'We need to enable as many as possible to carry a weapon'

260,000 firearm permits sought since Oct. 7, after Ben Gvir’s push to arm civilians

National security minister dismisses connection between his efforts to disseminate guns, slacken open-fire rules and tragic shooting death of Yuval Castleman

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Minister of National Security Minister speaks at the outset of his Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset, December 4, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)
Minister of National Security Minister speaks at the outset of his Otzma Yehudit faction meeting at the Knesset, December 4, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir confirmed on Monday that more than 260,000 new requests for firearm permits have been submitted to his ministry since Hamas’s October 7 attacks on Israel.

The requests are in line with Ben Gvir’s successful push to expand eligibility requirements for a firearm license, which his ministry said has increased the potential permit pool by “tens of thousands.”

The update comes as Ben Gvir’s National Security Ministry stands in the crosshairs of public scrutiny. On Sunday, the head of the ministry’s firearms permit body resigned his position in the wake of questions over the department’s conduct, and November 30 saw an armed civilian shot dead by an off-duty soldier, when the former interceded in a deadly terror attack and the soldier seemingly disobeyed open fire procedures, all during Ben Gvir’s incessant calls to slacken rules of engagement. The soldier is being investigated and was arrested Monday.

“When the war started, we knew that we were right when we said that every [person] that has a weapon can save a life,” Ben Gvir said at the outset of his Otzma Yehudit faction meeting in the Knesset on Monday. “We need to enable as many people as possible to carry a weapon.

“My policy within the office was to permit as many people as possible to get a weapon,” Ben Gvir continued, saying that “within a short period of time, we are [now] giving up to 3,000 approvals a day,” up from about 100 a day before the war.

In order to do this, Ben Gvir has enabled national service volunteers to process firearms licenses, despite their not being qualified to do so. The minister defended this move against criticism from the Knesset’s State Control Committee, which last week demanded that he stop the practice.

Israelis seen at a shooting range in Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, February 3, 2023. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

“I will add more volunteers, more people in national service, because a weapon saves lives,” Ben Gvir said. During his Monday press statement, he told the State Control Committee it should “be embarrassed” about its objections and accused it of “offending women” who form the national service volunteer base. He also said that the committee’s objection to unqualified persons handling firearms applications was “an immoral attack that hurts the security of the State of Israel.”

Without issuing a statement, the head of the ministry’s Firearms Licensing Division resigned on Sunday.

Ben Gvir said that Yisrael Avisar had previously told him that he had “received many threats” from “leftists,” and complained to Ben Gvir that “it’s hard” for him with “all of these attacks from the left.”

Hebrew daily Haaretz reported that Avisar quit after bureaucrats in Ben Gvir’s office and national service volunteers intervened in the department’s work to push through permit approvals and prioritized certain request over others.

The officials and volunteers were given a single day’s training, Haaretz reported, instead of a usual one-month course necessary to qualify an individual to approve firearm permits. Haaretz further reported that spot checks of the thousands of requests being approved daily showed that some permit grantees do not fit licensing criteria.

Ben Gvir also waived away any connection between his push to re-evaluate and slacken open fire rules and the tragic killing of Yuval Castleman, the armed civilian shot by an off-duty soldier shortly after stopping last Thursday’s Jerusalem terror attack.

Yuval Castleman is fatally shot after preventing the continuation of a deadly terror attack in Jerusalem on November 30, 2023. (X screenshot; used in accordance with clause 27a of the copyright law)

“There is no connection, I think we need to eliminate terrorists, and on the other hand, we’re talking about a tragic occurrence,” Ben Gvir said, in answer to reporter questions about the event.

He added that “it’s just the opposite” — in that Castleman saved lives with a gun permitted by the National Security Ministry, and that “the desire to kill terrorists in the field is our whole goal.”

Ben Gvir reaffirmed his long-held stance that Israel’s rules of engagement should be less strict, but has never spelled out specific proposed policy changes.

The minister further dismissed criticism against his policy as leftist political propaganda against his “lifesaving” policies.

“I call on the left: Stop crying, stop making a political campaign” out of “policy that saves the lives of people,” Ben Gvir said.

In mid-October, the Knesset’s National Security Committee — also headed by an Otzma Yehudit party lawmaker — eased criteria for applying for a firearm license.

The new firearms regulations reduce service eligibility requirements for obtaining a firearm, such that men over 21 can obtain a permit if they served in a combat role for one year or finished two years of general military service. Women will be eligible if they complete a year of national service, as an alternative to military service, and if they live or work in a qualified dangerous area.

The previous regulations required full military or two years of national service for all citizen applicants, or to wait until age 27 to apply.

Israel’s gun permit policy has been historically strict, and is geared towards making weapons available for community and self-defense, rather than as a civil right. The Justice Ministry recommended limiting the new eligibility requirements to a one-year emergency order, but the committee passed them as permanent changes.

“Before I got to the office, the attitude was that only Rifleman 07 [a high level of military weapons certification] can have a weapon… now every combat soldier can have one,” Ben Gvir said. His expanded policies, as noted, also permit Israelis with no formal firearms training to apply for a weapon, although competency is required to obtain a final permit.

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