Freshman Likud MK Amir Ohana is on a mission to loosen Israel's private gun ownership laws, arguing that current legislation is robbing Israelis of the ability to adequately defend themselves against near-daily Arab knife attacks.
While visitors to Israel often note the ubiquitous number of guns carried in public, what most people don't know is that private gun ownership in Israel is in fact extremely low. Soldiers, police and security guards do indeed carry weapons in public, but only between 2-4% of private Israeli citizens actually have a licensed firearm, Ohana said, citing official figures.
Until the recent murder of IDF Sergeant Yanai Weissman triggered an outcry, even off-duty IDF soldiers were forced to hand their weapons over before leaving base. That policy has since been changed, and army now mandates soldiers to carry their army-issued assault rifles during leave.
Speaking to Arutz Sheva, Ohana pointed out that in contrast, gun ownership in the United States stands at 112%, when taking into account the fact that many people own more than one gun (in Israel, licensed gun owners can only own a single handgun).
"American citizens do not have to face the terror that we have to face almost daily here in Israel," he noted.
"We cannot expect our citizens to defend themselves with umbrellas and shopping carts," Ohana insisted, referring to numerous brave Israeli civilians who have intervened to thwart knife-wielding terrorists despite being unarmed themselves.
Currently, only Israelis who live in areas designated as being dangerous – such as Judea and Samaria, and parts of Jerusalem – can apply for a private gun license (at age 24 for army veterans, and 27 for those with a valid exemption). Since the current upsurge in terror attacks began last year, the Internal Security Ministry has relaxed restrictions nationwide somewhat, to allow police and IDF officers, including reservists, to obtain for private licenses, and for private security guards to carry their guns even while off duty.
Since the deadly shooting attack in the heart of Tel Aviv in January, Ohana has argued that such measures do not go far enough, and that ongoing restrictions are causing more Israelis to be murdered by terrorists.
He is advocating for a change in the law, to allow any Israeli adult with no criminal record, no history of mental illness, and who serves in the IDF reserves to apply for a gun license.
It makes no sense that a reservist gets "an automatic weapon for a month each year to defend the state, but they cannot carry a handgun in the rest of the year to defend themselves and their families!" Ohana remarked.
He cited last week's deadly attack at a Rami Levy store north of Jerusalem as a tragic illustration of the absurdity of the current situation.
Two individuals initially attempted to tackle the pair of knife-wielding Arab terrorists: "One was a soldier, but he did not carry a firearm" due to army restrictions on off-duty soldiers, which have since been lifted. The brave soldier ran to fight the terrorists bare-handed "and he is dead now."
"The other one was a citizen carrying a firearm (legally), and he shot the terrorists down."
"In recent months, and only in Jerusalem, we have (had) eight terror attacks foiled by citizens carrying firearms. How many more lives should be taken just because some people think that everyone of us is a potential murderer?" he asked
Asked whether he was not worried that increased gun ownership will lead to an increase in gun crime, Ohana responded that the current extreme circumstances faced by ordinary Israelis living in the shadow of terrorism more than outweighed such concerns.
"As it is the bad guys have guns – they own guns illegally! I'm just trying to balance (the situation)," he said.
And while he acknowledged that he could not rule out the possibility of the occasional illegal use of a legally-owned gun, "I can tell you that right now people are being stabbed almost daily in Israel, and this is the only way for a person to defend themselves."
"People who want to murder can do it – as also happened last Thursday in Tel Aviv" – in many different ways, he added.
"But people who want to defend themselves cannot do it with, as I said, umbrellas and shopping carts! They need a handgun, and I think the state should allow them… should make it possible for them to defend themselves."