After a spate of terror attacks in 2015, Israel opted to loosen its firearms restrictions so that more citizens could help to defend themselves and their communities. According to a recent report from Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the Ministry of Public Security is considering further liberalizing the country’s firearms licensing process.
Under current Israeli law, prospective firearms licensees must demonstrate a “personal or public need, as decided by the authorities” in order to obtain a license. As explained in a November 2016 document published by the Ministry, other eligibility requirements include Israeli residency for at least three years, fluency in Hebrew, and good health. Applicants are also required to complete a firearms training course and undergo an interview with the firearms licensing bureau.
The 2015 changes relaxed the guidelines on who qualifies for a firearms license. Specifically, the guidelines made more active and reserve officers in the Israeli Defense Force eligible, along with civilians who have completed one of several security guard courses. By the end of that year, there were a total of 264,679 firearms licenses in the country of 8.5 million. Private firearm licenses accounted for 143,943 of the total, while security guards accounted for the other 120,736.
Characterizing the new proposal, the Haaretz article noted that the new measure would “allow any citizen with infantry firearms training to be eligible for a gun permit.” Israel has a system of compulsory military service, therefore a significant portion of the population has received some firearms training. In concert with this shift, the Israel Police and Knesset (Legislature) Interior and Environment Committee are working on a more comprehensive firearms license training course, upping the mandatory 2 hour lesson to four and a half hours. The Ministry estimates that the change will increase the number of citizens with gun licenses by 35,000 to 40,000.
Discussing the matter with Haaretz, Knesset Member Amir Ohana explained,
A civilian who carries a gun is more of a solution than a threat, and serves as a force multiplier for the security forces. Even in the most optimistic scenario, we won't have a Special Ops unit in every neighborhood but during the terror wave we saw that skilled civilians save lives.... A law-abiding citizen with the basic necessary skills should be allowed to protect himself and his surroundings.
Ohana’s recognition of the role an armed citizenry can play in thwarting terrorist violence is similar to the sentiment expressed by former Interpol Secretary General Ronald K. Noble to ABC News in 2013.
Societies have to think about how they're going to approach the problem.... One is to say we want an armed citizenry; you can see the reason for that. Another is to say the enclaves are so secure that in order to get into the soft target you're going to have to pass through extraordinary security.
The law enforcement official went on to add,
Ask yourself: If that was Denver, Col., if that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly?... What I'm saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control. It makes citizens question their views on gun control. You have to ask yourself, 'Is an armed citizenry more necessary now than it was in the past with an evolving threat of terrorism?' This is something that has to be discussed… People are quick to say 'gun control, people shouldn't be armed,' etc., etc. I think they have to ask themselves: 'Where would you have wanted to be? In a city where there was gun control and no citizens armed if you're in a Westgate mall, or in a place like Denver or Texas?
Moreover, the FBI has recently acknowledged the potential for armed citizens to combat mass violence. An April 2018 FBI report titled, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, stated,
Armed and unarmed citizens engaged the shooter in 10 incidents. They safely and successfully ended the shootings in eight of those incidents. Their selfless actions likely saved many lives. The enhanced threat posed by active shooters and the swiftness with which active shooter incidents unfold support the importance of preparation by law enforcement officers and citizens alike.
As the Ministry of Public Safety makes clear on their website, Israeli “law does not recognize a right to keep and bear arms.” However, it is encouraging that the small nation is moving in a direction that will allow more of its citizens to exercise their inalienable right to self-defense.