A man holding a gun..
(photo credit: screenshot)
Another terrifying mass shooting in America has brought attention yet again to Israel as a case study in gun control – for both sides.
Due to Israel’s stringent gun control, the massacre of 49 people at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida would have probably been much harder to pull off for a “lone wolf” terrorist like Omar Mateen, but with enough money, time, and connections, the killer could still pull it off.
Though visitors to Israel are often struck by the high number of firearms visible in public – especially in Jerusalem and the West Bank – the country has the sort of stringent gun control that would make the average NRA supporter shudder. While these restrictions have been eased somewhat as a response to the “Stabbing Intifada,” gun ownership in Israel still remains a privilege – not a right like in the United States.
Israelis looking to arm themselves still must jump through a number of hoops, including a mental and physical exam, background checks, shooting exams, and must show they have a security reason to have a firearm – such as a job in security or law enforcement – or that they live in a high-priority security area.
These restrictions are largely to blame for the high street value of firearms in Israel, which has helped a highly-lucrative black market thrive in the country, mainly in the Arab sector.
While an AR-15 similar to the one Omar Mateen used in Orlando can be purchased in the US for as little as $500 (or less at a gun show or auction), an M-16 assault rifle in Israel sells on the black market for around NIS 55,000 ($14,000) or more, while a Kalashnikov smuggled in from the West Bank can go for significantly less, ranging from around NIS 25,000 to 35,000. The gun restrictions also drive an inflated black market price for handguns, which can go for as much as NIS 20,000 depending on the make and model. Ammunition is also exorbitantly expensive.
This doesn’t mean that a terrorist like Mateen couldn’t get his hands on such a firearm, but he would need to make a far larger investment, decreasing the chances that such an action could be launched on a whim.
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A cheaper option, and one that we see again and again in Israel, is to go the home-made firearms route. Once a week or so the Israel Police announce a seizure of a homemade “Carl Gustav” gun that was ready for use. Named after the Swedish Carl Gustav recoilless rifle, it’s a homemade submachine gun that bears little resemblance to its namesake. The guns are fashioned in workshops in the West Bank and inside Israel and can retail for as little as NIS 3,000 to 15,000 or more depending on the quality of its production. Some almost look factory-made, while those on the lower end look like they wouldn’t be able to fire a round at all, or if they did, that they’d almost be more of a threat to the shooter than any potential target.
These guns – which for well over a decade were used for clan warfare and criminal feuds in the Arab sector – have been deployed on a number of occasions this past year in terrorist attacks, including the one at the Sarona Market last week, during which two gunmen shot and killed four people before their homemade guns jammed and were discarded. A terrorist like Omar Mateen based in Israel could have scraped together a little bit of cash and purchased a Carl Gustav in no time, but he would still have a firearm nowhere near as effective or deadly as the one used in Orlando.
Another common method is theft. Many firearms issued by the IDF make their way to the black market after they are stolen directly from military personnel, largely through break-ins. Security guards are also jumped and assaulted on a fairly regular basis by thieves who only want the gun. In July 2015, police busted a ring of Arab Israelis who spent a month following IDF soldiers home from the Binyamina train station when they arrived for weekend leave, and would return later at night to burglarize the homes and steal the rifles. This method can pay off, but procuring a weapon in this manner requires careful planning, possibly even accomplices, otherwise the offender stands to face serious weapons and robbery charges, as well as potentially a Shin Bet investigation. All this is more likely to scuttle the shooting attack before it even gets off the ground.
Channel 2 had a piece this week from East Jerusalem, where two masked men discussed how local handymen in the city take Air Soft air rifles and modify them to fire bullets, eventually selling them for more than NIS 50,000.
Necessity will always be the mother of invention, and this is certainly the case for the country’s black market.
Israeli gun control hasn’t eliminated firearm deaths – especially not in the Arab sector where they are possibly the greatest menace affecting the public. Nonetheless, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who works in Israeli law enforcement – or cares about public safety – who would want to implement the lack of gun control that the US is known for.
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