I was within earshot when some of our sons were carrying on a conversation. Usually the boys talk Torah, family or making shidduchim, but this earnest conversation was not about any of these important topics. They were discussing which pistol is best to purchase.
Growing up in small town Pennsylvania did not prepare me for the reality of living in Eretz Yisrael. I was not prepared for the security aspect. True, I did play cowboys and Indian with some of my siblings and friends. I played with toy guns and make-believe guns. I was really into cowboy television shows like “Rifleman,” “Bonanza,” “The Big Valley,” “Have Gun Will Travel” and “The Wild, Wild West.” Perhaps all of these rifles and pistols in my childhood were a foreshadowing of the reality of living in Eretz Yisroel.
My first trip to Eretz Yisrael was in 1974. It was so foreign to me to see an armed guard at the famous HaMashbir department store, then located on King George Street in downtown Yerushalayim. With time, I became accustomed to being checked when entering the Central Bus Station on Yaffo Street, which I frequented a lot as a single without a car. It is said that people can get used to almost anything.
While raising our family, I often davened to Hashem that when our oldest son would reach the age of eighteen, there would be peace in the world and there would be no more need to have an Israeli army. My prayer has not become a reality yet.
Presently, five out of the eight males in our immediate family tote a gun—three sons and our two sons-in-law.
All of them wear holsters and decided to have a gun as their companion, due to self-protection as well as protection of the population at large. They have all served in the army and live in relatively small communities, such as Gush Etzion, Kiryat Arba and Eli where there have been terrorist attacks in the area. It is almost impossible to be granted a gun license in a big city. Currently there is talk in the Knesset to make guns licenses easier to procure in the cities, so that more citizens will be able to take action during a terrorist attack.
Civilian firearm ownership is strictly controlled in Israel. Israeli citizens, who are licensed to own a personal weapon, usually have some sort of military training. Here, guns are not seen as a hobby, but as a tool for self-defense and, if necessary, to help others from terrorism.
Israeli citizens, who have completed their military service or national service, may apply for a gun license at the age of 21. Those who do not fulfill this criterion must wait until the age of 27. Those who are eligible for a gun license include civilians who live or work in areas that are considered dangerous, some farmers, Israelis working in security and emergency services, civilian security guards, tour guides, veterinarians and registered hunters.
The process of obtaining a gun takes patience and money. Each applicant must show a clean criminal record. He/she needs a signed bill of health from the physician. The gun license must be renewed every three years, and it is required that each firearm owner has a yearly practice at a shooting range. Many applicants are turned down.
Most of the gun licenses are for 9 mm pistols. The few licenses granted for automatic rifles are reserved for people who need them for ongoing security roles such as the head of security in each settlement. There is a limit as to how many bullets one can purchase. A licensed individual is limited to 50 bullets annually, while a security guard can purchase 100 bullets annually.
Unlike in the United States, we in Israel are accustomed to seeding guards at nursery schools and other educational institutions, movie theaters, restaurants, malls, zoos, banks, wedding halls, etc. It is interesting to note that, in 2015, the annual homicide rate in the United States was 33 times the annual homicide rate in Israel. Dr. Aryeh Rattner, professor of criminology and sociology at Haifa University, feels that for many males, especially, “military service serves as a kind of catharsis for their aggressive emotions, therefore much less of it is being expressed in civilian circles.” Boruch Hashem, except for terror attacks, Israel does not have the mass shootings that are far too common in the United States.
Gun ownership requires much responsibility. My son, Noam Chaim pondered the decision for a long time. There are many factors to consider: investing money in its purchase; keeping the gun in a safe place at home so no one get to it; the financial responsibility of paying for a gun license renewal as well as use of a shooting range; the inconvenience of having to have it at your side as a constant companion; firearms can be stolen or misplaced, and the owner is ultimately responsible if this occurs and he has not notified the police; and the risk of self-injury while handling a firearm.
The main pro for owning a firearm in Israel is that it can protect you and those around you from a terrorist attack. Some Israeli citizens have been successful in felling or killing terrorists due to their private arms. Israeli civilians were instrumental in eliminating the terrorist in the bulldozer attack in July of 2003 on King David Street in Yerushalayim, in which 24 people were injured; in the front-end loader attack on Jaffa Street in July of 2008 in which three Jews were murdered and dozens injured; in the March 2009 bulldozer attack on the Begin Highway near the Malcha Mall; and in the January 2017 truck ramming attack near The Promenade in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood which murdered four young Israeli soldiers and injured about a dozen and a half; to name a few.
When our son Naftali Yehuda, who served in the IDF tank corps as a tank commander, began talking about obtaining a gun license, I had no qualms about it. To me it seemed natural that if one lives in Eretz Yisrael then it is a good idea to have added protection from our enemies. At the time that he started the process of applying for a license, he and his wife Ora planned to move from the city of Holon, situated in the center of the country, to Eli in the Shomron. Too many terror attacks have taken place on Route 60 near their community. I was davka pleased that our son would have such a means of protection. It seemed natural—like taking driving lessons in order to obtain a driver’s license.
Seeing our sons and sons-in-law with a pistol at their side took a bit of getting accustomed to, but now it is like seeing a mobile phone or beeper at their side. Boruch HaShem, each of the kids are very mature and responsible people. I only wish that carrying guns would not be almost a necessity of life in Israel.
All of my sons and sons-in-law are adele young men; those who carry a personal firearm, do so for justifiable reasons. Carrying a pistol is one of the magenai Dovid of our times. May HaShem protect us, and may He bless the world with peace so that firearms and all other weapons of war will become obsolete in our days.
Adina Hershberg is a freelance writer who made aliyah in 1981; she has been living in Gush Etzion for almost sixteen years.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.