Israel is facing the most serious state of emergency it has known since 1948, and strengthening the personal security of its citizens is obviously of huge importance. In a move purportedly aimed at bolstering that security, Israel’s government recently passed new regulations to expand the number of Israeli citizens eligible to apply for a handgun license.
The new regulations will allow hundreds of thousands of citizens to carry handguns on a permanent basis, without the necessary checks or oversight.
The changes to the threshold conditions and criteria for eligibility for a handgun license were passed too rapidly during the current emergency, with scant thought to the potentially dangerous consequences of an influx of handguns into public spaces.
In contrast to the United States, Israel’s firearm regulations before the war were relatively strict, with gun licenses only granted to private citizens who needed this added security in their daily lives or who were experienced with firearms due to their extensive combat service in the IDF.
The new regulations dramatically expand eligibility for a private handgun license in Israel. Before these changes, there were around 170,000 citizens with a handgun license. Following the approval of these regulations, this figure is projected to triple.
Neither the new regulations nor the Israeli Firearms Law contain a requirement for appropriate background checks to be carried out regarding the applicant’s mental health or whether they are on record with social services, before they are issued with a license. The possible implications of the new regulations for people with suicidal tendencies or for victims of domestic violence were not thoroughly examined, nor were the potential criminal uses of the now widely distributed handguns.
Most importantly, during this difficult and stressful time, the irresponsible distribution of weapons among the population can only increase tensions in the country.
The new regulations significantly reduce the standards for eligibility for a handgun license. Take, for instance, the criteria for former IDF soldiers to obtain a handgun. Previously, only former IDF soldiers who had received what is known in the army as “07 rifleman training” and above were eligible for a private handgun license. The new regulations allow any individual who served as a combat soldier to freely carry a handgun in the civilian sphere.
Minister of National Security Itamar Ben Gvir expanded that application of the new regulations even further to include IDF soldiers who have not completed their service in combat, but are over 21 and live or study in a location defined as entitling them to eligibility for a firearms license (including the West Bank).
The scope of the regulations passed by the Knesset raise serious concerns that the new regulations were not intended solely to address the current emergency, but rather seek to advance a broader agenda, one that the current national security minister had been promoting even before the war.
Ben Gvir actually published a draft of the regulations three months ago, weeks before the war. He submitted them for ratification by the Knesset National Security Committee, which is meant to oversee the work of the National Security Ministry. However, its current chair is a Knesset member from Ben Gvir’s own party. His goal in the discussions was to approve the new regulations on the same day, most likely at the request of Ben Gvir. By submitting the regulations for Knesset approval during the current state of emergency, the minister may be exploiting the situation in order to advance a controversial policy that he was already promoting beforehand, with no connection to the war.
What’s more, in the version distributed ahead of the discussion in the Knesset, the regulations were supposed to apply temporarily for the duration of the current security situation. However, at the last moment, the Ministry of National Security decided to make these radical changes permanent, with the approval of the Knesset National Security Committee.
This last minute decision could constitute a breach of proper procedure for approving regulations, among other reasons because there was no opportunity to prepare properly for the discussion in the Knesset and to enable all interested parties to be represented. The legal advisory team to the committee clearly stated that had it thought that the regulations were to be permanent, it would have opposed holding the discussion of the regulations at the current time.
It should be noted that when the emergency government was formed, it was decided that the government would focus only on decisions necessary to achieve defense goals, to ensure continuity, and to stabilize the economy, unless agreed by the heads of Netanyahu’s Likud and the centrist Blue and White party. The introduction of this new policy on handgun licenses by the minister of national security, without any time limit set on the application of the regulations, does not seem to fall into these categories.
The seriousness of the situation is only heightened by the fact that the Ministry of National Security is not collecting data about license holders and monitoring them. Thus, for example, the ministry is not tracking unusual events involving private handguns and there is no way of making an anonymous report to the ministry if a citizen wishes to warn of dangerous behavior by a family member who owns a firearm.
Weapons should only be distributed to citizens if common sense precautionary measures are applied, including extensive background checks before issuing a license and monitoring of license holders.
We may have to wait until the state of emergency ends before public debate can take place over these risky new regulations, meanwhile, we can only hope it won’t take a tragedy for the national security ministry to take measures that ensure deadly weapons don’t end up in the wrong hands.