean that holding guns without a license is at most “a sin,” he
“The law needs to become drastic.
It should specify which
firearms would receive the heaviest prison sentences – from grenades, handguns,
rifles and all the way to mortar launchers,” Borovksy said.
should be several years long. Then we’ll see how many people continue to hold
“I’d make it even more draconian, and say that the head of a
household where a firearm was found in, even in a yard, should be punished,”
In 2010, The Jerusalem Post joined a Rishon Lezion police
patrol, which was called to a shooting in the western part of the sprawling
“SHOTS FIRED – gunman has escaped,” officers in the car were
notified. Their vehicle pulled up in the middle of a residential
A 20-year-old man lay screaming in agony in the passenger
seat of his black Honda. Minutes earlier, two masked men had approached him as
he started his car, opened the car door and fired several rounds at his leg,
according to eyewitnesses. Apparently, the act was “merely” a
“My leg!” the man shouted, as blood poured out of several bullet
wounds. He was placed on a stretcher by paramedics, taken to a waiting ambulance
and rushed to the hospital for surgery to remove the bullets. The man later
recovered, and a suspect was arrested for the shooting. But the incident was yet
another dark example of how easily bullets can fly in the middle of a
“This is one of the biggest problems facing police,
this intolerable availability of weapons,” said Cmdr.
Mizrahi, former head of the Israel Police’s Investigations and Intelligence
Branch. “If you want a gun, you can get it very quickly.”
proximity to the Palestinian territories, together with weapons thefts from
places such as IDF bases, mean that the gun flow will remain constant in the
foreseeable future, Mizrahi added. Arms used by criminals include machine guns
and shoulder-held LAW missiles, he noted.
Mizrahi expressed particular
concern about the “huge quantity” of arms in the Arab
“Intelligence is the key to fighting this. I know police have
set this as a high priority,” Mizrahi said. And despite failing to pass on
figures to the media, the police’s intelligence departments should be fully
aware of how many offenses involving weapons occur every year, he
During Mizrahi’s tenure as head of the investigative branch (from
2000 to 2004), the police completed its computerized crimes report system, which
enables officers to access data on specific characteristics of recorded crimes,
including the use of firearms or explosives. “They should know the figures,” he
“I know this is a high priority issue for police. Intelligence is
being gathered on those who possess weapons and raids are initiated against
suspected addresses,” Mizrahi added.
“If treated intensely, and
patiently, this issue can be mitigated,” he said.