National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir's reverence for America's gun laws could be a deadly shot through the heart of Israel's youth.
Last week, the country's national security minister told Army Radio he wants to "take the good things from the US. I think the death penalty for terrorists is excellent. I think that distributing guns to people to defend themselves is excellent."
Arming more civilians by easing the criteria for gun licenses so that they can shoot down the bad guys sounds secure. However, a report published by KFF only days before Ben Gvir's interview showed that firearms were responsible for 20% of all child and teen deaths in the United States for both 2020 and 2021 - 4,733 child and teen deaths in 2021, including 2,571 them children under 12 - compared to an average of less than 2% in similarly large and wealthy nations.
Child firearm mortality rates
America's child firearm mortality rate doubled from 1.8 deaths per 100,000 in 2013 to 3.7 in 2021 and included suicide, assaults and attacks for undetermined reasons. The increase, however, has been primarily driven by gun assault deaths, KFF - formerly the Kaiser Family Foundation, a US-based health research institute - reported.
Besides Canada, no other peer country has firearms in the top five causes of children's death; motor vehicle accidents and cancer are the two most common causes of juvenile death in all comparable countries. And even then, on a per capita basis, the firearm death rate among youth 1-19 in America is more than 9.5 times higher than that of Canadian children.
A peer country is an OECD country that is both similarly large and wealthy.
According to KFF, if the mortality rate had been brought in line with the rate in Canada, as many as 30,000 children and teens could have been saved since 2010 - an average of 2,500 lives a year.
KFF specifically looked at the correlation between strict and laxer gun laws and children and youth mortality rates and found the more rigid the rules, the less likely kids are to die by gunfire.
"Because there is no comprehensive national firearm registry, it is difficult to track gun ownership in the US," KFF explained. "Instead, we look at the correlation between the number of child and teen firearm deaths and the number of gun laws in US states based on the State Firearm Law Database, which is a catalog of the presence or absence of 134 firearm law provisions across all 50 states.
"States with more restrictive firearm laws in the US generally have fewer child and teen firearm deaths than states with fewer firearm law provisions," KFF continued. "Even so, these states, on average, have a much higher rate of child and teen firearm deaths than that of Canada and other countries."
The states with the highest firearm mortality rates for children and teens were those with the most lenient gun laws: Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama (17.6, 15.3, and 11.9 deaths per 100,000, respectively).
New York, with some of the country's strictest laws, reported the lowest firearm mortality rate in the country.
Provisional data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from 2022 indicates that firearms will remain the leading cause of death that year, KFF said. A separate report by the American NGO Gun Violence Archive showed that as of July 27, there had been more than 410 mass shootings in the US in 2023, 164 children killed and 868 teenagers killed in violent gun incidents.
A separate, earlier analysis by KFF linked adolescent exposure to firearms to anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, challenges with school performance, increased absenteeism and difficulty concentrating.
Gun laws in Israel
In Israel, gun control laws are relatively strict, and citizens, in most cases, can only own one gun and a limited number of bullets. However, since earlier this year, Ben Gvir has been pushing plans to expand the number of people eligible for gun licenses.
According to his policy, anyone who served as an IDF combat solider could apply for a gun license, compared to today when only infantry soldiers who received specific rifleman training are eligible. The shift, which would have to be approved by the Knesset National Security Committee, could put tens of thousands more licenses - and therefore guns - on Israel's streets.
If Ben-Gvir's words lead to policy and gun deaths skyrocketing in Israel as they did in the US, he will be looked at in retrospect as shooting himself and the country in the foot.