Lessons for Israel from the Gun Debate
This is a piece I started shortly after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting tragedy but didn’t complete. In fact, I hesitated to complete it. Partly because gun control is not generally thought of as a Israel advocates’ issue and partly because why alienate the strong supporters of Israel who are also the strongest advocates for firearms?
The issue that convinced me to continue was the frequent claim that Israel and Switzerland, where apparently there’s an assault rifle in every house have a low level of gun violence. It then follows that there is no point in policing firearms in the United States. It’s not true of either Switzerland or Israel – both have tough firearm controls.
Let the Swiss speak for themselves I’ll concentrate on Israel. In Israel possession of a firearm is very much on a needs basis. There is no right to bear arms – and no demand for it. Many Americans find this strange because personal protection is usually stated as the primary argument for the constitutional right to bear arms. Actually the primary argument was the need for a ready militia but the Supreme Court has shot that down, although that hasn’t stopped people making it‡. The other main argument is that the right to own weapons is a necessary protection of liberty from oppressive rulers.
The answer may well be that Israelis and Americans are just different. Think about it. Israelis, living in a frankly dysfunctional political structure, at war for 64 plus years, facing terrorism as a fact of life, yet feel more physically secure than Americans and trust their governments more. Now that’s a subject for someone’s PhD!
Could it be that Israelis, mostly receive their contact with weapons during their compulsory military service and the fantasy has worn off? Three years of living with a heavy, oily, smelly gun, even sleeping with it under your mattress will do that to you.
Far harder in Israel than America would even consider:
- You have to have lived in Israel for three years
- Minimum age of 27, (21 if you have served in the IDF or national service)
- Basic Hebrew reading and writing
- Israeli police have to sign off that you have no criminal record
- Health declaration signed by a doctor
Not over yet – Licensing Procedure:
- Submit the forms
- Personal interview with the licensing clerk
- Police and Ministry of Health recommendations
- Receive the license
- Training and testing on the firearm
- Pay the license fee (you guessed that last one, didn’t you?)
Three necessary conditions
- It occurred to me that the right-to-bear-arms advocates are correct. The 2nd Amendment of the Constitution of the United States does give Americans the right to arms and nothing logically limits that to pistols, small magazines or single-shot. If the American people want to join the rest of us, and it’s not at all clear they do, they have to repeal that part of the Constitution as they did when Prohibition proved unworkable. Why is there no movement to do that? Nothing makes sense without it.
- There is more. As in Australia the states will have to cede to the Federal government the authority to make uniform firearm laws. There is hardly any point to controlling firearms if all the crims have to do to acquire them is have someone cross the border. I wonder what odds the Las Vegas bookies would give on that?
- Israel doesn’t have to worry about the first two conditions but it occurred to me the third applies to Israel no less than it does to America – and no one is discussing it. All those excess weapons need to be collected. Not that I’m a supporter of the so-called Two State Solution but if it does come about how is Israel going to do better disarming with those ‘peaceful’ Palestinians than America will with the NRA?
Pass a UN resolution to disarm? That worked out so well in Lebanon didn’t it?
My interest in gun control started back in another life when I was a criminology student of Prof. Gordon Hawkins, the author of the still-in-print Honest Politicians Guide to Crime Control. I remember a cartoon in the book which I will have to describe because I haven’t been able to locate a copy. The first three panels show an angry man + a gun leading to a tombstone. The next three showed the identical angry man + a fist leading to a bloody nose. A cogent argument for gun control in six panels.
I have no personal history to explain my interest. The only person that I knew who was murdered, was strangled at age fifteen. As far as I know not even the staunchest advocate of hidden carry thinks pistols should be issued to teens. Still, at the same time, I don’t carry all that cultural baggage that those campaigning for or against have to deal with.
While I had fired a rifle a couple of times on outback vacations until I began my IDF service, at age 30, rifles, bullets, gun-oil not to mention grenades, mortars and machine-guns had no part in my life. To my surprise I turned out to be quite a competent marksman. Like most miluimniks†, at the start of each reserve duty, I was issued with the same type of assault rifle that gun control advocates are trying to ban and returned it to the armoury a month later±. I didn’t miss it.
- Licensing a Firearm, Nefesh B’Nefesh
- Gun Control in Israel–A Short History, Yakov Amit, Israel Ministry of Public Security
- Israel rejects US gun lobby claims on its security, Amy Tiebel, AP, 24 December 2012
- The Truth About Israel’s Gun Laws, Aaron Zelinsky, The Huffington Post, 20 December 2012
When I was studying Diplomacy at IDC there was two strands – negotiation and counter terrorism. We used to call them Kiss Kiss – Bang Bang. I’m amazed how often that title is used in film and television.
† Soldier in the IDF Reserves.
‡ District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Court ruled that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to possess a firearm, unconnected to service in a militia.
± Happily I never had to shoot anyone.