Being a first responder, I had the unfortunate opportunity to be present at the terror scene on Purim morning in Jerusalem. It wasn’t the first, the most casualties, or the most gruesome I’ve witnessed. But it did subsequently cause quite a bit of introspection about how we frame security in this country and where we need to improve.
It only seems logical to me that with the increase in terror attacks it would be prudent for our government to arm as many civilians as possible. Clearly, the security forces cannot be everyone, all the time. There isn’t enough manpower to post a police officer at every bus stop or a soldier to guard every street. It takes cooperation between the government and it’s civilian population to have a comprehensive defense strategy.
Having an extensive background in security affairs, both in the US and in Israel, I naturally find myself often comparing the two cultures.
In the US, we are fortunate to have a somewhat unique perspective on firearms. The US Constitution’s second amendment assures any mentally healthy, non-criminal the right to possess a gun.This is considered part of the inalienable God given rights enumerated by the Constitution to insure Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of justice. If God endowed us with life, then by extension, he has granted us with the ability to defend that life from those that would try and take it from us. These concepts of the Founding Fathers of the US were built with much wisdom after having experienced a very undemocratic ruler, named King George of England.
Conversely, in Israel, a young country that has yet to create a formal constitution, there is no such understanding. It’s inhabitants did not have, or were unaware of the tyranny experience. Hence, the laws that were adopted more closely mimic British and sometimes even Ottoman Turkish rules. Many like to see Israel as a European nation, stuck in the Middle East, where firearm ownership is a privilege that only the government can wield.
The debate is an old one, but I’d like to suggest that Israel, not only should consider, but is obligated to adopt laws closer to the US paradigm.
First, in a country like Israel, it is very easy to keep track of who should, and more importantly, who should not own a firearm. Unlike in the US, Israel has a mandatory draft. Where every 17 year old goes through a series of military initiated tests. They test each young man and women’s physical, mental and emotional well being. This continues after their draft, by evaluating them during their basic training, subsequent courses and at each promotion. This file even follows many after their active duty and into their reserve duty and middle age. Of course almost all recruits are trained in firearm safety and basic use.
Now, with all the talk in the US of background checks, no one would ever dream of suggesting such extensive testing in order to qualify for a firearm. But, here in Israel, we have everything any American gun control advocate could ask for and we still don’t deem it sufficient. Instead of promoting handgun ownership in Israel, one must have a solid prequalifying reason to own and gun, jump through numerous bureaucratic hoops, wait extended periods of time, and only then possibly gain the privilege of gun ownership. Surprisingly, unlike the US, this is not a partisan issue and is often ignored by both right and left-wing governments. In fact there has been a movement moving steadily away from private gun ownership. This fact is documented on the current Ministry of Public Security’s website, where is states:
“What Have we Accomplished?
1. A sharp decline in the number of licenses.
2. As a result of all the reforms and changes, the number of people carrying firearms has gone down significantly;”
Incredulously, even combat military personal are no longer carrying their army issued rifles home as they used to. It always gave me a strong sense of security to see our IDF soldiers walking around with their rifles, always ready and always vigilant. These days, I am always surprised to see soldiers walking around unarmed. Not only doesn’t it provide me with that sense of security, but I am truly concerned for their own safety, being natural terrorist targets.
What we need is to change our attitude towards gun ownership 180 degrees and start allowing qualified civilians to fill the gap that is desperately needed to provide Israel with a proper comprehensive defense in all places and at all hours.