It should come as no surprise to people who read this column, I think our country needs stronger gun regulations and more effective enforcement of the regulations we already have. That’s what you’d expect from a proud, unrepentant liberal like me.
I could wax eloquent about reasons, emotional and intellectual, why we need stricter gun regulation and list specific steps we should take to keep guns from falling into the hands of criminals and the mentally ill. But that wouldn’t move anyone’s thinking an inch one way or the other. Some readers would nod their heads in vigorous agreement, others would accuse me of wanting to take away their guns and their freedoms, and some would simply shrug and say, “I don’t know. It’s just too complicated.”
Instead, I want to take another approach. Let’s step outside our raging battle over gun ownership and look at how another country approaches the issue. No, not a country in Europe. I can already hear the cries of “We don’t want to be like Europe!” And not a third world country where some autocratic leader has every reason to fear an armed populace. Let’s look at gun laws in Israel, a democracy which is in a constant state of military readiness, where its citizens have every reason to fear violent attacks. If arming citizens is the best way to secure people’s safety, Israel seems like just the kind of place that would encourage a heavily armed citizenry. Which is why Israel’s gun laws may come as a surprise. Most people don’t own guns, because few people meet the strict qualifications. And licensed gun owners usually are allowed only one pistol.
Israelis can only get a gun license if they reached a reasonably high rank in the military or they can demonstrate the need to own a firearm. If they’re in a business where they have reason to fear being harmed – full time jewelry dealers, people who deal in large quantities of cash or valuables and licensed drivers of public transportation are common examples – they can own one. So can people who live in truly dangerous areas. Licensed hunters can own guns as well. Some Israelis can have guns as souvenirs or if they’re handed down from family members, but only with proper documentation and not in quantity.
Demonstrating the need for a gun is just the beginning of the process. People who want to own a firearm have to go through extensive background checks to make sure they don’t have criminal records and they’re in good physical and mental health. That includes a personal interview to make sure there are no obvious red flags that might indicate a firearm in that person’s hands would be a danger to others. If all the checks go well, the prospective owner next has to pass a weapons training course before a gun license is issued. Then every three years, the owner has to re-qualify for the license.
You won’t see gun arsenals in Israeli homes, or even multiple weapons. In most cases, a license is only good for one firearm, usually a pistol. And when it comes to ammunition, gun owners can only buy 50 rounds a year. It’s no wonder the horrific mass shootings we’ve experienced in recent weeks are nearly unheard of in Israel.
I’m not suggesting we should adopt Israel’s gun policies. Many people in this country own guns - often lots of guns - and that’s not about to change. But it’s worth our while to take a short break from shouting at one another and recognize there are other reasonable ways to approach gun ownership. If a country like Israel with all its legitimate security concerns doesn’t ascribe to the notion, “the more guns the better,” maybe we can figure out reasonable ways to regulate sales and licensing to keep guns in the hands of people who will use them wisely and safely and out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.
(Editor’s Note: Dave Safier is a regular contributor to Blog for Arizona.)