A man holding a gun..
(photo credit: screenshot)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan seems determined to see more guns in the hands of private citizens, more frequently.
Erdan has thrown his support behind the Knesset Caucus on Firearm Policy – which held its inaugural meeting Monday under the leadership of Likud MK Amir Ohana – and its goal of boosting the numbers of armed private citizens.
In addition, a bill proposed by Erdan’s ministry, which passed a first reading in the Knesset last week, would make a temporary measure – allowing private security guards to bring their weapons home with them – into law.
The bill was approved by the cabinet in the wake of the deadly Tel Aviv shooting carried out by Nashat Milhem on New Year’s Day. Erdan promoted the bill as he visited the site of the attack last month, but failed to note a salient fact: It was precisely this attitude that allowed Milhem access to the gun in the first place.
Milhem’s father, Muhammad, worked as a security guard and volunteer police officer. The gun he used in the terrorist attack was licensed and legally stored in his home in a safe.
There is no doubt that law enforcement officials must be armed to protect citizens, particularly as a wave of lonewolf attacks engulfs the nation. Quick-thinking police officers and soldiers time and again jump into action to thwart those who seek to harm innocent civilians.
But self-defense cannot be a blanket justification for relaxing gun laws in place to protect citizens. Milhem’s actions are an extreme case, but far from the only example of legal weapons used in horrific ways.
The most jarring non-terrorism gun violence in recent years was undoubtedly the 2013 shooting at a Beersheba branch of Bank Hapoalim. In that incident, Itamar Alon, a former Border Police officer and ex-security guard, opened fire with his personal weapon, killing four people before taking his own life. He was issued a permit for the gun when he became a security guard in the Beersheba school system, and kept the firearm even after he was fired.
Just a few months later, a licensed Jerusalem security guard walked into an office in the center of town and killed Natan Gorno, his lawyer, and his daughter, Yamit Gorno.
These nationally publicized incidents are few and far between, but regular occurrences of domestic violence are consistently attributed to the private weapons of security guards.
In a letter sent to ministers Gila Gamliel and Ayelet Shaked last month – after the Public Security Ministry bill was passed by ministers – a collection of women’s rights groups under the name ‘Gun-Free Kitchen Tables’ pleaded against the bill, which they said would undo all their past efforts. Since 2002, the letter noted, at least 33 people – mostly women – were killed by off-duty security guards using their work weapons.
“The proposed amendment is a step backwards in the state’s protection of women and civilians,” they wrote.
“We call on you to prevent the gender discrimination and blindness that forfeits women’s security for alleged national security.”
Due in part to the activism of these groups following several high-profile shootings, in 2013 the Public Security Ministry issued orders requiring security guards to store their weapons in safes on the premises of their workplaces.
But after the bloody Har Nof synagogue massacre in 2014, the ministry issued a regulation – intended to be valid for just 90 days – allowing security guards to bring their weapons home. The current proposed legislation would make that decree into law, against the fervent wishes of more than a dozen women’s rights groups.
“We have a huge number of security forces here in Israel,” said Smadar Ben-Natan, a lawyer with Gun-Free Kitchen Tables, last month. “Adding a few more guns in the hands of civilians or security guards is not significant enough to justify the heavy price.”
Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg attended the Knesset Caucus on Firearm Policy on Monday to make the point clear: “The lives of women and children who were murdered at home or people who committed suicide because of the availability of guns are not worth less than the lives of victims of terrorism,” she said following the meeting.
Guns in the hands of trained, licensed professionals can save lives. But relaxing restrictions on these guns will only help them fall into the wrong hands, and lead to catastrophic – and preventable – outcomes.