The army has restricted private handguns on its bases, in the wake of a rise in the number of accidents involving such weapons.
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Regulations introduced a few months ago require anyone who is licensed to carry a handgun to also receive a permit from an officer at the rank of colonel or above before bringing it on base. Such permits are valid for only one year.
The gun owner must also promise to comply with all gun laws, to receive gun safety training and to have some shooting practice.
A handgun can only be used in self-defense, only in an emergency and is prohibited from use on a military shooting range.
In 2016 there was a spike in the number of incidents in which handguns discharged unintentionally. The army attributed this to the rise in the number of private handguns on its bases.
This trend became evident with the wave of terror incidents that began in October 2015 and the introduction of a laxer policy in granting permits, initiated by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan after he took office.
That new policy permitted any officer with the rank of first lieutenant or above to obtain a handgun permit. As a result, greater numbers of career army officers, noncommissioned officers and reserve duty officers began carrying their own handguns in military bases.
According to army figures, in 2016 there were 14 negligent discharges from privately-owned handguns on bases in 2016, compared to just four such incidents in 2015. In 2017 to date, there have been four incidents of accidental discharge, in what is seen as vindication of the new policy.
“Most of these incidents occurred when soldiers played with their weapons” said an officer in the Ground Forces Command who was speaking on condition of anonymity.
“A pistol is considered a sexy object that excites people. Therefore, deputy commanders of all units were requested to review procedures regarding private guns,” the officer said.
The Ground Forces Command has enlisted modern communication technology in the service of firearms safety, sending text messages asking reserve soldiers and officers to leave their handguns at home when reporting for duty except in special circumstances, such as for people living in dangerous areas.
And because private handguns cannot be stored in its armories, the army has instructed reserve units to collect and store the magazines from such weapons for the duration of the reserve service.
Since Erdan took office as public security minister, restrictions on handgun permits for civilians have been eased.
Erdan has talked about this on many occasions, saying in 2016 that “we want to see more trained civilians carrying guns in our streets.”
Before the easing of restrictions, a rank of captain was the lowest required for obtaining a private handgun. Erdan even considered reducing the threshold even lower, so that every demobilized infantry soldier could carry one.