A Grain Of Saul: Conservatives Are Right About Israel's Gun Laws, Just Not For The Reasons They Think

Yes, we should make our gun laws more like Israel's.

A Grain of Saul is a weekly column that digs into some of the biggest issues we face as a nation and as an international community in search of reliable data, realistic solutions, and — most importantly — hope.  

A new popular talking point is emerging on the right: we should model our gun laws after gun laws in Israel.

It all started about a month ago when former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee tweeted while visiting Israel that the country had "pretty much eliminated" mass shootings in school with highly trained guards. Since then, his words have been echoed by President Donald Trump's suggestion that we arm teachers, viral memes about Israel's gun laws being better than America's, and National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre.


And yes, in this specific arena, I agree that United States should consider modeling itself off of Israel. But I'm no gun-toting, Second Amendment-loving conservative. The fact that bonafide gun rights supporters are now pointing to Israeli gun laws as a model for America is ironic when you consider how substantially Israeli gun laws align with arguments made by America's left.

For starters, you should understand that gun culture in Israel is nothing like gun culture in America. While it's more common for you to see weapons — Israeli soldiers openly carry all over the country — there is no sense that owning a gun is a "right." When I lived in Israel, I came to understand that gun ownership is seen as a unique privilege. That's true both in culture and in law: there is no Second Amendment guaranteeing a citizen's right to bear arms. You have to earn the privilege.

The result is a group of citizen gun owners who have a quiet, dutiful respect for their weapons and feel the weight of the responsibility they take on by owning a gun. Compare that to, say, the way Americans upload Instagram photos of themselves violating the most basic gun safety rules for a few "likes."

There's also the fact that when most Jewish Israelis are 18 years old, they spend three years training in the military. An Israeli Defense Force soldier will carry a gun, often times in public, but you can't apply for a personal firearm until your service is complete at the age of 21. And if you don't serve in the military, where you undergo extensive gun training, you can't apply for a firearm permit until you are 27 years old. Of course, extensive firearm training and raising the minimum age requirements to buy a gun are two reforms for gun control the left has been advocating for in America for decades.

But it doesn't stop there.

In order to get a gun permit in Israel, you have to prove to the Ministry of Public Security that you "need" the weapon. The New York Times reports that most permitted gun owners living in dangerous places or work as security guards, for emergency services or for tour companies. Many of the tour guides I've had in Israel were armed to protect a busload of people they were taking across the country. To get your permit, you need a doctor to sign off on your health. About 80 percent of the 10,000 people who try to get a gun license every year are rejected, according to The Times of Israel

Once you get a gun and a permit, you need to hit the shooting range annually and renew the permit every three years. You have to ask the government permission to sell it. If you want to own an automatic rifle, which is exceedingly rare, you'll run into maximum ammunition purchases per individual. And that's to say nothing of one of Israel's most legendary gun laws: your accountability to your weapon. "If you lose it, expect to go to prison for a long time," former IDF soldier Itay Hod wrote in The Wrap. That's why you see off-duty soldiers with their weapons so often.

And what about Gov. Huckabee and viral memes claiming teachers or guards are armed in Israel? While it's true most teachers — and most adults — in Israel are trained to use guns, a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate told The New York Post they are prohibited from bringing a firearm into classrooms.

MILITARY BASE, ISRAEL - JUNE 17, 2015: Female soldiers playing backgammon. Soldiers having fun during a break from military training. Female Israeli soldier playing the guitar in the background. Shutterstock / Alex Lerner

All of these requirements — extensive background checks, permission to execute a gun sale, doctor's approval for a permit, mandatory training and renewal, harsh punishments for losing a weapon, low success rates to get a firearm permit — are things that conservatives in America have long decried as "infringements on the second amendment" when they are suggested at home.

But what's the result? Gun ownership in Israel is much lower than America — about 153,000 of the 8.5 million non-Palestinians living in Israel are licensed to own a gun, according to the Israeli Society of Gun Culture Enhancement. That's about 1 in every 55 people. In America, about one in three people own a gun. It's worth noting that gun deaths in Israel are lower than most other countries, with just two killings per 100,000 people, Arye Rattner, a criminologist at the University of Haifa, told The New York Times. The United States regularly sees rates four times higher than that. 

So yes, it's true that America should emulate Israel's gun laws. But we're going to need President Trump, Huckabee and LaPierre to actually get on board with what those are.

Cover image via Shutterstock / Sopotnicki.


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