Flooding the Streets With Weapons Is the Problem, Not the Solution.
Attorney Anne Suciu
Following several murderous attacks halted by civilians and police, there is a pervasive demand to expand circles of armed civilians. Many hold the sentiment that more armed civilians on the streets of Israel will serve as the necessary solution to the security threats we face. Yet this sentiment disregards the proven risks inherent in expanding access to weapons, risks that make this equation clear: more weapons = more casualties.
Let's start with a topic that is nearly non-existent: the scope of suicide via weapons. Approximately 50 people (predominantly men) commit suicide in Israel each year through the use of guns (roughly 10% of all suicides). Opponents will immediately chime in to note that suicide may also be committed through other means. This is true, yet the correlation between the accessibility of weapons and suicide is undeniable in research literature worldwide, which is also recognized by the Ministry of Health. Even the IDF realized that accessible weapons were a catalyst for suicide, and after years of over 30 soldiers committing suicide each year, the numbers have dropped to an average of 12 annual suicides among soldiers. This dramatic decline was primarily due to a policy of preventing access to weapons and restricting soldiers from taking them home on weekends.
As for the murders of women, the data also leaves no room for doubt. Approximately 10 women are killed each year through the use of firearms. In most cases, they are illegal firearms, yet in at least one third of the annual cases, the weapon is licensed. For example, in 2020, among 12 women who were murdered through the use of weapons, five were killed by licensed firearms.
And what about the dozens of criminal murders in the State of Israel? It is clear that illegal weapons are responsible for most criminal incidents in Israel, yet approximately 200 licensed weapons are stolen in Israel each year. In 2019, for example, 45 weapons were stolen from security companies in addition to 135 private weapons. This implies that the risk to human life posed by an illegal weapon may not be differentiated from that posed by a licensed weapon.
Anyone who requires further convincing that the proliferation of personal weapons in the public sphere is detrimental to our security may recall when Knesset member Ben Gvir pulled a gun out in a parking lot in the heart of Tel Aviv following a verbal argument with Arab security guards, or the tragic incident in the Ramla parking lot in 2019 when an argument over a parking spot ended in the death of Ofir Hassadi via a licensed weapon held by Victor Katan.
The increase in the number of gun license applications seen following the incidents throughout May of 2021, and even those that we continue to witness to date, are far from welcome. Beyond the risks inherent in expanding circles of gun owners—risks that are also backed by State Comptroller reports, countless inter-ministerial committees, and government ministries—is a clear lack of trust in security authorities to ensure our security and the blatant privatization of the government’s role. Alongside this dangerous process are civilian initiatives to establish armed militias in mixed Jewish-Arab cities and in the Negev, which are often led by radical right-wing bodies.
The number of citizens who possess weapons in Israel is enormous. Approximately 140,000 people in Israel have licenses for private weapons, and another 50,000 security guards (in security companies, localities, and factories) hold weapons, most of whom travel with them even after working hours. According to the existing conditions currently in place, which entitle anyone who has undergone combat training (level 07 and above) to a firearms license (subject to police and health approval), hundreds of thousands more civilians are capable of obtaining firearms.
If we do not wish to see a space wherein armed people roam the streets taking the law into their own hands, with each conflict ending by pulling out a weapon, armed crime surging and lethal – we must change this policy to reduce the amount of private weapons and leave security work to authorized individuals.
The author is an ACRI attorney and member of the "Gun on the Kitchen Table" coalition.