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Why Does Israel Have No School Shootings

Why Does Israel Have No School Shootings?

You may have seen a meme or email making the rounds suggesting that gun ownership or armed teachers have prevented the possibility of school shootings in Israel.

MZ asked me to look into gun ownership and school safety in Israel. The reality is considerably more nuanced.

In the wake of the Ma'alot massacre in 1974, in which three armed members of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, took a school hostage, ultimately resulting in the deaths of 22 children, Israel enacted policies to protect school children from terrorism. While there have been terrorist attacks since 1974, there has never been a school shooting of the sort we are all too familiar with in the US.

On first examination, gun control advocates in the US would see many of their talking points reinforced.

First off, Israeli Teachers are not armed.

According to Almog Elijis, a spokesman for the Israeli Consulate in New York, “Israeli schools are protected by professional authorized security officers, not members of the teaching or administrative staff”. (source)

Licensed commercial security firms guard schools; contrary to some perceptions, armed civilians have not been deployed as school guards on a large scale since the 1970s. (source)

Outside of the military, police and security guards, very few Israeli's carry guns.

“Israeli citizens are not allowed to carry guns unless they are serving in the army or working in security-related jobs that require them to use a weapon,” said Reuven Berko, a retired Israeli Army colonel and senior police officer. (source)

It is extremely difficult to obtain a gun license.

Only a small group of people are eligible for firearms licenses: certain retired military personnel, police officers or prison guards; residents of settlements (in the West Bank and the Golan Heights) or those who often work in such towns; and licensed hunters and animal-control officers. Age requirements vary: 20 or 21 for those who completed military service or civil service equivalent, 27 otherwise, and 45 for non-citizens. Firearm license applicants must have been a resident of Israel for at least three consecutive years, pass a background check (criminal, health, and mental history), establish a genuine reason for possessing a firearm (such as self-defense, hunting, or sport), and pass a weapons-training course. Around 40% of applications for firearms permits are rejected. (source)

A gun license would only be for a single pistol and a gun owner can only have 50 bullets at any one time.

A majority of the licenses are granted for 9 mm pistols. The few licenses for automatic rifles are reserved for people who need them for ongoing security roles. Annual bullet supplies are limited to 50 per licensed individual, or 100 for security guards. (source)

Permits are given only for personal use, and holders for self-defense purposes may own only one handgun and purchase an annual supply of 50 cartridges (although more may be purchased to replace rounds used at a firing range). (source)

Owning a gun is not considered a right.

As the Public Security Ministry explains on its website, Israeli law “does not recognize a right to bear arms, and anyone wanting to do so must meet a number of requirements, including a justified need to carry a firearm.” There is no inkling of a belief among Israelis that citizens should be permitted to own guns as a check on government power. (source)

However, when one considers the role of the military, security and armed citizenry in Israel, the gun rights advocates in the US would see many of their familiar augments demonstrated.

While private gun ownership is rare in Israel, the active military are required to carry their weapons at all times. In a nation of 8.5 million people, with 176,500 active military personnel, 130,000 security guards and 170,000 private citizens carrying firearms, 5.6% of the population is armed at any given time, many of them openly with military grade weapons. If you add to that, the obvious fact that the concentration of firearms will be much greater in high threat areas, the possibility of walking down a street in the West Bank or parts of Jerusalem and seeing dozens of armed citizens is highly probable.

There have been many instances where civilians stopped terrorists.

The overwhelming majority of terror attacks in Israel are stopped by armed civilians, not law enforcement. For example, the terrorists in the 2016 Sarona market attack were stopped by armed passersby. A pistol-carrying tour guide put an end to the 2017 ramming attack in Arnona that left four soldiers dead. (source)

There have been efforts to relax the gun licensing process in Israel.

When the knife intifada erupted in September 2015, the Israeli government's response was to ease the process for the civilian populace to obtain weapons. After a particularly bloody Jerusalem shooting attack that killed four, then-Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan drastically changed the gun laws in order to significantly raise the number of armed civilians on the streets. Instantly, graduates of Special Forces units and IDF officers with the rank of Lieutenant and above were permitted to purchase guns at their will, security guards were allowed to bring their guns home after work, and the minimum age for a license was reduced from 21 to 18. (source)

“I believe that the right to defend oneself and carry a gun is a basic human right, not a right that the government gives you,” Moshe Feiglin, a former Israeli Knesset member who has now formed his own party called Zehut, told The Media Line. “I am not talking about an AK-47 or an M-16 but a pistol for self-defense.” (source)

Another consideration is, that while there are comparatively few armed civilians, what is stopping a member of the military from enacting a mass shooting? Unlike the US, where Posse Comitatus Act generally prevents the use of the military for domestic purposes and where members of the military would only carry weapons in public in extreme circumstances, 18-21 year old IDF conscripts are generally required to keep their weapons with them at all times. So, what is preventing a disturbed 19 year old IDF soldier from returning to his former high school with the intent to kill?

Perhaps the answer lies with the unique history and culture of the US.

“The United States is deeply heterogeneous, and deeply aware of its heterogeneity, and that fosters deep distrust generally,” explained Daniel Correa, who teaches law at the University of North Texas at Dallas.

“There is a triple fear that drives” the American gun debate, he said, and “every one of these fears is internal to the US, not external. Right-of-center people are afraid of the federal government becoming so powerful that states can’t retain their sovereignty. Among libertarians, there’s a fear that government generally, whether state or federal, will run amok unless citizens can protect themselves from it. The third level is the distrust people have toward each other in the United States.” (source)

Outside the gun debate, one fact stands out as an obvious reason why Israel has no school shootings. Israeli schools are designed to be resistant to terrorist attacks.

Most schools maintain only one unlocked entrance that is typically staffed by an armed guard.

But the schools have escaped American-style violence in large part because of measures to confront Israel’s unique security challenge — and not because of efforts to deter troubled youths and lone madmen.

“The guards are there for other reasons, mainly terrorism,” said Amos Shavit, spokesman for the Ministry of Education. He said the guards stationed at schools are under the authority of the police. In large cities, he said, the police and the local authority carry out security patrols around the educational institutions throughout the school day. (source)

Let's not forget to ask if comparing Israel to the US is a false equivalence. Can Israel with its small population, geographic vulnerability and substantial security concerns really be compared to the vast, secure and diversely populous United States?

Perhaps the lesson to be drawn from Israel’s failure to fit neatly into either American narrative is simply that the public debate about guns in America is too narrow. There may be more policy options available to Americans than are imagined by the two sides, and these can only be seriously explored by moving beyond the usual fight about whether “guns kill people” or “people kill people” to the deeper disagreements about the character and future of American society that underlie this divide and lend it its potency. (source)

Article By Jonty McCollyer

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