ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 149

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Ben Gvir steps up push to ease gun license criteria, including for volunteer medics

Amid unabating crime wave, far-right police minister boasts of near-tripling of number of licensed firearms on the streets in recent months

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir speaks during a rally in support of the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv on June 1, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir on Tuesday said he was moving forward with his push to make it easier to get a firearm license, amid his ongoing attempt to increase the number of guns on the streets.

Ben Gvir says having more licensed gun carriers could help in an effort to combat waves of terror attacks and criminal gun violence that police and security forces have struggled to contain.

Under current guidelines, military service entitles an applicant to a gun license only if they served in combat infantry units.

The changes proposed by Ben Gvir — which, according to a statement from his office, he discussed with police representatives and other officials — would extend that eligibility to any veteran of combat service, including those who served in armored and artillery units and the Border Police, along with Hesder yeshiva students — who do a shortened military stint and also spend time studying in yeshiva — and Magen David Adom ambulance service volunteers.

The statement also boasted of a massive expansion in the number of gun licenses handed out by his ministry due to streamlining measures – 11,393 in the last four months, compared to 4,054 over the equivalent period last year.

Ben Gvir had in February instructed the National Security Ministry’s firearm licensing department to work under emergency guidelines through May of this year, including by working longer hours and enlisting more staff.

Gun control in Israel has traditionally been relatively strict, with licenses generally only granted to those who can show a need for extra security in their line of work or daily life. Citizens in nearly all cases can own a single gun and only 50 bullets at a given time.

Israelis practice shooting handguns at a shooting range in the northern town of Katzrin, on the Golan Heights, on April 3, 2022. (Michael Giladi/Flash90)

“What we’re enacting here is a lifesaving measure,” Ben Gvir said in Tuesday’s statement. “We’re rectifying a years-long injustice by enabling combat soldiers who defend the State of Israel to protect their own lives and the lives of their families.”

Critics have warned that increasing the number of firearms comes with significant risks, including suicides, violence against women, road rage incidents, and murders. According to data from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, of 32 women murdered with firearms between 2019 and 2021, nine were killed by people with licensed guns.

As Ben Gvir has pushed for more guns on the streets, he and the police have been accused of not doing enough to stem the tide of homicides in Israel’s Arab community.

On Monday, he announced plans to appoint a policy coordinator to help tackle the rampant bloodshed, hours after the epidemic of violence claimed its 89th and 90th victims this year — double last year’s murder rate.

Ben Gvir said he made the decision on appointing a policy czar based on meetings with Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai and district police commanders over the last few days.

Police at the scene where a man was shot dead in Umm al-Fahm on May 30, 2023. (Israel Police)

But many in the Arab community and beyond view the ultranationalist leader, as well as his plans to establish a National Guard gendarmerie force, with suspicion and are skeptical regarding his commitment to the issue.

He has in the past called for deporting “disloyal” Arabs and has been convicted on charges of incitement to racism and supporting a terror organization.

There is also distrust around Shabtai, who was recently caught on tape stating that Arabs are inherently murderous.

“Mr. Minister, there is nothing that can be done,” Shabtai said in conversation with Ben Gvir about the high number of murders in the community, a recording of which was leaked to Channel 12 news in April, apparently by Ben Gvir himself.

“They kill each other. That is their nature,” he said. “That is the mentality of the Arabs.”

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