The despicable act of violence perpetrated in Beersheba on Monday has sparked
fresh calls for an evaluation of Israel’s gun control
Undoubtedly, the fact that Itamar Alon had access to a handgun at
a critical time when he was overcome by anger made possible the shooting rampage
that left four innocent people dead and four families mourning, with five more
Reportedly, Alon’s bank had refused to reach an
arrangement with him over his NIS 6,000 debt. In Alon’s warped mind, this
somehow justified a shooting spree. The same sort of public discourse over
Israel’s gun-control laws followed the tragic shooting at a school in Newtown,
Connecticut in December 2012 that left 26 dead, including 20
Further fueling the local debate was a bizarre comment by the
chief executive of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, made shortly
after the Newtown massacre.
Strangely, LaPierre invoked Israel to support
his own organization’s campaign for the right of American citizens to bear
In an interview with NBC News’ David Gregory on Meet the Press,
LaPierre called on the US to implement a school guard policy similar to
“Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one
thing,” LaPierre said. “They said, ‘We’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed
security in every school and they have not had a problem since
Besides being wrong about Israel having had “a whole lot of school
shootings” (Israeli authorities who called him out on the comments could recall
only two in the past four decades), LaPierre was also misguided in comparing
America’s gun control policy to Israel’s.
The two countries are worlds
apart when it comes to the right of civilians to bear arms.
Yaakov Amit –
head of the Public Security Ministry’s Firearms Licensing Department – told Army
Radio on Tuesday that there are just 160,000 handguns privately owned by Israeli
citizens in a population of nearly 8 million, approximately 2 guns per 100
people. In stark contrast, in America there are 88.8 guns for every 100 people
(according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey), by far the highest rate in the
Gun rights activists in the US view gun ownership as a basic right
anchored in the Second Amendment to the Constitution.
In Israel, on the
other hand, bearing arms is prohibited to all but those with special permission:
security guards, residents or employees in settlements, citizens who regularly
work with large sums of cash or jewels, IDF officers of certain ranks, and
select few others. Ammunition ownership is greatly restricted.
this is a result of historical developments. In America, the military forces
that fought for independence were often made up of local militias. As such,
there was a decidedly decentralized approach to the political and military
autonomy of individual states that made up the Union.
In Israel, David
Ben-Gurion took extreme measures as the Jewish state’s first prime minister to
consolidate the central government’s powers. The June, 1948 Altalena Affair – in
which Ben-Gurion ordered the nascent IDF to open fire on a Jewish cargo ship
transporting arms to the Irgun’s military arm – is one example. The disbanding
of the Palmach is another.
But there might be a deeper, cultural reason
for the strict control Israel maintains over firearms. Jews have historically
had an ambivalent attitude toward the idea of bearing arms.
In a famous
dispute that appears in the Mishna (Shabbat 6:3) the Sages and Rabbi Eliezer
debate whether it is permissible to carry weapons on Shabbat. While Rabbi
Eliezer permitted carrying them, the Sages posited that bearing arms – while
necessary in our imperfect world – should be viewed as a disdainful practice
that will one day be made unnecessary and therefore should not be permitted on
To back up their position, the Sages quote from Isaiah (2:4):
“They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning
hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war
The very presence of weapons among us attests to our imperfect
world. They can be – and for the most part are only – used by Israelis for
protection and defense. But sometimes they are misused.
In a way, Itamar
Alon encapsulates this potential for doing either good or evil with firearms.
Ironically, the last time Alon made headlines over a decade ago, the context was
altogether different: He was honored for bravely rushing to
the scene of a terrorist attack and shooting dead the perpetrator.
are, unfortunately, a necessary evil. We cannot do without them. By embracing
the approach of our rabbis to bearing arms and striving for an era in which
weapons will be obsolete, we can go a long way toward preventing their misuse in
the imperfect reality in which we live.
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