Strict Israeli gun control laws aim for security balance
September 17, 1999
From Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers
JERUSALEM (CNN) -- If one looks at the streets of Israel, it sometimes appears to be a country awash in guns, with soldiers, police and settlers carrying Uzis.
Paradoxically, Israel has incredibly strict gun control laws. Try to buy a handgun, and you'll face perhaps a 3-month waiting period, police, medical and psychological checks and hard-to-win approval from the Interior Ministry.
Prospective gun owners must also pass a gun competence test. A record of substance abuse or domestic violence means automatic disqualification.
There are some exceptions to the tough controls. For example, Jewish settlers living close to Arab towns, and claiming the need for self-defense, face less stringent restrictions. Palestinians, not surprisingly, complain about the settlers' guns.
In general, however, proliferation of guns is not seen as a problem in Israel. They aren't even the nation's principle murder weapon.
"The weapon of choice is a knife, not a gun," says Israeli analyst Amnon Dankner. "Israelis tend to regard arms as something restricted to waging war and not something that is handy in disputes or any quarrels on the streets."
Because nearly every adult -- male or female -- serves in the armed forces at one time or another, most Israelis have been trained to use guns. A gun is seen as a responsibility and a tool of self-defense. There are no blood sports or hunting culture.
There is also disdain for the U.S. creed of gun ownership.
"It is not a human right. It is not one of the inalienable rights that I should have a gun capable of defending myself," says Rabbi David Hartman.
Perhaps another aspect of Israeli life that helps hold down gun homicides is that few people experience the alienation from society that psychologists say helps create the lone gunman in America.
In Israel, it is the security services -- the police and the army -- who are charged with public defense and who carry the vast majority of guns.
The Jewish state seems to have found a workable compromise between strict gun control and a demonstrable need for the security of its citizens.
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