Tel Aviv Shooter's Father Held Gun License Even After Son Attacked Soldier

Israel recently formulated legislation to enable security guards to take their weapons home. 'If that weapon was stored according to law, everything would have looked differently.'

Mourners place candles at the scene of a deadly shooting attack in downtown Tel Aviv on January 2, 2016.
Ofer Vaknin

The suspected assailant in Friday's Tel Aviv shooting at the Simta pub Friday apparently used a Spectre, an Italian-made semi-automatic pistol. The weapon belonged to Mashat Melhem's father, who works for a security firm in Hadera.

The father reportedly identified his son after viewing a video of the attack. He contacted the police after he discovered his gun was missing after viewing the video. The father said that the safe in which the gun was kept was undamaged, which means that whoever opened had obtained the combination.

Spectres (also known as "Falcon") were indeed once in common use by security firms, but have fallen in popularity. Security firms preferred it for a number of reasons. While the weapon is a semi-automatic, it is defined in its permit as a pistol. This allows security guards accompanying school trips to carry the weapon, since it is considered a long-barreled gun.

According to Public Security Ministry directives, any licensed weapon, whether privately owned or owned by a security firm, must be kept in a safe. The latest regulations issued by the ministry, allowing security guards to take their weapons home rather than store them at the place of business they have been assigned to guard, has recently been extended. Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan also intended to change the law, enabling security guards to take their weapons home. Initial legislation has already been formulated about it, as reported in Haaretz.

The new bill was placed on the agenda of the Ministerial Committee for Legislation before Friday’s terror attack in Tel Aviv. The new version of the law states once again that weapons issued to security guards are to be in their possession only during their shift. However, local authorities will be able to make rules about carrying weapons at times other than during their shift.

“If that weapon had not been in the family’s home but stored as required by the permanent law, everything would have looked differently,” according to the coalition of human rights group Gun Free Kitchen Tables, which opposes changing the law.

To receive a weapon and work as a security guard, a gun permit must be obtained by the firm for their guards. As part of the process, the police and the Health Ministry check out the individual. When renewing a gun permit, the permit holder must also fill out a health form and have it signed by a family doctor. 

These checks are based mainly on personal information by the individual requesting the carry permit. Milhem had served a prison sentence for attacking a soldier and attempting to grab his weapon in 2007. It is possible that, like the 2013 murder in a Be’er Sheva bank by Itamar Alon, who held a permit for a gun, oversight of individuals licensed to carry guns becomes more lax over time. If the gun used in the attack was indeed held by a permit from a security firm, the question arises whether more extensive checks should be made while giving or renewing a gun permit.