TEL AVIV – The Connecticut school massacre has raised the issue of gunÂ control not only in the United States but also in Israel, whereÂ self-defense is not so much a point of law as a way of life. In Israel,Â schools are protected by armed guards, and everyone is on some sort ofÂ an alert for suspicious objects or people.
Cars and personal belongings are checked at cafÃ©s, movies theaters, public buildings and malls.
Although security guards here are not your typical ex-Navy SEALS, theyÂ do act as a first barrier — a line of defense that could have saved theÂ lives of the innocent children at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Young men carrying M16 rifles — soldiers either on their way back orÂ coming home from their military base — are a common sight on mainÂ streets in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.
However, it is very difficult for any Israeli civilian to purchase andÂ own a gun, and all must have a license to do so. The ownership ofÂ Â assault rifles by a private person is forbidden, and pistols are limited to one per person.
In a country with a population of almost 8 million there are only aboutÂ 300,000 weapons, of which just over half – 170,000 – belong to privateÂ individuals. The rest belong to security institutions.
The license process, which must be completed every year, includes mental and physical health checkups as well as a firing-range exercise. MostÂ importantly, it is a crime with harsh penalty to carry a weapon inÂ Israel without a license.
Security guards must meet regulations before they are granted theÂ license to carry a gun; they must be at least 27 years old, unless theyÂ served in the army, in which case they can apply at the age of 21. TheyÂ also need to be a resident of Israel for at least three years and sign a waiver that gives the health ministry and the police the right to check their health and criminal records.
Yariv, owner of the Lahav weapon shop in Tel Aviv, told Israeli ArmyÂ radio: “A very little amount of people buy private guns, since theÂ Israeli citizen knows in advance that his chances to buy and own a gunÂ amounts to zero.
“Most of the buyers are men who are demanded by their work to carry a weapon.”
There are only a few tens of thousands of legal guns in Israel, mostÂ owned by settlers living in the West Bank who are granted dispensationÂ because of the need for self-defense while traveling to and from theÂ West Bank.
Such measures mean that, despite a backdrop of violence committed withÂ illegal weapons, there are hardly any random killings at all. It isÂ impossible for a 20-year-old to buy and own a gun openly.