At least 22 of the 120 members of the Knesset, Israel’s unicameral legislature, have joined a new gun rights caucus that will advocate for the right of armed self-defense, following an announcement by the country’s new public safety minister that new gun control measures could soon be introduced by the coalition government led by Naftali Bennett.
The new caucus is the brainchild of former public safety minister Amir Ohana, who announced the formation of the gun rights caucus in a Facebook post on Thursday that took aim at the country’s gun control laws.
Current legislation enshrining the right to self-defense is “almost a dead letter and even in circumstances in which the citizen is right, he may find himself suspected and even charged with serious offenses,” Ohana wrote in the Facebook post. He also questioned Israel’s strict gun control laws in light the fact that “many of its citizens are skilled and trained through their military service.”
Despite prior efforts to allow more Israelis to purchase firearms in the wake of a series of lone wolf attacks in 2015 and 2016 – when Israelis disarmed Palestinian assailants with a variety of makeshift weapons including as selfie sticks and pizza trays – current Israeli firearm policies are “still limited in a way that endangers human life,” the former public security minister claimed.
The sight of armed reservists in public is not uncommon in Israel, but according to the newspaper Haaretz, there are only about 140,000 Israelis with firearm permits out of a population of more than 9-million and most of them are issued to retired soldiers with combat experience or Israelis who live in locations more likely to face attacks from Hamas. In order to obtain a permit to own (not carry) a firearm, applicants have to demonstrate good cause or a justifiable need for gun ownership, as well as being able to demonstrate their proficiency with a firearm at the range and prove that they have no previous criminal history or mental health issues.
Ohana and the members of the new gun rights caucus are hoping to change those policies to allow the average citizen to possess a firearm, though Ohana himself has previously said that service in the military (including its reserve system) should still be a requirement.
As draconian as the current requirements are, they’re actually an improvement over what the law looked like just a few years ago.
The criteria for gun ownership were significantly expanded in 2018 by then Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. He did so by way of executive order, despite claims that such policy changes required the approval of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee.
On the grounds that the sensitive security situation in Israel justified an increase of the number of civilians licensed to carry weapons, he issued an executive order permitting any former combat soldier to obtain a gun permit, subject to the approval of the police and the Health Ministry. Previously licenses were generally restricted to combat veterans of the rank of first lieutenant or higher.
That unilateral decision, modest though it might seem to us, still triggered protests in the Knesset at the time, though the policy change wasn’t rescinded. While that allowed the number of permits to expand, the unilateral move could also be done without a vote in the Knesset, which is the plan that the new public safety minister is now considering.
The demand for armed self-defense is clearly there. The question is whether the new coalition government in Israel will work to ensure that the average Israeli citizen can own a firearm for self-defense, or whether they’ll try to increase the already restrictive requirements and place gun ownership beyond the means of most citizens.