High Court hears NGOs’ petition against expanding gun-ownership

Case pits security against terror versus increased domestic violence risks.

A WOMAN checks out a new pistol at a gun shop in Tel Aviv in 2015 (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
A WOMAN checks out a new pistol at a gun shop in Tel Aviv in 2015
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
The High Court of Justice on Sunday heard a petition by a group of NGOs to strike a new government policy to expand gun ownership as unconstitutional and dangerous.
At its heart, the legal fight is about balancing the government’s desire to make it easier for security guards and citizens to defend themselves against terrorists versus concerns that a spike in gun ownership will lead to more domestic violence and random feud-based non-ideological shootings in general.
Lawyer Tahun Ashkenazi of Women Lawyers for Social Justice argued the case on behalf of the alliance of NGOs.
She said that a pilot program by the Public Security Ministry to expand gun ownership at least through this coming August, increased the number of applications for new gun licenses from 2,003 for most of 2017 to 6,599 for a similar period in 2018.
Moreover, Ashkenazi said that through eight months of 2018, 3,817 new gun license applications were approved, showing a substantial increase in the percentage of approved applications.
According to the petitioners, based on comparative trends throughout the world, these increases in gun ownership are likely to lead to substantially more murders in random disputes between citizens and to increased domestic violence by already potentially violent husbands against their spouses.
Generally speaking, the petitioners’ theme was that many average citizens have a bad day and may lose their temper but, without a gun, these episodes tend to end in mere low-level injuries, not murder.
Also, the petitioners noted the fear that having far more guns being held by private citizens with little oversight (as opposed to IDF soldiers) could lead to more harm to children who accidentally happen upon a grown-up’s weapon which was not properly stowed away.
In the worst case scenario, the petitioners said that around 600,000 additional citizens could be potentially eligible for gun licenses due to the new policy.
High Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Menachem Mazuz and Justice Yosef Elron seemed to share some of the petitioners’ concerns, but appeared to think their worries were exaggerated.
Mazuz especially debated the petitioners’ statistics as containing exaggerations.
Hayut seemed to want to delay issuing a ruling so she could wait for the state to formulate a more final policy so that more data could come in about the impact of the pilot program.
The state and the High Court both suggested that the government had incorporated aspects of the petitioners’ worries in their new policy and that they had spent years balancing the competing priorities.
The justices also pointed out that the petitioners had a tall order from a legal perspective as they were asking the High Court to invalidate a government policy not based on the violation of a specific constitutional right, but based on the idea of extreme unreasonableness.
They explained to the petitioners that extreme unreasonableness is a hard standard to meet especially when the petitioners’ concerns were all based on theoretical worst case scenarios that had yet to occur.
Ashkenazi tried to push back that once the new policy has continued for too long and too many new guns are distributed without proper oversight, the damage could be irreversible.
The concept for the state’s new policy came from Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and others during the Knife Intifada of 2015 when there were repeated instances of terrorists succeeding in killing Israeli civilians when no one nearby was armed. However, there were many instances where terrorists were stopped before causing harm when an armed civilian shot the terrorist.
Ashkenazi said that the Public Security Ministry wanted to flood the country’s streets with additional weapons to improve self-defense while “completely ignoring the great danger that these weapons will pose to other citizens, especially to women and children living under the threat of violence.”
She added that five public committees on the issue had recommended reducing, not increasing, the number of guns held by private citizens.
Gilad Erdan will be speaking at the upcoming Jerusalem Post Conference in New York.