Israel to Restrict Gun Possession for Security Guards, but Continues Lenient Permit Policy

Facing criticism over response to murder cases, public security minister's decision reduces number of security guards permitted to bear arms outside working hours

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan at a police station opening in Ariel, December 2019.
Moti Milrod

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan has signed an order to reduce the number of security guards permitted to bear weapons outside of working hours.

According to the new ordinance, as published on Monday in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth, security guards will not be allowed to take their guns home at the end of their shift in institutions that have around-the-clock security, starting July. They will be allowed to take their weapons home from institutions with part-time security, such as schools and entertainment venues.

Four years ago, Erdan approved carrying weapons after hours, while adopting a policy that made it easier to obtain a gun permit.

This new ordinance is expected to cut the number of gun-carrying security guards outside work hours by half. There are currently 148,108 weapons in private hands as well as 31,391 weapons in the possession of companies providing security services. This does not include members of the police or the military.

According to figures of the Gun-Free Kitchen Table anti-gun coalition, seven people were shot dead by weapons carried by security guards since Erdan’s change of policy in 2015. The latest fatality was Yelena Yitzhakbaev, shot dead by her partner Slavik Mavashev with a pistol he possessed as part of his work as a security guard. Erdan’s bureau said that the minister’s decision was unrelated to any specific incident.

Erdan’s current decision reverses his earlier move to expand the number of people carrying weapons in public spaces. In 2013, following appeals by civil society groups to then-Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, it was decided that security guards would not be allowed to carry guns after work. Gun-Free Kitchen Table members say that 36 men and women were shot dead by such guns between 2002 and 2013.

An armed security guard in front of the Ramle municipality building, November 20, 2019.
Ilan Assayag

Erdan’s decision in 2015 was a result of the deterioration in the security situation, in an attempt to assist security forces in protecting the public.

In 2018, Erdan decided to further increase the number of private gun owners. He expanded the criteria used for approving permits to include former combat soldiers and reserve officers with a rank of captain or higher. He described the move as an attempt to combat lone-wolf attacks. The High Court of Justice is currently hearing a petition filed by Gun-Free Kitchen Tables against Erdan’s expanded criteria.

In response to the petition, the state claims there is no correlation between carrying a licensed gun in public spaces and murders perpetrated against family members. The state provided figures showing that only three of 39 murders of women by their husbands between 2015 and 2018 were committed with licensed guns.

The minister himself has claimed in the past that there is no connection between an increase in the acts of murder and owning a licensed weapon. “There is no limit to distortion and misleading assertions when the media outlets want to promote an agenda,” wrote Erdan on Twitter. “Firearms are involved in acts of murder when the person owns his gun illegally, not in the case of ordinary law-abiding citizens who have gun permits. The comparison is baseless and absurd.”

Anne Suciu of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel commented: “Erdan’s decision to reduce by half the number of security guards who will be permitted to take their weapons home is welcome, but it reflects the arbitrary nature of his expansive weapons policy. We must hope that Erdan’s current decision is only a first step on the way to a return to a restrictive and responsible policy of firearms licensing.”

Erdan’s bureau commented: “Security guards have always taken their weapons home at the end of the shift. That situation is even an official part of the decision of Public Security Minister Aharonovitch in 2014. Minister Erdan decided in 2015 to continue this policy as a response to the terror events and the wave of terror that began in September 2015.” The bureau added that the decision “has no connection to the specific use by any security guard of his weapon, but to the national perspective that balances between the need to create a quick solution to terror events and the need to reduce the presence of guns in residences.”