Israel and the US Gun Debate
I feel pretty strongly about gun control. And I take a purely statistical position meaning that the more guns that are available the more they will be accessible and therefore used. Consequently, the primary solution to the problem of gun violence is to have fewer guns available and this can only be accomplished through control and a legal system that makes it difficult to acquire a weapon. One counter response to this argument is to ask, “what about Israel? Guns seem to be a natural part of everyday life in Israel but they don’t have the problems we have.” School shootings, which are so prevalent in the United States, are almost unheard of in Israel.
The comparison to Israel is a good one and I get asked about it often. Guns are simply naturalized in Israel: Citizen-soldiers are ever present carrying their M-16. Guards with side arms are performing security functions at movie theaters, train stations, malls, and government buildings. The killing of 22 school children in 1974 at an elementary school in Ma’alot is not comparable because it was done within the context of a political conflict and the result of a series of mistakes and panic reactions. These are quite different from the “lone wolf psycho killer” who fires randomly.
So, you might say that the differences are cultural and you would be mostly correct except other issues are pertinent. Gun deaths in Israel in 2009 were 1.8 per 100,000 people. In the US it is six times that figure. So it’s easy enough to see how gun rights advocates could encourage others to look at Israel and point out how there is very little or no correlation between the presence of guns and the likelihood of their use. If it is a cultural difference that separates the US and Israel what are those differences and what can we learn from them?
The first is the distinction between a right and privilege. Gun rights advocates in the United States maintain that it is constitutionally and even religiously guaranteed that you have a right to protect yourself and bear arms. The Second Amendment has been enshrined as protecting and guaranteeing the right to have individual firearms. Israel does not recognize such a right so even though military weapons are common citizen ownership of weapons is controlled and relatively uncommon. Many people do not understand that Israel controls weapon ownership strictly and makes it more difficult to acquire a firearm. The Israeli culture is, in fact, more consistent with those who oppose gun rights in the United States and want additional regulation.
In order for a citizen to own a gun in Israel they must be 27 years old if they did not serve in the military. They need to pass a check that involves health, clean criminal record, and regular training. Gun owners are limited to how many bullets they can acquire, and they need to provide proof that they actually need a weapon. The “fun” of firing and target practice is not a sufficient explanation. According to Yakov Amit, head of the Firearms Licensing Department, as reported in the Jerusalem Post Magazine (March 23, 2018) 80% of those who apply for gun licenses are turned down.
In the United States weapons are a commodity associated with macho performance stances and personal identity. Guns in the United States have lost their sole pragmatic function and are no longer a “tool” for self-defense but a “toy” to play with.
Israel does not fit the image of the right wing gun advocate. The US should learn something from them anyway. Of course, gun violence will never be completely eliminated and some differences between cultures are impossible to close up. Still, Israel has much stricter regulations that all seem to be directed toward managing the possibilities for violence and are more rationally directed toward sensible control. Israel does not have a problem with guns in comparison to the United States because Israel does not fetishize a historical principle (the Second Amendment) in such a manner as to protect an abstraction rather than the actuality of a community.