When people visit Israel they see 18-year-old soldiers carrying M-16s casually slung over their shoulders. They see guards at supermarkets – checking you when you go in, not when you go out. Metal detectors are everywhere. I work at a museum. There are both guards and a metal detector. You see armed guards on public transit. You also see private citizens with pistols tucked into their waistbands (most often covered with an untucked shirt).
You might think that Israel is a heavily armed society. And you would be totally wrong.
One statistic stood out to me this week: the number of privately owned small firearms per 100 residents by country. The US has 101 guns per 100 residents. Israel has 7.3. The number 2 country with 58.2 guns per 100 people is Serbia. No matter what the margin of error might be, it is an astronomical difference.
After the tragic school shooting in Florida this week, I had a few conversations about gun ownership. Israelis across the board cannot believe how easy it is to get a gun in the US. Here are a few things I found out:*
- Israelis do not have the right to own a firearm
- Israelis must request a license for gun. In order to qualify, you have to prove a need for a gun based on your job or where you live
- If you have served in the army, you are eligible for a gun license at 21. If you have not served in the army, the age is raised to 27
- If you prove the need and you pass the medical and psychological exams, you are sent to an expert who determines what kind of gun suits you
- You are required to take a gun safety course
- One license = one gun
- You have to go to a shooting range at least every six months to keep up your shooting skills
- You have to renew your license every three years
- Soldiers in basic training are forbidden from leaving their gun anywhere. It has to been on their person at all times (even while sleeping, I’ve been told). The consequences of losing a weapon include serving time in military jail
- Soldiers in the reserves may be able to lock up their gun and leave it at home, but they need it to be under two locks (for example, a locked cabinet in a locked room; I don’t think the front door counts). This rule may also apply for personal gun ownership too
Israel has soldiers and guards to protect against terrorism, not crime. Israel has low rates of personal crime (as I’ve mentioned before) and in general Israelis feel safe. We depend on our army – filled with the sons and daughters of everyone we know – to protect us against threats to our national security.
Yesterday, Mike Huckabee, former governor of Arkansas, suggested that the US should follow Israel’s lead in preventing mass shootings. Putting in more guards might create more jobs, but I can confidently say that it is unlikely the US would impose any of the restrictions Israelis have on gun ownership.
Israel is a country of approximately 8.5 million people. It’s small, but we still have plenty of problems to deal with and debates every day on how best to handle any given situation. Personal gun ownership is not even on the radar.
*Please leave a comment if anything I’ve written here is inaccurate.