Thousands of Guns Could Flood Streets as Israel Seeks to Ease Restrictions

Public Security Ministry's proposal would allow any citizen with infantry firearms training to be eligible for a gun permit

File photo: Armed security guards in Israel.
Tomer Appelbaum

The Public Security Ministry is expected to lower the bar for obtaining a firearm license, in a move the ministry estimates will increase by 35,000 to 40,000 the number of Israeli civilians with a gun permit.

The ministry's proposal, which would allow any citizen with infantry firearms training to be eligible for a gun permit, comes around two years after Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan relaxed the criteria for gun licenses.

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Some 145,000 Israelis have valid gun permits, not including soldiers, police officers and others who who carry firearms on the job. Gun permits are valid for three years, after which they must be renewed or the firearm forfeited. The ministry expects that some 35,000 to 40,000 civilians would apply for gun permits following the move, which would bring the number of Israeli civilians carrying guns to almost 200,000.

Preconditions for obtaining a firearm license include being at least 21 and in good health, in addition to living in a settlement or near either the West Bank separation barrier or a national border.

Erdan has on a number of occasions called for relaxing the requirements in order to increase the number of civilians who tote guns, in light of the wave of terror attacks that began in 2015 and a number of incidents in which civilians were able to stop or prevent attacks. In 2016, following his directives, eligibility was expanded to include officers with the rank of first lieutenant or higher and noncommissioned officers with the rank of master sergeant or higher who continue to do reserve duty as well as veterans of special units, farmers, tour guides and paramedics. As a result, thousands of new firearms permits were issued.

The Israel Police have not expressed opposition to expanding the potential number of gun owners, but they did request oversight to guarantee proper instruction in the use of guns. To that end, the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee is advancing new regulations to expand and improve firearm instruction, including increasing to four-and-a-half hours, from two hours, the initial class in handling guns.

"A civilian who carries a gun is more of a solution than a threat, and serves as a force multiplier for the security forces. Even in the most optimistic scenario, we won't have a Special Ops unit in every neighborhood but during the terror wave we saw that skilled civilians save lives.... A law-abiding citizen with the basic necessary skills should be allowed to protect himself and his surroundings," said Likud MK Amir Ohana, who heads the Knesset caucus for shaping gun-carrying policy.

A number of social service organizations, however, oppose the plan to put guns into the hands of more private individuals. Gun-Free Kitchen Tables, a coalition formed to reduce the proliferation of firearms in Israel, asked to call attention to two murders carried out by security guards with their weapons from work, as well as the 2016 terror attack on Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Street, carried out by Nashat Melhem with the submachine gun his father was licensed to own.