Israel’s New Public Security Minister Weighs Tightening Gun License Applications

Move signals potential unraveling of lax gun laws implemented by executive orders over the Netanyahu years, which saw the number of civilians holding gun permits rise to 140,000

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
A man takes aim at a firing range in Tel Aviv.
A man takes aim at a firing range in Tel Aviv. Credit: Ofer Vaknin
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev is examining the possibility of making it harder to obtain a gun license, following years of policies that facilitated the proliferation of civilian access to firearms.

Any proposed changes will to be brought to the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee for approval, in a policy shift. Bar-Lev’s predecessors advanced gun policy without obtaining Knesset approval and flouted objections by the attorney general.

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The criteria for gun ownership were significantly expanded in 2018 by then Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan by way of executive orders, flying in the face of objections that such changes required the approval of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.

A woman checks out a new pistol at a gun shop in Tel Aviv in 2015. Credit: Baz Ratner / Reuters

In 2018, on the grounds that the sensitive security situation in Israel justified an increase of the number of civilians licensed to carry weapons, Erdan issued an executive order whereby every former combat soldier could receive a gun permit with the approval of the police and the Health Ministry.

Previously, licenses were generally restricted to combat veterans at the rank of first lieutenant or above. This new criterion was in addition to existing criteria that bestowed gun permits on those residing in certain areas, such as the borderlands or in the West Bank, farmers, volunteers in rescue services such as Magen David Adom and Zaka, and certain other professionals.

Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev at a Labor party meeting this month.

That Erdan implemented such new criteria on his own, without obtaining the Interior Committee’s approval, overstepped his ministerial authority, claimed a coalition of social organizations, the “Gun on the Kitchen Table” project, in a petition to the High Court of Justice. Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit agreed with their position too, the petition revealed.

In an unusual move, Erdan’s successor, Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, objected to the attorney general’s position and demanded to present his own – that the minister acting alone has the authority to make such changes – independently in court. Ohana supported his predecessor’s policy easing access to gun permits for civilians.

A security guard at Tel Aviv's Dizengoff Center in 2019.

Today, some 140,000 Israelis hold carry permits, not including members of security services who carry guns for their jobs. Most licenses have been issued to former combat soldiers and to those living in eligible communities. Applications for personal gun licenses increased dramatically after the military operation in Gaza in May.

As for the thousands of guns issued to security guards working for private companies, Bar-Lev has extended permits allowing the guards to carry guns off-hours by another four months, with the intention that his office re-examine the issue in the interim.

Lawyers Anne Soccio of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Neta Levy of Women Lawyers for Social Justice lauded Bar-Lev for taking a “step in the right direction” by recognizing that gun license criteria should be regulated by laws formulated in “a transparent process open to public comments.”

Drawing attention to the link between guns, the murder of women and suicide, the two also expressed hope that the new minister will change “the distorted policy,” that the Interior Committee will limit existing criteria and for a return to the arms reduction policy in place for decades.

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