I’d rather be writing about the breathtaking Olympics or about baking scrumptious hamantaschan for Purim next week. Honestly, what do I have to add to the chorus of conversation about the gruesome massacre in Florida that the nation is still grieving and still gripped by? Unfortunately, I’ve already had occasion to say my piece in response to previous school shootings. The photos are heartrending. The fear is stomach-turning. The heroic staff and those beautiful dead children make you weep.
Clearly there is no simple answer to this deadly plague that has taken hold of America. Indeed, the causes are many: The video game culture replete with violence seems to have desensitized the youth to the value of life; mental illness sufferers are not getting sufficient services and are going under-treated; the breakdown of the core American family has had serious repercussions; the FBI can sometimes drop the ball; there currently are countless AR-15s already in circulation; and schools are frighteningly unguarded gun-free zones (I don’t think teachers ought to have guns, but schools ought to have armed guards).
These issues must all be addressed. But to address all of them to the exclusion of guns, wielded by people who may have been influenced by the causes listed above — who murder and maim so many people in so short a time — strikes me at best as idiotic and obtuse. To allow this is perhaps even to be an accessory to these crimes.
It’s like you can’t drink and drive, because the equation is clear. The result of too much drinking is dangerous. True, drinking is not a Second Amendment right, and drinking can be frivolous, not a matter of self-defense, one of the purposes of owning a gun. But there are responsible drinkers and irresponsible drinkers; that is why there is strict regulation around drinking and driving.
And so it is with weapons. There are responsible and irresponsible people, that is why strict regulation is needed when it comes to procuring and operating so deadly an instrument. Protect the public, protect the children, from the irresponsible gun owners.
In recent years I’ve heard pro-gun Americans cite Israel as a responsible example of how, when guns are ubiquitous, it makes for a safer society. The truth is much more complex. Yes, in Israel guns are ubiquitous, but the culture and reality of guns in Israel couldn’t be more different than it is is America.
Non-military gun ownership in Israel is virtually banned. In Israel, owning a gun is not a right, but a privilege, and only when the need for owning a gun has been justified for self-defense or safety, may an Israeli purchase a gun.
The gun culture in Israel is entirely different from America’s because terrorist threats loom on Israel’s borders, and unfortunately, from inside the country as well. So in Israel the desire to procure guns is most often a military one, not an elective for hunting or hobby.
Due to compulsory military service, one is accustomed to seeing assault rifles slung across the shoulders of Israeli youth serving in the IDF. These soldiers are legally required to carry their weapon with them. However, rather than sowing seeds of fear, seeing these rifle-clad soldiers engenders a feeling of safety because you know they have been subjected to intense medical and mental evaluations in order to be admitted to the military.
Also, once soldiers complete their tour of duty, or reserve duty, they are legally required to return the weapon to the military. They don’t own the weapons. They are not free to keep them in their homes.
As for Israeli civilians, the criteria for receiving a license or permit to carry a weapon is multilayered and highly regulated. Thorough screenings, including criminal and psychological assessments, are part of it. Many applicants are rejected.
If one passes these initial screenings and is granted a permit, further regulations apply. For example, fifty bullets is the supply for a lifetime. Most often, only one firearm is permitted. There are rare exceptions. An automatic assault weapon is banned. Training hours are required.
And this entire process must be renewed every three years.
At no time is the sale of a weapon to a private dealer allowed. A weapon must be sold through the police.
Once a civilian elects to be a gun owner, he or she waives the right to confidentiality. Authorities cross reference for new information on a gun holder every three months.
So on the one hand, yes, growing up or living in a place like Israel, one feels quite comfortable, even unfazed, by seeing young adults and adults with rifles slung across their shoulders.
How many times have you passed the falafel stands at the central bus stations and they are teeming with youngsters who are hungrily yet ever-so-casually chomping down on their tahini dripping falafel pitas with rifles slung across them? They are everywhere in civilian life. You do feel safer for them — because you are also secure in the knowledge of the tight circles of security that surround the gun policy.
Same goes for seeing an Israeli civilian with a weapon. You know they are likely living near one of the borders of the country or on a settlement.
Having civilian gun holders has often times saved lives. Many a terrorist attack was halted earlier rather than later because of the proximity of someone standing nearby, who was able to intercede even before emergency services arrived at the scene.
When Israeli gun holders need to refine their shooting, or release some of the collective PTSD anxiety they might be carrying, they need to find their way to a shooting range because they need to conserve their lifetime supply of 50 bullets for those moments of “just in case I need it.” The reality is that, unfortunately, there are times when the bullets are needed.
Perhaps therein lies the difference.
In America, many people own guns for the fun of shooting at targets, or for the hobby of hunting, as well as for the security of knowing they are armed in the event they might ever need it for their safety, although for most that possibility is pretty remote. In Israel, unfortunately, the guns are actually needed. You never know what day it will be that a gun owner or a soldier on leave from the base will be the one to halt an attack and save lives. Many people know someone who knows someone who did.
Although both democratic societies, America and Israel, have their cultural differences, I agree that looking toward Israel as a model for a ubiquitous yet responsible gun culture can be a good idea. It will lead to tighter, tougher and more responsible gun restriction laws in America.
Of course, the best of all would be if we lived in the world of the Prophet Isaiah, where “no weapon . . . will prevail . . .”
Our reality, for now, is a different story.
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