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Photo by: Ben Hartman
Israeli gun control regulations 'opposite of US'
By BEN HARTMAN
12/18/2012
There is no full-auto Friday or Ladies night at the “Lahav” gun store in TA, a store that bears little resemblance to its US counterparts.
 
A gun lover’s dream or a stringently controlled police state that would make a National Rifle Association supporter’s blood boil? In recent days, following the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 26 dead, including 20 children, Israel has been mentioned as a country awash in guns yet still free of such random massacres. Many have pointed out that the difference between the countries is not in the prevalence of guns, but the regulations that accompany them.

According to Yaakov Amit, the head of the Public Security Ministry’s Firearms Licensing Department, the difference between the gun laws in the US and Israel are as clear as night and day.

“There is an essential difference between the two. In America the right to bear arms is written in the law, here it’s the opposite... only those who have a license can bear arms and not everyone can get a license.”

Amit said gun licenses are only given out to those who have a reason because they work in security or law enforcement, or those who live in settlements “where the state has an interest in them being armed.”

He added that former IDF officers above a certain rank can get a license.

Anyone who fits the requirements, is over age 21 and an Israeli resident for more than three years, must go through a mental and physical health exam, Amit said, then pass shooting exams and courses at a licensed gun range, as well as background checks by the Public Security Ministry.

Once they order their firearm from a gun store, they are allowed to take it home with a one-time supply of 50 bullets, which Amit said they cannot renew.

The gun owner must retake his license exam and testing at the gun range every three years. As of January, Amit said, a new law will go into effect requiring gun owners to prove that they have a safe at home to keep their weapon in.

Amit said that since 1996, not long after the Rabin assassination, there has been a continuous reduction in the amount of weapons in public hands due larger to stricter regulations. He estimated there are about 170,000 privately-owned firearms in Israel, or enough for around one out of every 50 Israelis, far less per capita than the US, where there are an estimated more than 300 million privately owned guns for a population of a little more than 300 million.

Amit also said there are only approximately 2,500 people in the country who have gun licenses for hunting, and they must first get approval from the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

Aside from Israel’s strict gun laws, reasons for the lack of mass shootings can be attributed to the country’s closely knit family structure, small size and intimacy and informality between strangers or the universal health care which makes mental health services available for all.

When asked why Israel doesn’t have such killings, Amit said “you can’t prevent this entirely. You can’t ensure that someone won’t someday go crazy and do something like this, but we do our best to prevent it from happening.”

There is no “Full-auto Friday” or “Ladies Night” special deals at the Lahav gun store and shooting range in Tel Aviv, a shop that bears little resemblance to its counterparts in the United States.

“Those people over there [United States] are barbarians when it comes to weapons, the situation there is insane, but here we’re too far to the other extreme,” said Yiftach Ben-Yehuda, 30, whose grandfather Yisrael opened the store with two friends in 1949.

Located around the corner from a row of peep shows and African migrant pubs near the new Central Bus Station in Tel Aviv, Lahav is the oldest gun store in Israel. It presents a clear contrast between the culture of free-for-all gun stores and lax regulation in the United States, and that of Israel.

There was a very small number of guns for sale in the store, and most of the items on the racks appeared to be accessories for IDF-issued firearms, for Israelis looking to customize their reserves weapons. The guns on display included a few 9mm pistols, but no assault rifles, hunting rifles, or shotguns were to be found. A poster of a bikini-clad woman holding a Glock .40 was one of the few similarities between the store and its American counterparts.

“The private gun sales market is virtually nonexistent. Almost all of our business is in selling slots at the range and testing people looking to renew their gun licenses,” Ben-Yehuda said, sounding like a man whose clientele has dropped off significantly in recent years.

“The problem is that the law makes it very difficult for the good people to get guns. The number of legal guns in recent years has gone to around 170,000, but there are a half a million illegal guns floating around the Arab sector, no one knows how many. There’s no reason someone who was a fighter pilot shouldn’t be able to get a license to carry a gun.”

According to Ben-Yehuda, the store only sells two hour blocs at its firing range, with 50 bullets included, for a price of well over NIS 200 – far more expensive than in the US. Ben-Yehuda said he doesn’t know of anyone who has received a new carry permit in the past two years, and that potential clients are deterred by the stringent regulations. “I don’t even have a gun license and I work here.”

For Boaz, a hi-tech worker and IDF shooting instructor who lives in Efrat, the licensing process was no walk in the park, even though he lives in a settlement and applied for his license during the second intifada.

“It actually took a few months to get the license and this was back when buses were being blown up every day, so there was pressure to arm people but they still weren’t in a hurry.”

After three months he said he got a license and then took his test and the shooting range, before being allowed to purchase a CZ-75 pistol that took around a week to receive. He then had to go through a three-hour course with the instructor on gun safety and the use of the particular firearm, even though he serves in an IDF combat reserves unit and was a shooting instructor in the army.

With four children at home, Boaz said he always keeps the gun on him, and while he sees the need for having armed citizens in Israel, he doesn’t think the situation should resemble that of the United States.

He added that his license must be renewed every three years through the same extended process, and that he is still restricted to the same lifetime supply of 50 bullets at home.

“It reminds me of what a shooting instructor in the army told us. If you need more than 50 bullets, a pistol isn’t going to solve your problem.”
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