Gun control in America and Israel

There are those in America who like to point out that whenever there is a terrorist attack in Israel, there’s always some guy with a gun who pretty quickly takes the terrorist out as a reason why there should be more guns in America.

Such thinking is completely ignorant of the facts. Here are a few facts about private gun ownership in Israel and America.

America far and away has more guns per capita than any country in the world. In America there are approximately nine guns for every ten people. In Israel there is one gun for every nineteen people.

In America anyone who wants to can purchase a gun at a gun show with no background check. This means there is no way to enforce laws that say certain people, such as convicted felons or the certified insane, cannot buy guns. Anyone in America who wants a gun has no trouble whatsoever getting a gun.

In Israel to buy a gun anywhere (except from a criminal in an illegal transaction) you have to have a license. To get a license you have to show why you need a gun, you are subject to background checks and training requirements, and you have to renew the license every three years.

In America, 26 children and teachers get slaughtered by a man bearing an assault weapon, a weapon that is based on a design for the military whose only purpose in killing people. You don’t need an assault weapon for self-defense or hunting. After much hand-wringing, public debate, and lobbying by the gun lobby, six months after the massacre at Sandy Hook America still has not moved any closer to gun control laws that would help stop such slaughters.

In Israel, 4 people were killed by a gunman using a pistol at a bank, and the next day – the very next day – the government makes moves toward tightening up gun control. See this article in the Jerusalem Post, “State Vows to Curb Private Gun Ownership,” for more information.

There are those who say if you take away guns people will still kill people, just using a different weapon. The Sandy Hook killer would have been hard pressed to kill 26 people with a knife.

But let’s compare overall homicide rates, regardless of weapon used, to allow for the fact that some people who murder with guns might simply choose a different weapon.

United States: 4.8 homicides per year per 100,000 people.

Israel: 2.1 homicides per year per 100,000 people.

But Americans like to claim that gun ownership is a celebrated sign of “freedom.” Freedom comes at a cost. In this case, about 8,000 lives per year. I imagine there should be cheaper ways to celebrate freedom.

Even in America, you have to have a license to operate dangerous machinery – such as heavy trucks or airplanes. Why not a license for firearms?

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Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

One thought on “Gun control in America and Israel

  • June 4, 2013 at 5:06 am
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    Rabbi, with all due respect, perhaps you should focus on Torah matters and leave the gun control debate to those that have researched the facts, and not allowed their views to have been influenced by political ideology. To my disappointment, your article is rife with inaccuracies and false assumptions. Allow me to address just a few of them:

    1) CLAIM: “In America anyone who wants to can purchase a gun at a gun show with no background check.” FACT: There are only a few states left in the nation that allow private sales without a background check. The vast majority of states, including all of the most populous such as NY, MA, IL and CA already have state laws that require every gun purchase, including private sales to go through a federally licensed dealer and to submit to a background check.

    2) CLAIM: “Anyone in America who wants a gun has no trouble whatsoever getting a gun”. FACT: 90% of all guns used in crimes are stolen. This means that anyone who is willing to rob, steal or kill in order to obtain a gun can get one, which would apply even if all guns were banned and only available to police and military. In areas where guns are hard to get, criminals have been known to follow police officers home from the police station, then burglarize their homes the next day when they go to work.

    3) CLAIM: “In America, 26 children and teachers get slaughtered by a man bearing an assault weapon, a weapon that is based on a design for the military whose only purpose in killing people. You don’t need an assault weapon for self-defense or hunting.” FACT: A true “Assault weapon” is a fully automatic machine gun, which is already restricted in the U.S. and was not legal in CT where Sandy Hook is located. The Sandy Hook killer was willing to murder his own mother in order to get access to the weapons he used. If a deranged person is willing to kill a family member, police officer, soldier or gun store owner in order to get access to weapons, how do you stop that? All weapons are designed for one purpose: killing. This does not make them inherently bad. In a thesis titled “Armed Resistance to Crime: The Prevalence and Nature of Self-Defense With a Gun”, in the Northwestern University School of Law, Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, vol. 86, issue 1, 1995, Gary Kleck and Marc Gertz revealed some interesting facts:

    • In the vast majority of self-defense cases where a weapon was used, the citizen will only brandish the gun or fire a warning shot.
    • In less than 8% of those self-defense cases will the citizen even wound his attacker.
    • Over 1.9 million of those self-defense cases involve handguns.
    • As many as 500,000 of those self-defense cases occur away from home.
    • Almost 10% of those self-defense cases are women defending themselves against sexual assault or abuse.
    • This means that guns are used 60 times more often to protect the lives of law-abiding citizens than to take a life.
    • At an estimated 263 million US population, in 1995, when the study was released, it also means that an average of 1 out of every 105 to 125 people that you know will use a gun for self-defense every year.

    As far as using an AR15 type rifle for self defense, they are absolutely designed for self defense. The Department of Homeland Security just bought 7,000 of these rifles and classified them as “personal defense weapons”. The reason why most law enforcement agencies have phased out the pump shotgun in favor of the AR15 is that it is a more accurate, more effective and easier to use rifle. It can be easily and accurately used by females, older people, and handicapped people. Plus, the higher capacity magazines make it ideal for those living in rural areas where a typical police response may be more than 20 minutes, and who may be facing an unknown number of bad guys. Civilian defensive firearm choices have closely followed law enforcement for many years for completely valid reasons. Why should I expect to be relegated to anything less than what police use in order to protect themselves and do their mostly-reactive shooting. I am law-abiding, and do not shoot in an offensive manner, but I DO expect to prevail in the event that I am forced to defend against an unknown level of force that threatens me, my family and neighbors, and home & country. Telling me how many rounds that will take, what type of gun is permissible for the task, and postulating on how many drug-crazed and numbed assailants I should expect to encounter in an invasion or mob action does not sit well with me, or other responsible citizens. I do not have the luxury of calling for backup while being attacked, and I would expect to not have convenient cover during which I can reload using lower-capacity magazines. I am a member of a police family, but fully understand that the police are not obligated to put themselves in harm’s way to stop a threat against me.

    4) CLAIM: “There are those who say if you take away guns people will still kill people, just using a different weapon. The Sandy Hook killer would have been hard pressed to kill 26 people with a knife.” FACT: There have, in fact been mass killings with knives- this year alone there has been two mass knifings at schools in China, where guns are outlawed, one of which had 22 elementary aged school children slashed and stabbed. Another incident happened recently at a school in Texas, where a deranged man cut 14 people before he was stopped. In England and Australia, island nations where most guns are outlawed, they have a much higher rate of street violence then in the U.S., specifically muggings, rapes, robberies and home invasions- most of which are committed with knives. Historically, most mass murders prior to the invention of firearms were committed with edged weapons.

    5) CLAIM: But let’s compare overall homicide rates, regardless of weapon used, to allow for the fact that some people who murder with guns might simply choose a different weapon. United States: 4.8 homicides per year per 100,000 people. Israel: 2.1 homicides per year per 100,000 people. FACT: If you look at the United States compared to other countries that have outlawed guns, you will find a much bigger picture emerges: In Russia all guns are banned, and their murder rate is 20.54 per 100,000 people. In neighboring Finland and Norway, guns are allowed and their murder rates are 1.98 and 0.81, respectively. In Luxembourg, where all guns are banned, the murder rate is 9.01 per 100,000 while in neighboring France and Germany where firearms are allowed, their murder rates are 1.65 and 0.93, respectively. In Belarus, where guns are banned, the murder rate is 10.40 per 100,000 whereas Poland and Belgium allow guns and their murder rates are 1.98 and 1.70, respectively. So it would appear that in fact more guns = less murder, and less guns = more murder. Homicide data from CANADIAN CENTRE FOR JUSTICE STATISTICS, HOMICIDE IN CANADA, JURISTAT.

    6) When talking about Israel, it is important to understand that they have long faced threats of terrorist strikes in crowded locations including schools, and they take an all-of-the-above approach to safety in the classroom. Fences, metal detectors and armed private guards are part of a strategy overseen by the national police. And the idea of armed teachers in the classroom, which stirred much controversy in the wake of the U.S. attack, has long been in practice in Israel. After a series of attacks against schools by the PLO in the 1970’s, Israel armed their teachers which brought a halt to the targeting of schools by terrorists with guns. Today, no responsible teacher or tour guide goes on a field trip or travels with children without being armed or having an armed guard with them. Israel is a nation that trusts it’s citizens with guns, as evidenced by the scores of 18-21 year old, on and off duty soldiers and reservists walking the streets of large cities and sitting in cafes with their m16s, Uzis, and sub machine guns. In the United States, not only are soldiers not allowed to go off their base armed, but in most states you can not even apply for a carry permit until you are 21.

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