Activists, bereaved families rap loosened gun restrictions

Relatives of people killed due to gun misuse say plan to ease firearms restrictions ‘dangerous,’ while women’s rights groups say it will increase domestic abuse deaths

An illustration of a man holding a pistol on July 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
An illustration of a man holding a pistol on July 14, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

An Israeli government gun reform loosening restrictions on firearm ownership and allowing hundreds of thousands of Israelis to carry weapons has been met with outrage by left-wing and women’s rights activists, along with relatives of victims of gun misuse.

The major overhaul of the country’s firearms rules, pushed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan with the stated goal of improving the immediate response to terror attacks, lets more than half a million IDF veterans receive gun permits.

“The more weapons at home or on the streets — the more tragedies will occur,” said Eyal Mizrahi, whose son Oren was shot and killed in 2009 by a friend using his father’s pistol. The family has since been active in lecturing about the dangers of having firearms at home.

“It doesn’t matter whether a civilian had infantry training or served years in the reserves,” Mizrahi added. “We just saw how a combatant shot his friend Shahar Strug. We need to explain the dangers to the public.”

IDF soldier Shahar Strug was killed accidentally when a fellow soldier — who was sentenced last month to 18 months in prison — discharged his weapon during a game of “draw” in the elite Duvdevan unit’s barracks ahead of a training session.

בשוק בנתניה, בירושלים, במעלה אדומים ובמקומות נוספים בארץ בשנים האחרונות, עצרו אזרחים טובים פיגועים ומנעו הרג. הם נקלעו…

Posted by ‎גלעד ארדן | Gilad Erdan‎ on Monday, August 20, 2018

“This plan is very bad. Had that option not existed, I wouldn’t be in this state today,” said Morris Azulay, whose son Eliraz was critically wounded from gunfire by his neighbor, a school security guard who had a gun license. “Guns have destroyed many families; it put our life on hold. I don’t think we should be lenient on this issue.”

Under the new rules, which went into effect immediately upon being announced Monday, hundreds of thousands of veterans of the IDF’s infantry units will be eligible for gun permits, along with police officers who received the equivalent training.

Additionally, army officers ranked first lieutenant or higher, as well as noncommissioned officers ranked first sergeant or higher, who carried a weapon during their military service will no longer be required to return their guns and permits when they are discharged from reserve service, and will be allowed to request permission to keep carrying them.

Volunteers in certain police units and in medical organizations Magen David Adom, ZAKA and Hatzalah will also be eligible to receive permits.

Under the old rules, Israelis who sought licenses had to prove a need for the firearms, such as living or working in an area considered dangerous, and undergo regular testing and training.

Under the loosened directives, individuals who have been in continuous possession of a firearm permit for 10 years will now be allowed to keep the permit indefinitely, without undergoing periodic tests to prove they still fill the requirements.

MK Michal Rozin attends a Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting in the Knesset, July 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The left-wing Meretz party has launched a campaign under the slogan “Erdan, take the gun off the table,” calling on the minister to reverse course.

“It is the opposite, Erdan. Easing restrictions on gun holding harms our security,” wrote party member Michal Rozin on Tuesday, calling the claim that it would help stop terror attacks “populist and baseless.”

She said that according to data from feminist organization Isha L’Isha, at least 18 women and 15 men were killed in Israel in 2002-2013 by misuse of guns held with permits. The group says that new orders forbidding security guards from taking home the firearms after their shifts were passed in 2014, leading to a year with no accidental gun killings at home.

Naamat, Israel’s largest women’s organization, which is affiliated with the Labor movement, sent a letter to Erdan urging him to reconsider the reform, saying it will increase the number of women killed in domestic abuse cases.

“We fear that such a sweeping expansion of opportunities to receive guns could not only fail to create security for Israeli citizens; it could lead to the opposite,” the group’s chairwoman Galia Volokh wrote. “We call on you, for the sake of protecting the community in general, and women in particular, to reverse this sweeping and dangerous decision.”

But Erdan’s office has said the new regulations “significantly upgrade” the training process undergone by permit applicants and holders, and has refused to back down.

“Qualified citizens carrying firearms in public contribute to the sense of security, are an important line of defense from ‘lone-wolf’ attacks, and thus strengthen public security,” Erdan said.

An Israeli woman with a pistol clipped to her belt walking in the center of Jerusalem on February 14. 2007. (Nati Shohat /Flash90)

Many Palestinians have in recent years adopted the “lone-wolf” tactic of carrying out stabbing, car-ramming or shooting attacks against Israelis without the support or operational backing of any terror group. Thousands of such attacks, attempted attacks or planned attacks have been recorded by Israeli authorities since 2016.

“Many citizens have saved lives during terror attacks, and in the era of ‘lone-wolf’ attacks, the more qualified gun-carrying citizens there are — the better the chance of thwarting terror attacks without casualties and reduce the number of casualties,” Erdan said in a statement.

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