Thousands applied for gun licenses after May violence, new data shows

Applications for firearms rocketed from around 9,500 a year to nearly 20,000 in 2021, Public Security Ministry says, though the number of granted permits has dropped 20% since 2009

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

A man passes by cars torched after a night of violence between Israeli Arab protesters and Israeli police in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)
A man passes by cars torched after a night of violence between Israeli Arab protesters and Israeli police in the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, central Israel, on Tuesday, May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Heidi Levine)

A major spike in requests for personal gun licenses was registered following an outbreak of Jewish-Arab violence in May, according to statistics released on Tuesday by the Firearms Licensing Division of the Public Security Ministry.

According to the data, 19,375 requests were made throughout 2021 for a license to own a personal firearm, more than double the number of requests a year earlier.

The ministry said 15,849 of the requests in 2021 were made following the violence in May, which saw widespread rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab cities against the backdrop of fighting between Israeli forces and Gaza-based terror groups.

In June alone, 6,092 applications were filed.

The spike in requests following the May violence “stems from a crack in civilians’ sense of security,” Public Security Minister Omer Barlev said. He said his ministry would work to fill gaps in personal security so people would not feel the need to carry a gun.

Gun control in Israel is relatively strict, and generally only granted to those who can show a need for extra security in their line of work or daily life. Citizens can only own one gun at a time and only 50 bullets.

The Public Security Ministry stresses on its website that Israeli law “does not recognize a right to bear arms, and anyone who wishes to carry a gun must meet a number of requirements and demonstrate a need to carry one.”

The spike in 2021 broke a several year trend that saw a slowdown in applications for permits. In 2020, 8,983 requests were filed, down from 10,222 in 2019 and 12,538 in 2018.

Over the past decade, the number of private gun licenses held by members of the public has dropped considerably. In 2009, there were about 185,000 such licenses, and today there are 148,617, a 20 percent reduction. According to the ministry, the drop comes after a narrowing and tightening of the licensing standards over time.

During the 11-day conflict in May between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, violence within Israel flared in several mixed Arab-Jewish towns. While the city of Lod was seen as the epicenter of such riots, unrest also spread to Haifa, Bat Yam, Jaffa and other locales, and at least two people were killed and hundreds injured. Though not unprecedented, the internecine violence was some of the worst in Israel’s history, bringing to the surface long-simmering conflicts between Arab and Jewish Israelis.

Alongside the escalation in violence between Israel and Hamas, the mass unrest was also fueled in part by anger over clashes in Jerusalem’s Old City and protests over the pending evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem.

The spike in gun license applications comes amid what observers say is a flood of illegal weapons into Arab communities, which have been wracked by unprecedented violence stemming from organized crime in recent years.

The Abraham Initiatives nonprofit, which monitors and campaigns against violence in the Arab community, said the figures were concerning. “These statistics point to two simultaneous worrying trends: many citizens who don’t feel that the police protects them in their time of need, as well as a cynical exploitation of the situation by forces who call to be armed for nationalistic reasons,” the organization said.

Members of a shooting club take part in a competition at a shooting range in Herzliya, on October 23, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The nonprofit warned that police must maintain its “monopoly on firearms” in order to prevent a civil war in Israel.

“A scenario of the mass arming of civilians will lead to a dangerous situation that will be dozens of times greater than what we saw in May 2021,” the group said. “The police must fulfill their role and give a sense of security to all citizens, Jews and Arabs alike, alongside refining and reducing the eligibility of the public for firearms.”

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