As the nation goes through yet another round of soul searching following not one, but two mass shootings that took place within a few hours of each other, I would suggest our legislators look to Israel to get a sense of what responsible gun regulation legislation looks like.
Maybe that sounds surprising to you. There is a common misconception among Americans that guns are commonplace in Israel, that most Israelis own guns and know how to use them. How often do Americans return from their first trip to Israel struck by the vision of young Israelis, many still in their late teens, walking the streets of Jerusalem in their Army uniforms, machine guns slung over their shoulders? And it is true that Israelis are more familiar with guns than most Americans, because the vast majority of Israelis serve in the military where they are trained in the use of firearms. But the truth is guns are very carefully and thoughtfully regulated in Israel.
First off, there are a series of preconditions that Israelis must meet before they can even apply for a gun license. They must first of all be of a minimum age. That is defined as 20 if you have completed your military service. Let me restate that. In Israel, even if you’ve served in the military and been trained in the use of firearms, you can’t apply for personal gun ownership until you are 20. And if for some reason you did not serve in the Army, you can’t own a gun until you are 27 years old. 27! In addition, background checks are strict. Any person who applies for a gun license must include medical information from his or her doctor, with the doctor’s knowledge that the person is applying for gun ownership. The doctor takes into account both physical and mental health in the evaluation. Once the individual satisfies these requirements, they are permitted to apply.
In the application the individual must explain why he or she needs to own a gun. And the answer ‘because I want to keep my home safe at night’ is not acceptable. Licenses are typically granted to people who might regularly cross through the West Bank, or who work in security, people who could find themselves in truly dangerous situations. Figures vary, but estimates are that minimally 40% of applicants are rejected. Let alone the fact that the entire process of applying takes many months.
Even more importantly, gun ownership is tracked carefully by the State. Citizens are permitted to own a single gun at a time. One gun at a time. If you want to sell your gun, you have to ask the Israeli government for permission first. Ammunition is also regulated. An Israeli can legally be in possession of fifty bullets at any given time. That is it. Before they buy new bullets they must shoot or return the old ones, and that has to happen at a tightly regulated shooting range where the bullets – the bullets themselves! – are registered.
There is more, but I suspect you have a pretty good sense of it at this point. After these most recent shootings the President, parroting Fox News, talked about the problems of mental health and video games. Clearly mental health plays a role in these tragedies. But video games? Seriously? The problem is crystal clear, in each and every shooting, one after another after another: someone who should not have a gun was able to quickly and easily purchase one, and often times more than one, with as much ammunition as they wanted.
The Israelis, pragmatists that they are, understand this and have taken care of it through strict and responsible gun regulation. When American Jews talk to their legislators about Israel, they might want to remind them that along with Israel’s many other accomplishments it has some of the most tightly regulated gun laws in the world.