I’d rather be writing about the breathtaking Olympics or about baking scrumptious hamantaschan for Purim. Honestly, what can I add to the conversation about the gruesome massacre in Florida? The photos are heartrending. The fear is stomach-turning. The heroic staff and those beautiful dead children make you weep.
Clearly there is no simple answer to this deadly plague that has taken hold of America. Indeed, the causes are many: A violence-infused video game culture seems to have desensitized youth to the value of life; mental illness sufferers are not getting sufficient services and are going under-treated; the breakdown of the core American family has had serious repercussions; the FBI can sometimes drop the ball; there currently are countless AR-15s already in circulation; and schools are frighteningly unguarded gun-free zones (I don’t think teachers ought to have guns, but schools ought to have armed guards).
These issues must all be addressed. But to address them to the exclusion of guns, wielded by people who may have been influenced by the causes listed above, strikes me as idiotic and obtuse at best.
I’ve heard pro-gun Americans cite Israel as an example of how, when guns are ubiquitous, it makes for a safer society. The truth is more complex. Yes, in Israel guns are ubiquitous, but the culture and reality of guns in Israel couldn’t be more different than it is in America.
Non-military gun ownership in Israel is virtually banned. In Israel, owning a gun is not a right but a privilege, one that’s granted only when the need to own a gun has been justified for self-defense or safety.
The gun culture in Israel is entirely different from America’s because terrorist threats loom on Israel’s borders and, unfortunately, from inside the country as well. So in Israel the desire to procure guns is most often a military one, not an elective for hunting or hobby.
Due to compulsory military service, one is accustomed to seeing assault rifles slung across the shoulders of young Israelis serving in the IDF. These soldiers are legally required to carry their weapons with them. However, rather than sowing seeds of fear, seeing these rifle-clad soldiers engenders a feeling of safety because you know they have been subjected to intense medical and mental evaluations in order to be admitted to the military. Also, once soldiers complete their tour of duty, or reserve duty, they are legally required to return their weapons to the military. They don’t own the weapons. They are not free to keep them in their homes.
The process required for an Israeli civilian to receive a permit to carry a weapon is multilayered and highly regulated. Criminal and psychological assessments are part of it. Many applicants are rejected. If one passes these initial screenings and is granted a permit, further regulations apply. For example, 50 bullets is the supply for a lifetime. Training hours are required. Most often, only one firearm is permitted. There are rare exceptions. And automatic assault weapons is banned.
And this entire process must be repeated every three years.
Once a civilian elects to be a gun owner, he or she waives the right to confidentiality. Authorities cross reference for new information on a gun holder every three months. And at no time is the sale of a weapon to a private dealer allowed; a weapon must be sold through the police.
How many times have you passed the falafel stands at the central bus stations and they are teeming with youngsters who are hungrily yet ever-so-casually chomping down on their tahini-dripping falafel pitas — while carrying rifles? You do feel safer — because you are secure in the knowledge of the tight circles of security that surround gun policy.
Same goes for seeing an Israeli civilian with a weapon. You know they are likely living near one of the borders of the country or on a settlement. Civilian gun holders have often times saved lives. Many a terrorist attack was halted earlier rather than later because of the proximity of someone who was able to intercede even before emergency services arrived.
When Israeli gun holders need to refine their shooting, or release some of the PTSD anxiety they might be carrying, they need to find their way to a shooting range because they need to conserve their lifetime supply of 50 bullets for those moments of “just in case I need it.” The reality is that, unfortunately, there are times when the bullets are needed.
Perhaps therein lies the difference.
In America, many people own guns for the fun of shooting at targets, or for the hobby of hunting, as well as for the security of knowing they are armed in the event they might ever need it for their safety, although for most that possibility is pretty remote. In Israel, unfortunately, the guns are actually needed. You never know what day it will be that a gun owner or a soldier on leave will be the one to halt an attack and save lives. Many people know someone who knows someone who did.
Although America and Israel have their cultural differences, I agree that looking toward Israel as a model for a ubiquitous yet responsible gun culture can be a good idea. It will lead to tighter, tougher and more responsible gun restriction laws in America.
Of course, the best of all would be if we lived in the world of the Prophet Isaiah, where “no weapon … will prevail …”
Our reality, for now, is a different story.
Copyright Intermountain Jewish News