In the wake of Friday’s tragic shooting in Tel Aviv’s bustling city center – taking two lives and wounding ten – Israelis scramble for answers to an evolving and unpredictable security threat.
One libertarian-leaning member of Israel’s Parliament, Amir Ohana, says part of the solution is empowering more Israelis with the right to self-defense. His proposals aim to expand the number of people eligible to receive a gun permit. Ohana is the first openly gay Knesset member from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party.
“I decided to take upon myself the issue of easing the permissions for citizens to carry firearms. If there is not yet a caucus in Parliament for this, I will create it. If it has been created, I will revive it,” declared MP Ohana.
These ‘lone wolf’ uncoordinated attacks continue to emanate largely from Palestinians living in the West Bank but also from Israel’s population of nearly two million Arab citizens, as a wave of 159 terror attacks in the last three months have killed 21 Israelis and wounded 272, mostly with knives and rammings with vehicles.
“It is difficult to fight terror that ripens in the mind of the attacker, as opposed to an organized terrorist infrastructure,” explained Ohana, who continued on to say that the two-fold response must begin with a war on incitement by Palestinian organizations, and secondly, “Reasonable allowances for citizens to defend themselves, and not to be slaughtered like sheep… Anyone who rises to kill you – kill him first.”
While Obama struggles to combat terrorism via pen and phone, and enacts executive orders to curb gun rights of everyday Americans, Israelis may be headed in the opposite direction.
Contrary to popular belief, Israel has set increasingly restrictive policies on civilian gun ownership, with a very limiting “may-issue” approach, which discriminates based on area of residence (permits are usually only granted to those in higher-risk places). As a result, the total number of licensed gun owners has declined, from 300,000 in the late 1980s, to a mere 170,000 today. Unable to arm themselves, some citizens are forced to take desperate measures by carrying household items for self defense – such as selfie sticks and frying pans.
But Ohana isn’t alone in his sentiments. Other high-profile Israelis have made similar statements, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, who called on those legally licensed to be armed to do so, while setting an example by openly carrying his own Glock. And last month, the Minister for Public Security, Gilad Erdan, endorsed changing the laws so that off-duty security guards could now be armed.
“Civilians also help a lot, and I want to thank them for what they have done time after time to stop attacks,” said Erdan, pointing out that armed members of the public have already saved countless lives.
Taken together, this could mark the start of a shift in Israeli policy on private ownership of firearms.
Still, the answers are not so simple. Any gun laws can’t discriminate against the 21% of Israeli citizens who are Arab, and the Tel Aviv shooter stole the machine gun from his father, an auxiliary policeman. There’s no legal right to gun ownership, as after 67 years, Israel still lacks a formal constitution – meaning that there’s no Second Amendment.
“Yes, this could sadly lead to more accidents with weapons… but there is no basis to the assumption that more lives will be lost through accidents than lives will be saved in our terror-stricken country,” said Ohana.
“More trained people carrying licensed weapons, equals more terrorists neutralized at the scene, equals fewer lives lost,” he added.
A lawyer by profession, Ohana is a major in the reserves of the Israeli army, and a veteran of the Shin Bet (equivalent of Britain’s MI5) – plus he is a father to his newborn twins with his life partner.
Ohana launched his primary campaign merely weeks before the elections, running as the voice for liberty and equality. He took 32nd place in the list of Likud candidates – considered an unrealistic position, as polls indicated Likud would be lucky to win 20 seats. Ohana was endorsed by Netanyahu leading into the general election – and Likud ultimately swept to victory with 30 seats.
Following two recent resignations, Ohana was sworn in last month, making history as the first-ever openly gay member of Parliament from a right-wing party.
Zach D. Huff was Assistant National Press Secretary for the Ron Paul 2012 Campaign, and served as a foreign volunteer combat soldier in the Israel Defense Forces.