How Israel Weighs Into The U.S. Gun Control Debate
[Video produced by TML Bureau Chief John Huddy]
Following another mass shooting in the U.S., gun control advocates point to the Jewish state as an example
When Hannah Rosenberg last visited her hometown of Jupiter, Florida, she was curious how easy it would be to acquire a gun.
“I applied for a license [in the United States] and I got it within 48 hours,” Rosenberg, who now lives in Jerusalem, explained. “I was able to walk into a Walmart and go purchase an assault rifle. No issues. They asked for my ID and that was it.”
But Rosenberg didn’t buy the firearm.
“There was no need for it,” she said.
Rosenberg moved to Israel in 2010 and served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), during which time she learned how to use a military grade rifle.
“I never touched a weapon my whole life,” Rosenberg told The Media Line. ”It’s bizarre at the beginning. Initially you feel like, ‘Oh this is so cool, I’m carrying a gun.’”
But in Israel, it is a privilege, not a right, to own a gun, something Rosenberg said she learned very quickly.
Israel’s strict firearm laws have become part of the discourse in America’s ongoing—and divisive—gun debate, especially in the wake of the February 14 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, which killed seventeen people.
The attack by Nikolas Cruz took place about 50 miles from Rosenberg’s hometown.
In stark contrast to the U.S., mass shootings have rarely occurred in Israel, a reality many attribute to the country’s strict regulations. It currently takes about two to three months for an Israeli to get approved for a private firearm license, which only allows for the ownership of handheld pistols. According to Israeli law, criminal and psychological background checks are among the criteria to get approved.
Even if a person passes the background checks, the government body that oversees the process then determines whether or not the weapon is necessary—for instance, to provide added protection to an Israeli living in the often unstable West Bank.
It is a marked difference from the American constitutional right to bear arms.
According to the latest figures available, Israel’s Ministry of Public Security in 2015 received about 20,000 applications for private firearm licenses—of which, less than half were approved. About 265,000 permits in total had been granted by 2015, with nearly half of them issued to security guards, who, unlike in the U.S., are stationed at the entrances to most public facilities in Israel.
Yitzhak Mizrahi, who owns Magnum 88, a shooting range just blocks away from Jerusalem’s Old City, told The Media Line that individuals who want to buy a gun from his store must be able to hit a target 35 times with 50 bullets in order to qualify for a license.
“I see the pistol, I know it’s very, very dangerous, but some people look at it like a toy,” he said when asked about mass shootings in the U.S.
When terror attacks increase, such as during the so-called “Stabbing Intifada” in 2015, Israel has eased restrictions on obtaining gun licenses.
Mizrahi says that starting in 2019 applicants will be able to receive a gun license for six years instead of three, but with testing required annually instead of every three years.
Israel’s Public Security Ministry confirmed to The Media Line in an email that the goal of the changes is to “amplify the sense of security in the public sphere from hazards.”
Many observers also attribute the low level of gun violence in Israel to the fact that military service is mandatory in the country. Accordingly, not only have most Israelis had weapons training, but because of their experience they have come to perceive firearms differently than Americans.
“[In the army], we’re taught in a different way,” said Itzik Kanner manager of Jerusalem Camping, a military surplus store in downtown Jerusalem. “A gun, it’s a tool, it can protect you first, but it can kill you so you have to respect it, otherwise you get lost.”
Mizrahi, owner of Magnum 88, conveyed a similar sentiment. “[Using a gun is a] last resort, if someone must protect himself. But he can shoot in the air and after that he can shoot for the leg, but don’t kill anyone,” he explained in reference to how the Israeli army trains its soldiers.
Rosenberg and others agree that proper training and education are key to preventing mass shootings.
“I’m all for the second amendment, the right to bear arms, but [people need to] know how to use them properly, be trained, be licensed,” she concluded. “Israel only allows one gun, and only handguns—no rifles. It’s very smart; you’re never going to have a school shooting here.”