In the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, debates have been raging about gun control in the United States. With emotions running high, it’s hard for most Americans to think straight about where to go from here. Many are asking if we need stricter gun laws or suggesting we need to ban guns altogether. Is it time for gun crazy America to put down its Second Amendment right to bear arms? The focus of our discussions has been on guns, not so much on people, but perhaps there is a happy medium. What we may have wrong is what Israel may have right.
Having been to Israel, I can attest to the fact that guns seem to be everywhere, but with good cause. While staying in a hotel in Jerusalem, there was an armed guard outside the hotel at all times. All the front desk attendants were armed. Seems like a mass shooting spree would be so easy, yet a school shooting like Sandy Hook would never have happened there. How is that possible with so many guns floating around?
What most people don’t know is that guns are much harder to obtain in Israel than in the United States, despite their necessity. Unlike the United States, Israel does not have any legal provision stating that bearing arms is a right. Instead it views gun ownership as a privilege, a responsibility that is not taken lightly. Its regulations prove this.
For example, gun licenses are issued only to a few, select group of people including law enforcement, former IDF officers who have achieved a certain rank, and those who, due to the nature of the work, need regular protection. This includes schoolteachers. Yes, in Israel, teachers are armed. In addition, when children go on field trips, an armed guard accompanies the group, another thing I witnessed while in Israel. This may seem sad, but it also makes so much sense. A gunman is most likely to go to a place where they know people cannot defend themselves, a place without security. That is exactly what Adam Lanza did and he killed innocent, defenseless children.
In Israel, to obtain a license people must be 21 years or older and have been a resident of Israel for at least three years. They must take firearms training courses and pass an exam at a licensed range. In addition, they must pass a background check conducted by the Public Security Ministry. However, perhaps the most important requirement of all is that fact that all those seeking a license must undergo a mental and physical health exam. This might be the key to preventing firearms from falling into the hands of the wrong people. People like Adam Lanza.
If Israelis meet all the above requirements they are permitted to purchase a firearm and are issued a one-time supply of 50 bullets by the government. But this isn’t the end of the story. Every three years they must re-take their license exam. A new law set to go into affect in January makes things even more stringent by requiring Israeli gun owners to prove that their homes are safe places to store firearms.
The two components of Israel’s gun regulations that seem to be the most logical for the United States to consider implementing are as follows:
1. A mental health exam
2. Some means by which an individual can prove that their firearms can be safely kept in their home
The part that gets sticky in all of this is how could these two components be implemented a country where the right of all citizens to bear arms is etched in stone. Wouldn’t this be infringing on those rights? I’m fairly certain that a mental health is not an infringement. It is common sense. If a mental health exam had been a prerequisite, Lanza, or many other mentally ill people who have committed similar heinous acts, would not have been able to obtain a license. And even better, a mental health exam most likely would have shown that Lanza needed serious help, which it appears he was not getting. It would be best for society as a whole if those with mental illnesses were placed in institutions where they could receive the proper care and treatment they need. This must be done if we want to reduce the likelihood to similar acts. The issue of mental health and institutionalizing those with disorders is a separate issue in itself, but is also an important component in this gun debate.
Now, I realize that the guns in Lanza’s house belonged to his mother, but again we see why number two is so important. Being able to prove you can safely keep a weapon in your house is a valid concern. Guns have to be accessible to some degree. What good does it do you to have one if you can’t even get to it before the burglar gets to you? But by the same token, if a child, especially a mentally unstable one, can easily find the gun then use it on a shooting spree, that is a huge problem. How would the government do this? It would need to be carefully thought through and there would need to be strict guidelines to prevent a complete invasion of privacy.
The problem isn’t the licenses and the guns. It’s how we go about issuing them. The Second Amendment should not be erased. Our founders were desperately concerned about disarmed people falling prey to a tyrannical, armed government. This is indeed a danger as history has shown. But there is no real infringement in making sure people who get guns are sane individuals who will not only use the gun responsibility, but also prove that they can keep it safely. It should take longer to get a gun and there should be far more accountability throughout the entire process. A system similar to that of Israel is worth consideration, but it’s important to remember that even with new provisions, weapons can still fall into the wrong hands. We will never see an end of tragic gun violence, but whatever we can do to minimize the likelihood seems reasonable and ethnical.
Elena Reynolds | California Polytechnic | @Elena_Reynolds