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Washington — But Israel didn’t mandate armed guards at the entrances to all schools until 1995 — more than two decades after the Ma’alot attack. In the United States, which has an estimated 130,000 schools, such a measure would require mobilization on a much larger scale. Israel’s lightly armed school guards are also backed up by special police forces on motorcycles who can be on the scene within minutes. And they, in turn, are part of a broader defense strategy that focuses on prevention.
These factual discrepancies, however, are less important than a larger issue that makes Israel a dubious North Star for pro-gun activists: Israel’s gun-control laws are among the toughest in the world.
In Israel, carrying a gun is not a right granted by the constitution, but rather a privilege given to those few who pass background checks and who can demonstrate a real need for possessing firearms.
The list of requirements is long. Israelis seeking to own a gun need to be a citizen or permanent resident over the age of 27 (or 21 for those who have completed military service). They must have a basic knowledge of Hebrew. Applicants for a gun permit also need to show a clean criminal record and to have the Ministry of Health certify that they are physically and mentally capable of using a gun.
After passing this initial screening, Israelis wishing to own a gun need to demonstrate a genuine need for it. This need can be based on several criteria: living or working in specially designated areas (mainly Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank and areas close to the boarders); working as a civilian security guard, or being an active or reserve officer in the Israel Defense Forces and holding the rank of captain or higher. Registered hunters and sportsmen belonging to certified gun clubs can also qualify.
For most, licenses are given for handguns only, and need to be renewed every three years. Gun owners also have to undergo practice in a shooting range before receiving or renewing a license. Yakov Amit, head of the firearms licensing department at the Ministry of Public Security, said 80% of the license requests are turned down each year.
As a result of these restrictive policies, gun possession in Israel is low compared with that of the United States. Only 7.3 out of every 100 Israelis possessed a gun in 2009, compared with 88.8 of every 100 Americans.
The numbers, however, could be deceptive. They do not include firearms used by soldiers, who carry them not only while on base or in mission, but also when traveling and while on vacation within the country.