Bennett's call on Israelis to bear arms is correct if done responsibly - editorial

Security forces, already on high alert for terrorists, must also be on the alert for trigger-happy civilians and security personnel firing on other citizens without just cause.

 Scene of stabbing attack in Beersheba, March 22, 2022 (photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)
Scene of stabbing attack in Beersheba, March 22, 2022
(photo credit: MEIR EVEN HAIM)

In a recorded video statement to the citizens of Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Wednesday called on licensed gun owners to arm themselves in public in the wake of three deadly terror attacks over the course of a week that claimed 11 innocent lives.

“Citizens of Israel, we are currently experiencing a wave of murderous terrorism,” Bennett declared. “What is expected of you, citizens of Israel? Alertness and responsibility. Open your eyes. Whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it.”

With many Israelis having served in the military, a higher percentage of citizens than in most countries know the responsible way to handle a gun. So Bennett’s appeal on Wednesday makes sense.

It should be stressed that Israeli law does not actually recognize a right to bear arms and anyone who wishes to carry a gun must meet a list of stringent requirements.

“The Firearm Licensing Department in the Israel Ministry of Public Security oversees the distribution of firearm licenses to Israeli residents, agencies and organizations,” the government’s official website states. “The Firearm Licensing Department operates in compliance with the Firearm Law of 1949 and according to the policy of the Minister of Public Security.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar at the Hadera police station after the attack. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Shin Bet head Ronen Bar at the Hadera police station after the attack. (credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)

The list of eligibility criteria to carry a gun includes the need to be a citizen or permanent resident above the age of 18 with at least a basic knowledge of Hebrew.  More importantly, in order to be issued with a gun permit, one needs to obtain a health declaration signed by a doctor and to undergo gun training, pass an exam and meet practical shooting requirements, in accordance with the Firearm Training Ordinance of 2018.

The stringent measures and the overall responsibility of Israeli citizens explain why there have been relatively few incidents in which citizens opened fire unnecessarily, compared with other countries. This is a record that must be upheld.

As attorney Michael Decker, a Jerusalem lawyer specializing in administrative law, explains, a firearms license in Israel is far more difficult to obtain than in the United States.

“Visitors from abroad may find that strange, considering the number of IDF soldiers and security personnel who openly carry weapons on the streets of Israel,” he notes. “However, the procedure for issuing a private weapons permit... for an Israeli who is not part of the defense establishment or the police is fairly restrictive.”

Israel doesn’t have a Second Amendment granting the right to bear arms such as in the US Constitution, Decker points out. “A firearms license is a privilege, not a right,” he writes. “Moreover, the government’s policy in recent years has been to reduce the number of private firearms held by Israeli citizens, due to the use of these weapons in violent acts.”

After a meeting of the security cabinet on Wednesday, the prime minister stressed that the primary mission of the government and security forces is “to prevent additional terrorist attacks and strengthen security and the sense of security among the public.”

Bennett stressed that police are now working on an emergency footing and the IDF is reinforcing police units “with 15 companies of our best soldiers.” In addition, all soldiers have been ordered to carry their weapons home when leaving their base.

Following the Beersheba attack that claimed the lives of four Israelis on Tuesday, the police announced that they would ease policies on opening fire for civilians faced with “neutralizing” terrorists. The move came after the police triggered a public controversy by confiscating guns from civilians who shot at the terrorist. The guns were later returned.

As necessary as the measure Bennett called for may be, it must be stressed, vigilante violence cannot be tolerated.

In right-wing protests against the new wave of terror this week, demonstrators have been heard to chant slogans such as “Death to Arabs” and threaten revenge attacks.

Security forces, already on high alert for terrorists, must also now make sure that these protests do not spin out of control. They need to be on the alert for trigger-happy civilians and security personnel firing on other citizens without just cause.

For more information on carrying arms in Israel, contact the Firearm Licensing Information and Service Center at [email protected] or call 077-2324444. In the meantime, to those who carry arms, please heed the words of the prime minister: Be both alert and responsible.