As the gun control debate heats up here in the wake of the horrific shootings in Newtown, Conn., Israeli officials are doing their best to stay out of it,
countering NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre’s assertions that Israeli children are safe because there are armed guards in every school.
“Israel had a whole lot of school shootings until they did one thing: They said, ‘We’re going to stop it,’ and they put armed security in every school and they have not had a problem since then,” LaPierre said on NBC’s “Meet The Press.”
But Yigal Palmor, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, noted: “We’re fighting terrorism, which comes under very specific geopolitical and military circumstances. This is not something that compares with the situation in the U.S.”
In fact, there have been only two attacks on Israeli schools in the last 40 years, officials say. In 1974, terrorists raided an elementary school in Ma’alot, near the Lebanese border, and 22 children and three adults died. And in 2008, a terrorist killed eight young men, mostly teenagers, who were studying in the evening at a Jerusalem yeshiva.
Israel began placing lightly armed guards in schools in 1995 as part of a complex defense strategy, only some of it publicly known, which includes having guards at train and bus stations, malls and restaurants. But the image of large numbers of Israeli private citizens walking around with weapons is a false one. In fact, the country has a highly restrictive policy, and applicants for a gun license are subject to intense screening, with permit renewals required every three years. About 80 percent of applicants are rejected, while in this country people can buy guns from private dealers without a background check or license. And unlike the U.S., Israel does not have a law guaranteeing citizens the right to bear arms.
According to an AP report this week, “a total of 170,000 guns are licensed for private use in Israel, or about one gun for every 30 adults,” compared to estimates that one-third of all American homes have firearms.
There are a number of theories why Israel, where the military is a constant presence and threat of attack from enemy terrorists is a daily concern, has relatively few gun-related deaths. Many Israelis, having gone through the army, are trained in the use of arms — and appreciate the dangers and risks.
The debate over the easy access to guns in this country, which the NRA refuses to engage in, is of vital importance. But it’s a mistake to point to Israel as a country where domestic safety can be attributed to extensive access to guns — because it isn’t true.