When mass shootings take plan in the U.S., commentators routinely raise Israel as a case study to prove that guns in the hands of citizens save lives.
Israel, with its long and painful history of contending with terrorism, is rich with examples that prove this contention. In recent years, armed citizens have stopped dozens of terrorists. In some cases, those citizens acted when cowardly police officers shrank from danger.
For instance, on March 6, 2008, a terrorist disguised as a delivery man entered the Merkaz Harav seminary in Jerusalem with an assault rifle hidden in a television box. He opened fire on students studying in the library.
Two beat cops arrived on the scene but failed to enter the building to stop the killing.
In the event, a seminary student armed with a handgun, and an off duty infantry officer who lived in the neighborhood, heard the shots and ran to the seminary. The student, a young rabbi, was armed with a handgun; the officer was carrying his assault rifle. Both men ignored the police officers who told them not to go inside. They entered the building and killed the terrorist, ending the massacre. By the time they arrived, eight students, including five high school students, had been killed, while eight more were wounded.
The most recent Palestinian terror campaign, which lasted more or less from October 2015 through April 2016, showed the need for an armed citizenry. In two major attacks in Tel Aviv, the terrorists, armed with rifles were able to kill at will for several minutes because none of the civilians at the sites of the attacks were armed.
In contrast, terror attacks in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, which took place during the same period, were repeatedly stopped at their outset by armed civilians who ran to the scene within moments.
In response to the public outcry, Public Security Minister Glad Erdan slightly loosened restrictions on eligibility for gun licenses and encouraged citizens with gun licenses to carry their weapons wherever they go.
Erdan’s move to loosen restrictions on eligibility for gun permits shone a light on an aspect of Israeli life of which foreigners are largely unaware.
The widespread conception in the U.S. in particular is that Israeli gun laws are liberal. This is incorrect. Israel has strict gun laws. But at the same time, it has mandatory conscription in the military.
Active duty combat soldiers on leave are often required to take their weapons home with them. Soldiers who do not own gun safes large enough to store their assault rifles are required to take them everywhere they go. As a result, tourists often happily snap pictures of young Israelis carrying assault rifles at restaurants and nightclubs.
Israel’s gun laws are the nightmare of Second Amendment champions. To be eligible for a gun license in Israel you must be 21 years old and a military veteran, or 27 years old.
Only people who meet specific criteria are eligible to apply for gun permits. Israelis who live or work in communities defined as at-risk from a national security perspective by the government can apply for gun licenses. Farmers, tour guides, and people who transport hazardous materials are permitted to carry a gun. Military officers and NCOs on active duty may carry a personal handgun. Veterans of special forces units and other elite security services are permitted to carry a gun. Retired senior officers are entitled to carry a gun.
To receive a weapons permit, you must first undergo weapons training at a certified training facility and receive a health certification from a licensed physician.
If you are healthy and are eligible, you may receive a gun permit. That permit enables you to own and carry one handgun and fifty bullets.
Shotgun and rifle ownership is limited to veterinarians, nature preserve employees, and licensed hunters. These weapons may only be used for animal control.
However, whereas in the U.S. most states do not permit armed citizens to walk around with their weapons exposed, Israel has no such restrictions on its gun owners. Gun owners may carry their weapons openly or in a concealed manner, whichever they prefer.
Whereas private ownership of firearms is constrained, public use of firearms is more widespread. Every school in Israel is guarded by an armed security guard. Everyone entering a school has to pass through a manned, secure entrance.
Armed guards escort all school trips everywhere in the country.
Armed guards and metal detectors are stationed at the entrance to every underground parking lot, every supermarket, every hospital, every shopping mall, and every hotel in Israel.
All major public events need to be approved by the police. The organizers need to secure the perimeter of their events in coordination with the police. As a result, most of the mass shooting attacks that happened in the U.S. and Europe in recent years would have been much more difficult to carry out in Israel. For instance, the truck ramming attack on Bastille Day in Nice in 2016, in which an Islamic State terrorist killed 86 and wounded 458, would not have been possible in Israel.
In Israel, police would have cordoned off the entire area where the event took place. No trucks would have been permitted to enter the perimeter and likely no unauthorized vehicles would have been permitted to enter the perimeter. Moreover, security guards and metal detectors would have been deployed at all entry points to the event.
The massacre outside the Mandalay Bay hotel and casino in Las Vegas last year would also have been more difficult, if not impossible, to have carried out in Israel.
A security officer at the entrance to the hotel would have stopped the shooter from bringing his weapons and ammunition into the building.
If the killer had managed to smuggle his weapons into the hotel, and had begun shooting, it would have taken hotel security officers very little time to identify the source of the fire, enter his room, and stop him.
Israel bars gun ownership from mentally ill individuals. While there are a lot of illegal weapons in Israel – particularly in the Arab community – there is no legal way for someone who is mentally ill to acquire a weapon lawfully.
Despite the vast differences regarding the private ownership of weapons, there are two lessons from Israel’s experience that may be significant for Americans searching for ways to stop mass shootings.
The first lesson that Israel can offer relates to tactics for minimizing the risk of attack. Americans can learn from the Israeli model of controlling entry and exit points from schools and other public facilities; from Israel’s ban on guns to the mentally ill; and from its unapologetic policy of profiling terror suspects.
The second lesson from Israel’s experience that bravery is a vital social virtue.
Like millions of Americans, Israelis are brave. Because they are brave, they stand up to terrorists. When they have guns, they stand up to terrorists with guns. When they lack guns, they stand up to terrorists with whatever they have.
In February 2017, a group of citizens outside a sewing machine repair shop in Petah Tikva in central Israel stopped a terrorist who had been shooting and stabbing bus passengers by throwing sewing machines at him.
In January 2016, a mom-and-pop grocery store owner in a small town in Judea blocked two knife-wielding terrorists from entering his store by pushing them out with a shopping cart.
A society that values bravery can rely on its citizens to be brave more easily than a society that values victimhood.
Israel’s restrictive gun laws are a function of many aspects of Israeli society that are very different from conditions in America, including its powerful central government, its socialist roots, and its large Arab community.
Israel’s tragic history with terror attacks has required Israel to learn how to secure all public spaces and deploy forces to major civilian thoroughfares. And it has also taught Israelis to be brave.