In response to a wave of terrorist attacks, Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has approved easing a number of restrictions on private gun ownership, which he described as a “force multiplier” to fill gaps the police and military cannot cover.
U.S. gun advocates said Israel’s decision holds important lessons for American policymakers about the usefulness of guns as personal self-defense tools.
“It shows that they have a realistic attitude,” said Charles Heller, a volunteer media coordinator for the Wisconsin-based Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership.
President Obama is mulling ways to tighten regulation of guns in the United States, even as crime is rising in many cities. Israel is starting to draw the opposite conclusion about allowing citizens to carry. Israel, it seems, is beginning to embrace the rationale behind the Second Amendment even as the U.S. president rejects it.
To be sure, even after the move on Wednesday, and a previous loosening of regulations in November, Israel maintains far stricter controls on guns than the United States.
Israel passed a spate of gun-control laws in 1995 following the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. But the country pulled back slightly in November of that year after a series of terrorist attacks. The new rules declared Jerusalem and 41 other cities and towns “high-priority” areas where residents could more easily obtain firearms permits.
In addition, before Wednesday, security firms could allow employees to take guns home from work, and people could receive military-grade weapons on a case-by-case basis, according to the Times of Israel.
On Wednesday, the government went further, according to the Jerusalem Post. Local authorities in “high-priority” areas now can grant approval to carry weapons in certain instances. Previously, only those licensed by the firearms licensing branch of the Public Security Ministry had that right.
Erdan also ordered gun permits be granted to graduates of certain elite security forces units, along with some people who have completed government security courses.
Privately armed citizens can improve the odds of halting terrorism attacks.
In announcing the changes, Erdan recognized that privately armed citizens can improve the odds of halting terrorism attacks, particularly the increasingly common “lone wolf” attacks that have no backing from terrorist organizations.
“In recent weeks, many citizens helped the Israel police neutralize terrorists carrying out attacks,” he said, according to the Times of Israel. “Citizens trained in the use of firearms are a force multiplier in the struggle against terror.”
“It’s terrible. It’s almost as bad as New Jersey,” Heller quipped. “What they’re going to is more like New York than New Jersey.”
Guns are far more prevalent in the United States. There are almost 89 guns for every 100 people, compared with a rate of 7.3 per 100 in Israel, according to the Small Arms Survey.
But Heller said Israel’s moves are a step in the right direction after what he called an overreaction to the Rabin murder. He predicted that Israelis will find they are safer with guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens.
Before this week’s action by the Israeli government, some mayors across that country had called on citizens to carry guns. Middle East Eye, quoting an Arabic-language news site, reported that Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asked citizens with gun licenses to carry weapons for their own protection.
As in the United States, the notion of an armed citizenry is controversial among some politicians. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said shifting the responsibility from the state to the citizens would lead to chaos, according to Middle East Eye.
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Crime is less of an issue in Israel than in the United States. The firearm homicide rate is more than 30 times as high in the United States, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Terror attacks, though, are more common.
As a justification for private gun ownership, Heller said he sees little distinction between crime and terrorism.
“Threat is threat; dead is dead,” he said. “You’re just as dead whether you’re killed by a terrorist or a criminal.”