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Should Americans Learn From Israeli Gun Laws?


Would psyciatric screenings and intense training for those seeking weapons-permits be an approach the U.S. should consider?

(Photo source: The Jewish Press)

(Photo source: The Jewish Press)

In the wake of the brutal shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, that left 28 -- including 20 innocent children dead -- Americans are searching high and low to make sense of what is indeed, a senseless tragedy. Of course pundits and lawmakers alike have, just as they do following most mass-shootings, politicized the event in an effort to call for stricter gun laws. In fact, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein announced Sunday her intention to introduce an assault weapons ban bill on the first day of the new Congress in 2013.

“I’m going to introduce in the Senate, and the same bill will be introduced in the House — a bill to ban assault weapons,” Feinstein told her fellow panelists on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

The veteran lawmaker and liberal stalwart had previously called on the ban to be renewed following this year's other mass shooting at an Aurora, Colorado movie theater. Needless to say, last week's brutality has only reinforced her stance.

While debates on gun restrictions and laws are sure to abound, one writer for the Jewish Press made an interesting point: Rather than favor an outright ban on guns and greater restrictions of Americans' Second Amendment rights, author Shalom Bear suggested that the U.S. simply look to Israel and its gun laws as a model to emulate.

Bear noted that Jewish people have an obligation to fight calls for all out gun-bans as Israelis who live under constant existential threat rely on guns for their very survival each and every day. He also noted that "giving up the means and the right to defend ourselves is the worst mistake we could make."

"Imagine if Germany or Poland’s Jews had been armed," he then asked readers to contemplate.

So what, then, is the answer?

Many who visit Israel are likely struck by the number of guns they see on the streets, carried out in the open by everyday people. For Israelis, carrying guns is indeed a matter of survival, but as the Jewish Press author notes, these guns are actually more difficult to acquire in Israel than in the U.S. due to the country's strict vetting process.

That process includes screening by government, law enforcement, trained professionals at shooting ranges and even medical professionals through psychiatric evaluations -- all of whom must sign off on the person seeking a gun permit. What's more, even those who do successfully manage to obtain a license are only permitted to own one gun.

"Appearances aside, in Israel there are fewer personal weapons per capita, and fewer homicides involving guns, than in the U.K., which has very strong and restrictive gun laws," the author writes before adding that he believes one of the key differences between America and Israel's views on guns is the attitude.

"Even though Israelis watch the same movies and play the same video games that glorify gun violence as Americans do, Israelis, unlike Americans, are taught from a young age a mature, respectful and structured interaction with their weapons," Bear claims.

"In America, it’s considered a right to carry a gun, but in Israel, it’s considered both right and a privilege."

The author continues:

Keeping guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens is wrong and unconstitutional. But America must rethink its gun laws and make them consistent for the entire country. They must include a serious, complex vetting process, at least as demanding as the process one must endure to receive a driver’s license. In fact, I recommend letting each state’s DMV develop a process of educating and testing potential gun owners. After all, in both cases, when providing a license to drive a car and a license to carry a gun (and to register the car and gun), the state is empowering its citizen to operate a potentially lethal weapon.

Like applicant drivers, potential gun owners must undergo extensive, well structured training on the proper handling, storage and use of their weapon, before being allowed to even buy one, and repeat the process at every license renewal. And they must have a qualified doctor sign off on them too. [...]

Also, the states must get rid of the concealed carry requirement (for those that have it). It’s an idiotic idea that is actually a result of American society’s veneration of weapons, and it removes any visual deterrence it otherwise affords.

Once obvious targets for an attacks, such as schools (think JCCs, and synagogues, too) appoint visibly armed, well-trained guards, we will undoubtedly be seeing a reduction in the number of massacres perpetrated in American schools and other public places.

At the end of the day there is something to be said for Israel's approach to emphasizing the immense personal responsibility entailed in possessing and potentially using a firearm. Perhaps looking to a nation so conversant in matters of self-defense is one approach worth considering as Americans move forward and with hope past senseless violence like the kind carried out at Sandy Hook Elementary and into what is sure to be a more robust debate on the future of gun control.

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