The People Going to Profit From Israel's New Relaxed Gun Policy

Backers of new regulation say comparisons to raging gun problem in the United States are overblown: ‘There it’s automatic arsenals, here it’s permission for a single pistol’

An Israeli woman checks out a new pistol at a gun shop in Tel Aviv October 20, 2015.
REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israeli weapons importers may see a 1.5 billion shekel windfall thanks to a new regulation that would make it easier for more Israelis to carry firearms.

The change, announced last week by the Public Security Ministry, would make many more Israelis eligible to apply for weapons permits. Minister Gilad Erdan’s proposal would enable applications by Israel Defense Forces vets who received military training for level 07 weapons and above, as well as volunteers for the police and first-response organizations including Zaka, Ichud Hatzalah, and also military officers.

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This proposal would have a drastic impact on Israel’s arms market. The Public Security Ministry’s permits department estimates that it would make another 500,000 Israelis eligible to apply for a permit.

Sector sources say that the average gun in Israel is purchased for 2,800 to 4,200 shekels, meaning total potential sales of 1.5 billion shekels.

Based on previous experience, the ministry estimates that only some 5% of eligible citizens are likely to actually go through with the process, receive a permit and buy a weapon. This would work out to 75 million shekels in weapons sold to some 30,000 individuals.

But the ministry could yet be surprised. The militaristic atmosphere in today’s Israel, encouraged by the government, as well as a widespread increased feeling of a lack of security, could push more citizens to buy weapons.

Furthermore, past experience indicates that Israel may have latent demand. As of 1995, more than 320,000 Israelis had weapons permits, and 6% of Israelis legally owned a gun. The ministry’s policy limiting weapons permits over the subsequent two decades reduced that figure to its current 1.6%.

The ministry has begun reversing course over the past two years, during which period some 10,000 more Israelis bought guns. Some 8,000 were purchased in 2017 alone.

After taking into account population growth, if interest remains as high as it was in the 1990s, some half a million Israelis may seek to buy a gun once conditions are relaxed.

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Israeli may find itself, for the first time, witnessing advertisements for guns.

The civilian gun market is controlled by a handful of established importers that don’t generally advertise.

The big profits are expected to go to the importers of Glock as well as Smith and Wesson, and Israeli businessman Sammy Katsav, whose company manufactures Israel’s Jericho pistol.

Herzl Kavlo, head of the gun permits department at the Interior Ministry, said they’ve seen an increase in interest over the past few days since Erdan’s new regulation was announced. He noted that the office has also started accepting online applications and fully computerized services, making it easier to apply.

Wave of knifings pushed up demand

Kavlo noted that his department tracks and analyzes demand for weapons permits.

“There were periods when we were swamped by thousands of phone calls and we couldn’t answer them all, such as during October and November 2015, during the peak of the knife terror attacks,” he noted. Nowadays, the office has an organized customer service department, he said, and everything is online, up until the personal interview with an office clerk.

“We’ve calculated that we’re handling twice the number of people, and our online service is handling three or four times the number of people than what we saw over the years,” he said.

Currently, there are some 140,000 Israelis with permits who own 148,000 guns, he said. Those who own more than one often have one for personal protection and another for sporting. “The office believes that a person should not have more than one gun. From our experience, of the 20,000-30,000 people who will take out a new gun permit, not everyone will immediately run to buy a gun. It will happen gradually,” said Kavlo.

Israel’s main guns manufacturer is IWI, owned by Katsav, but most of the guns in the country are imported, meaning that local industry won’t be the main recipient of profits. The biggest local importer is M.R.D. Afram, the official importer of Glock, the best-known brand on the Israeli market. Second is Lahav, the importer of Smith and Wesson. In total, there are about 20 importers in Israel; some five importers control most of the market, while the others import only a handful of guns.

Other companies that will potentially profit are local shooting ranges and shooting instructors.

The small local market and the high cost of import all push up the price of guns well beyond that in the United States. Importers have a gross profit margin of 5% to 10%, while stores have a gross profit margin of 35% to 40% of a gun’s sale prices, estimate sector sources. These revenues are before calculating mandatory expenses such as security systems, computer systems tracking gun ownership and frequent inventory counts.

Israel’s gun importers are active in the caucus calling to change the country’s gun permit policy. The head of the caucus is MK Amir Ohana (Likud), who says he sees no reason that vets who received permission to carry a military rifle shouldn’t also be able to carry a gun in civilian life. That said, he adds that it is reasonable that the process of expanding gun permits be carried out gradually.

Another supporter of the reform is Uriel Lynn, head of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce. Lynn says he supports the new rule for ideological reasons as a response to Palestinian terror, and that he personally carries a Glock pistol with an 8-10 bullet magazine.

Lynn says that comparisons to the gun situation in the United States are overblown.

“In the United States you can arm yourself to the teeth and own an arsenal of automatic weapons and carry out a massive massacre. Here we’re talking about carrying a single pistol. It’s true that there were cases when people used guns to kill family members, but that’s not a reason to limit our defense against terror,” he says.

A complicated, expensive process

It’s true that the Israeli gun market does not resemble the American one. A visit to Lahav, a store in south Tel Aviv, reveals a limited number of guns on display and a subdued atmosphere. The store was founded by Palmach vets 69 years ago.

Yariv Ben Yehuda, owner of Lahav, notes that Israel’s gun policy changed sharply following Rabin’s muder, and says he thinks the state went too far in limiting private gun ownership.

Yet he notes that there are significant barriers to gun ownership in Israel, even once the permit process is opened up.

“You have to want a license, and spend no small amount of time and several thousand shekels to get a gun and a license,” he notes.

Today prospective gun owners must undergo 4.5 hours of training and a test, plus a refresher course every year or 18 months, he said. The initial process costs more than 500 shekels, while the refresher tops 200 shekels. Then there’s the cost of the license, the doctor’s visit to get medical approval, and the visit to the licensing office, store and shooting range.

“It’s not such a simple process and it’s pretty expensive, and only those who feel a real need are willing to go through it,” he says.