A man saying a prayer.
A man saying a prayer in front of the entrance to the Be'er Sheva bank, a day after the shooting. Photo by Eliyahu Hershkovitz
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Reuters
Police forensics expert is seen through the glass doors after the shooting, Be'er Sheva, May 20, 2013. Photo by Reuters

One day after a Be'er Sheva man shot dead four people in a local bank before turning his gun on himself, the Public Security Ministry on Tuesday announced new rules to limit the number of guns in circulation. School security guards will have to turn in their weapons, which guarding firms will reissue at the start of the new school year. Licensed gun owners will have to store their weapon in a safe at home. Security companies must obtain special exemptions from being required to store a weapon when its bearer is off duty, only one gun license will be issued to any single individual and anyone applying to renew a gun license must show why they need a weapon.

In addition, a panel will be appointed to consider administering mental and physical examinations to license applicants.

"Limiting gun ownership is at the top of our agenda, and I intend to hold a weekly follow-up meeting on the subject," Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said in the statement.

"The security situation in Israel in recent decades has led to the granting of numerous gun licenses. We intend to restrict this while protecting necessary balance. In the last 10 years the number of licenses of firearms has been reduced from 300,000 to 160,000, and now we are reducing the number of licensed firearm-carriers by 10,000 a year," Aharonovitch said in the statement.

According to the Public Security Ministry, diamond dealers and gold-shop owners can no longer receive a license to carry a gun. Only people who work or live in "risk areas" -- West Bank settlements or communities near the Green Line -- or who drive trucks carrying explosives can obtain a license.

Soldiers in the regular army from the rank of captain, and in the reserves from the rank of colonel (or captain on active duty) can obtain a license.

The ministry is scrutinizing one criterion in particular -- that any person who has had a license to carry a handgun for more than 10 years (or 15 years for an air rifle), is entitled to an unconditional, permanent license. In addition to the approximately 160,000 people licensed to carry private weapons, most of whom have handguns, another several thousand own licensed air or hunting rifles.

The ministry says it knows of 6,500 people who have not renewed their licenses on time. According to ministry policy, a few months before a gun license expires the ministry sends a notice to the owner to "prove a reason" for owning the gun. However, action is not usually taken against people who do not renew their licenses on time.

The police and the Public Security Ministry recently launched a campaign to collect weapons whose licenses have expired. As part of the campaign, the police have received the names of 6,500 who have not renewed their license, but people who turn in their weapon have been promised that they will not be prosecuted. The Public Security Ministry statement issued Tuesday noted that some 70 firearms had so far been returned as a result of the campaign.

"We will continue to look into restricting the criteria so as to limit as much as possible the number of firearms unnecessarily in the hands of civilians, so that a tragic event like Tuesday's in Be'er Sheva does not recur," the minister's statement said.