For or against easing gun controls – neither side wants an Israeli Second Amendment

Likud MK Ohana says giving more trained Israelis guns would be a “force multiplier” for IDF and police, while MK Zandberg worries that once more guns are out there “we don’t know where they’ll go."

A man looks at guns in a gun shop in Tel Aviv, October 20, following a wave of stabbings by Palestinians that led Israelis to look to self-defense measures (photo credit: REUTERS)
A man looks at guns in a gun shop in Tel Aviv, October 20, following a wave of stabbings by Palestinians that led Israelis to look to self-defense measures
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Gun control isn’t usually a major political issue here, but it has come up in a big way in recent months, after several terrorists in the current wave of terrorism were subdued by civilians.
The debate on gun control came to a head in Monday’s inaugural meeting of the Knesset Caucus on Firearms Policy – perhaps the closet Israel has ever gotten to a US-style “gun lobby” – but even those in favor of easing regulations have made it clear that they’re not gunning for Israel to adopt the Second Amendment.
“I’m not looking for people to be able to buy a gun at Wal-Mart,” MK Amir Ohana (Likud), who founded the caucus, quipped to The Jerusalem Post in his Knesset office this week.
The Second Amendment to the US Constitution states: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” The legal interpretations of that sentence are myriad, contentious and beyond the scope of this article, but the US is the world leader in civilian gun ownership, with more such firearms than people.
In Israel, where there are 7.3 legal civilian-owned firearms per 100 people according to research institute Small Arms Survey, gun ownership is treated like a highly regulated privilege, not a right.
To buy a gun, Israelis must obtain a license via the Public Security Ministry, which they can only get if they meet certain criteria, and can only buy guns at licensed gun shops.
Among the requirements are living in Israel for at least three years, speaking basic Hebrew, a minimum age of 21 for citizens who did army or civilian service, 27 for citizens who didn’t and 45 for non-citizens, a signed doctor’s note, and being properly trained.
Once an Israeli gets a license, he or she can only own one firearm, in most cases, and get a lifetime supply of 50 bullets that cannot be replenished.
Israelis can only get a gun if they have what is considered by the Public Security Ministry to be a good reason, such as if they work in security or law enforcement, or if they live or work in a settlement in which the state has an interest in arming some residents.
In addition, former officers in the IDF and other security branches above a certain rank can get a license.
Ohana’s proposal, which he said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan supports, is to expand the list of people who can get a license to anyone who does reserve duty, combat or not, as long as they do not have a criminal record or mental health problem.
There are 445,000 reservists, according to the Institute for National Security Studies, meaning that if everyone Ohana proposes to allow to get a gun license chose to do so and purchase a firearm, the amount of legally-owned civilian guns would increase by nearly two-thirds.
The Likud MK says his easing of gun controls maintains strict criteria, and, in fact, he would make one factor even more strict, requiring an annual visit to a shooting range to renew a license, instead of once every three years.
The reason for his proposal is to fight terrorism. “More weapons in the hands of the right people are a force multiplier for the authorities. It wouldn’t just increase security, it would increase a sense of security. Terrorism wins not just by increasing the number of deaths, but by the amount of fear it creates,” he said.
“Eight attacks in Jerusalem in recent months were stopped by civilians with weapons,” he added. “How many lives could have been saved if the number of people with guns was higher?” If more qualified people carry weapons, Ohana posited, the aftermath of the shooter in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day, who killed three, would not have been able to get away, and Tel Aviv residents would not have been afraid to send their children to school in the subsequent days.
“Israel has a reputation as a place where everyone has guns, but it’s not true,” he said. “We deal with the threat of terrorism, so you would think we would have a higher percentage of people with guns.”
Opponents of Ohana’s proposal point out that guns can be used in ways other than to stop terrorists, even if they are obtained legally.
In fact, the Tel Aviv shooter, Nashat Milhem, stole the gun he used from his security guard father, who owned and stored it legally. Ohana’s response to that was to point out the law says a gun must be either on the licensee or in a safe, and called for that law to be better enforced.
MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) warned that “there is a danger that too many civilian- owned guns will cost more lives than it will save.”
Zandberg pointed to cases of murder within families, some of which were perpetrated by security guards or soldiers who took their guns home.
“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,” Zandberg said following the caucus meeting.
Referring to mass shootings in the US, Zandberg said: “The moment guns are allowed, we can’t know where things will go. Guns, first of all, are used to kill.”
The Meretz MK also took issue with the idea of “letting everyone be a soldier or police officer without proper training or authorization.”
“The way to deal with a security problem is not to give guns to civilians and tell them to work it out on their own,” she said.
Ohana said he can’t rule out the possibility that lax gun controls will cause murders, but posited that most murder cases in Israel do not involve guns, but knives, hammers and strangulation.
“If you want to murder me, you can do it without a gun, but you can’t stop a terrorist attack without a gun. I haven’t seen an attack stopped by tear gas... We can’t send Israelis to war with umbrellas and shopping carts,” he said, referring to creative solutions some used to subdue terrorists.
According to Ohana, the last murder in the country involving a legally obtained gun was in 2014, “and how many civilians have been killed because of a lack of guns since then?” he asked.
“Terrorism isn’t a new threat; it’s been here since Jews decided to return to their homeland, and it isn’t going to leave us soon, so we need to get creative.”