Israel's Irresponsible Expansion of Eligibility for a Handgun License

| Written By:

Israel's new firearms regulations now allow hundreds of thousands of citizens to carry handguns, without the necessary checks or oversight. They have been passed too rapidly during the current emergency, without enough thought about the dangerous consequences of dramatically expanding eligibility for a handgun license.

Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90

Prior to the war, Israel granted firearm licenses in a generally balanced fashion, for instance private citizens who needed this added security in their daily life, or that were well experienced in using firearms due to their extensive combat service in IDF, were eligible for a handgun licence. In a quickfire move that largely went under the media's radar due to the events of the war, new regulations were recently passed to expand the number of Israeli citizens eligible to apply for a handgun license. The State of Israel is facing the most serious state of emergency it has known since 1948, and strengthening the personal security of its citizens is obviously of huge importance. However, the scope of the regulations passed by the Knesset, and the dramatic increase in the number of citizens eligible for a private handgun license in the country, raise serious concerns that the new regulations were not intended solely to address the current emergency, but rather seek to advance a broader agenda, which the current National Security Minister has been promoting even before the war.

The regulations dramatically expand eligibility for a private handgun license in Israel. Currently, there are around 170,000 citizens who were given a handgun license, but following the approval of these regulations, this figure is projected to increase threefold. This is due to a significant change in the threshold conditions and criteria for eligibility for a handgun license. Taking, for instance, the criteria of former IDF soldiers. Previously, only former IDF soldiers who had received ‘07 rifleman training’ and above were eligible for a private handgun license, however, the new regulations allow any individual who had served as a combat soldier to freely carry a handgun in the civil sphere. This change was not sufficient for the Minister of National Security, who expanded the application of the new regulations even further, to include IDF soldiers who have not completed their service in combat, but are over 21 and live or study in a location defined as awarding eligibility for a firearms license (including the West Bank).

A first version of the regulations was actually published by the Minister of National Security around three months ago, prior to the war. In order for the regulations to come into effect, the minister must submit them for ratification by the Knesset National Security Committee. This Committee is meant to effectively oversee the work of the National Security Ministry, however, its current chair is a Knesset member from Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir’s own party. His goal in the discussions was to approve the new regulations on the same day, most probably at the request of Ben-Gvir. By submitting the regulations for Knesset approval during the current state of emergency, it is not a stretch to believe the minister may be exploiting the situation in order to advance a controversial policy that he was already promoting beforehand, with no connection to the war.

It is important to emphasize that the version distributed ahead of the discussion in the Knesset stated that the regulations were supposed to only apply temporarily, for the duration of the current security situation. However, at the last moment, the Ministry of National Security decided to make the radical changes permanent, with the approval of the Knesset National Security Committee. This last-minute decision could present a breach of proper procedure for approving regulations, among other reasons because there was no opportunity to prepare properly for the discussion in the Knesset and to enable all interested parties to be represented. The legal advisory team to the Committee clearly stated that had it thought that the regulations were to be permanent, it would have opposed holding the discussion of the regulations at the current time.

It is not at all clear which considerations formed the basis for the minister of national security’s decision to expand the handgun license eligibility in Israel. Furthermore, it is not known whether sufficient groundwork was carried out by the Ministry of National Security in order to assess the implications of these far-reaching changes —for example, vis-à-vis the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Welfare and Social Affairs.

Even in the context of the current security situation, the regulations are extremely slanted toward expanding the eligibility to own weapons, and do not give proper weight to other important considerations, including the possible criminal uses of the now widely distributed handguns. As pointed out by the representative of the Ministry of Justice during the discussion held in the Knesset, aspects related to the effects of the regulations on gender, suicidal tendencies, and domestic violence were not thoroughly examined. In effect, neither the new regulations nor the Israeli Firearms Law contain a requirement for appropriate background checks to be carried out regarding the applicant’s mental health or of whether they are on record with social services, before they are issued with a license. Unfortunately, people given licenses who have suicidal tendencies, as well as family members of license holders with a potential for domestic violence, have been entirely abandoned.

It should be noted that when the emergency government was formed, it was decided that the government would focus only on decisions necessary to achieve defense goals, to ensure continuity, and to stabilize the economy, unless agreed by the heads of the Netanyahu's Likud and the centrist Blue and White party. The introduction of this new policy on handgun licenses by the minister of national security, without any time limit set on the application of the regulations, would not seem to fall into these categories.

The seriousness of the situation is only heightened by the fact that the Ministry of National Security is not doing its job in terms of collecting data about license holders and monitoring them. Thus, for example, no ordered collection of data is carried out regarding unusual events involving private handguns, and there is no way of making an anonymous report to the Ministry if a citizen wishes to warn of dangerous behavior by a family member who owns a firearm.

Weapons should only be distributed to citizens if common-sense precautionary measures are applied, including extensive background checks before issuing a license, and monitoring of license holders. Moreover, it should be ensured that all armed actors in any given location (including the security forces, private security agencies, civil defense teams, and private weapons owners) are in complete coordination so as to prevent unnecessary incidents between them. Most importantly, during this difficult and stressful time, the irresponsible distribution of weapons among the population could only increase tensions in the country.

When the state of emergency on Israel’s home front comes to an end, it will be important to hold an open public debate over these regulations so that all the relevant bodies will be able to study in depth the implications of the significant changes that the regulations have wrought, and in order to advance the necessary oversight of all individuals in Israel who own private handgun. In the meantime, the National Security Ministry should do its best to make sure that it considers all relevant factors, and not only national security considerations, while approving new license requests and monitoring handgun owners.


This article was published in the Times of Israel