Israel Relaxes Gun Regulations Amid Escalating Violence

New guidelines will arm reserve officers, authorize certain local authorities to allow residents to carry guns, overturning policy of recent years to limit civilian firearms possession.

A Palestinian man attacks a Jewish man with a knife after ramming his vehicle into him, as a civilian security guard with a gun closes in. Jerusalem, October 13, 2015.
Screengrab / AP

Following the wave of terror attacks across the country, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has directed that obtaining permits to carry firearms be made easier. “In light of the security situation I’ve decided to make it easier to obtain a permit for owning a weapon,” he said Wednesday.

“In recent weeks many civilians have assisted the police in stopping terrorists who were carrying out attacks. Civilians who are skilled at using firearms are a multiplier force in our struggle against terrorists, so I’ve taken steps to make obtaining guns easier for now.”

Under the new guidelines, officers with the rank of first lieutenant or higher and NCOs with the rank of master sergeant or higher who are serving in the army as conscripted or reserve soldiers will be entitled to obtain weapons, as will former or current members of special units serving in regular or reserve units. The guidelines also apply to civilians who have taken courses as security guards at the Israel Airports Authority, the Shin Bet security service or any institution approved by Israel Police.

As part of this temporary measure, Erdan instructed that bureaucratic limitations that were imposed on requests for weapons be removed in “appropriate locales.” In these local authorities, permits may be given to residents or to people staying in these communities, subject to the law and obtaining the required permits.

When guns are exchanged, according to the new directives, the original reasons for obtaining them will no longer be reevaluated. The minister instructed professional authorities to look into providing extra training to improve the skills of those currently holding firearms. Better and more frequent training is being proposed.

In recent years, the Interior Ministry has tried to limit the criteria that enable a civilian to carry a firearm. This came in the wake of many cases in which weapons held with a permit were used to commit murder, especially within families. In 2014, a regulation allowing anyone legally holding a firearm for more than 10 years to keep it, even if that person no longer meets the original criteria, was cancelled. The stipulation allowing diamond dealers and jewelry-store owners to carry guns was also rescinded.

A policy of “a gun for every citizen” usually resurfaces after security-related events, with some people arguing that the more people carry weapons, the higher people’s personal safety will be. Opponents say that there is not enough monitoring and supervision of people carrying firearms. This applies to private citizens with guns who have met the required criteria, as well as people carrying firearms as part of their work as security guards or in security-related jobs.

Thus, for example, after disgruntled customer Itamar Alon shot dead four people at a bank branch in Be’er Sheva then turned the gun on himself in 2013, it turned out that the Public Security Ministry relies only on a health status declaration signed by a family doctor when issuing a permit, with no background checks of mental health. The ministry also relied on people whose circumstances change (such as moving to communities where a gun is no longer necessary) to report to the authorities. This was cancelled after the Alon case, so that indefinite possession of a firearm beyond 10 years is no longer possible.

The distribution of firearms came up for discussion in the past in relation to security guards and the non-enforcement of the rule obliging them to hand in their weapons after duty. A coalition of women’s groups called “the gun on the kitchen table” publicized the number of women who were murdered by partners working as security guards. This raised public awareness of the problem caused by not enforcing the directive. Following their action, the ministry conducted a comprehensive reform, including a requirement for installing safes in security guards’ homes, followed by a ban on their taking their weapons home.