As Hamas war rages, personal firearm activists see surge in interest

Online petition to ease gun permit rules gains 22,000 signatures in 24 hours

Gavriel Fiske is a reporter at The Times of Israel

A man fires a pistol at an indoor shooting range during a qualification course in Katzrin in the Golan Heights on January 31, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)
A man fires a pistol at an indoor shooting range during a qualification course in Katzrin in the Golan Heights on January 31, 2023. (Jalaa Marey/AFP)

As the 2023 Israel-Hamas war continued into its third day, and with the widely distributed and traumatic images of Hamas terrorists operating freely inside Israel fresh in their minds, some citizens began campaigns for a loosening of Israel’s gun ownership laws, to allow more residents to bear personal arms.

Relaxing Israel’s restrictive gun license laws has long been championed by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, as well as some libertarian-leaning right-wing politicians, but it is an issue that has not gained much traction, despite occasional reports of high-level discussions on the issue.

Gun control in Israel is relatively strict, and firearm licenses are generally only granted to those who can show a need for extra security in their line of work or daily life. Meaning, one of the key criteria for a private citizen to receive permission to own a gun is where they live.

That could now change, says Rabbi Raz Blizovsky, 32, of Katzrin, an activist who has been part of grassroots discussions around personal arms.

“People are changing their opinion, and now there is more awareness,” he told The Times of Israel. It doesn’t make sense, he said, that someone in Tel Aviv cannot get a pistol, but someone in the Golan can. “There are terror attacks in both places,” he stressed.

“It’s a pity this is happening the way it did,” he added, alluding to the recent devastating attack. “I have been involved with groups that have been talking about this issue for years. During calm times, people don’t do anything,” he said.

Rabbi Raz Blizovsky (Courtesy)

On Sunday morning, one day after the Hamas assault began, Blizovsky started several WhatsApp communities for those who wish to have easier access to personal weapons. They have drawn some 4,000 members in 24 hours. An online petition he created, in order to press the government on the issue, garnered some 8,000 signatures in the same timeframe.

If more people had access to personal firearms, the horrific scenes coming out of the Gaza-adjacent communities could have been averted, he opined. Many people have contacted him in recent days who wish they could get a weapon, he said, including members of the Druze community, many of whom served in the IDF in combat positions, but then after their service, are not able to qualify for a license.

“The main criterion should be, does that person have a criminal background?” Blizovsky said. “It’s easy to give a weapon to someone who was trained in the IDF, but then if he is called to reserve duty, what does that help his family or community?”

In Israel, the usual personal weapon allowed are pistols with a limit of 50 rounds of ammunition. To qualify, one must be of a certain age, depending on IDF service, live or work in an area that demands extra security, not have a criminal record, and pass a training course and background check, among other things.

Another requirement is enough Hebrew-language proficiency “in a way that will allow questioning, understanding instructions and managing registration as required,” according to a qualifications calculator on the website of the National Security Ministry, which manages gun license registration.

The main point for the activists is to loosen the requirements so that it is easier for the average Israeli citizen to acquire a personal weapon license, no matter his or her profession or location. Another online petition (Hebrew), which aims to pressure the government to allow ”a permit to carry a private weapon for anyone who has served in the IDF and has no criminal record,” has gathered some 22,000 digital signatures since Sunday, when it was opened.

Ben Gvir has pushed to overhaul the current policy, following a series of terror attacks earlier this year. In February, he instructed the National Security Ministry’s firearm licensing department to work according to emergency procedures to speed the process.

Critics warned that the additional firearms will come with significant risks, including suicides, violence against women, road rage incidents, and murders. But to activists like Blizovsky, there are already plenty of guns on the street, as “anyone can go to the black market on Telegram,” he said.

“Who has a gun? The terrorists, and all the criminals. Who doesn’t? Law-abiding tax-payers. The government trusts criminals with guns more than their own civilians,” Yoel Israel, CEO of a digital marketing agency, told The Times of Israel. Israel is active in libertarian political circles and social media and, during past election cycles, has hosted salons in his Pardes Hannah home for small-party politicians, such as economist Gilad Alper, who has also pushed for less restrictive gun laws.

“I support the citizen and the individual over government elitists,” Israel said. “I care about human rights and people’s lives. Guns are the great equalizer. Why is my wife afraid, and I keep only a golf club near my bed? It doesn’t make sense.”

Ashdod mayor Yehiel Lasry in a video asking for citizens with gun permits to join in a civil defense effort, on October 8, 2023. (Facebook screen capture, used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Also in response to the ongoing Gaza incursion, the city of Ashkelon said that it would set up “a volunteer police force for entry control checks into the city” consisting of armed citizens who already had personal weapon permits working alongside local police and army forces.

Ashkelon mayor Yehiel Lasri, appearing wearing a flak jacket in a Facebook video announcing the initiative, said: “We are at war, and we must all mobilize and take part in the defense of our city. I ask everyone to continue to be vigilant… We will continue to be strong. And yes, together we will win.”

In Gush Etzion, in the West Bank, the local authority said it was looking into how to expedite gun licenses for residents.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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