After Jerusalem attack, more Israelis applying for gun permits

Linda Gradstein/The Media Line

Yoram Issachar, who owns a contracting company in Jerusalem with his father and two brothers, has carried a Baretta 765 for the past 25 years. He works in Jewish communities on land Israel acquired in the West Bank, employing 15 – 30 Palestinian laborers, and carries the gun for his protection. Now, after the attack in Jerusalem that killed four worshippers and a police officer, he plans to upgrade to a larger gun. Immediately after the attack, he says, he took out his gun and cleaned it to make sure it was ready for use.

“I want to buy a Glock because each bullet is larger, and it shoots faster,” he told The Media Line. “It will give me more security if I need it.”

He’s only used the gun once. In 1992, several young Palestinians threw stones at his car as he drove through the Palestinian town of El-Bireh, damaging his car although he was not hurt. Angry, he jumped out of the car and pursued them, opening fire at their legs, although he did not hit them.

In the wake of a series of attacks that have left 11 Israelis dead over the past few weeks, Israelis are lining up to get their gun licenses. Others who already have licenses are carrying the guns with them more often. The Israeli government asked everyone who already has a gun to carry them in public, to help reinforce Israel’s security situation, and some who would leave their guns at work, such as security guards, are urged to bring them home.

“People are nervous after recent events, and anyone who has a gun should carry it around rather than leave it at home,” Yakov Amit, the director of the gun licensing department for the Ministry of Public Security, told The Media Line. “We want as many people as possible to be able to respond to an attack.”

Amit said there are about 300,000 guns held legally in Israel — half of them by individuals such as Issachar who carry them for self-protection, and the other half by security guards at public institutions. Israelis must demonstrate a need for the gun, and pass a psychological test as well as a shooting test before they receive a gun license. The license must be renewed every three years.

In the past decade, there have been a series of incidents in which innocent people have been killed by guns at home, either in accidents or intentionally. At least 16 women have been killed by their partners using licensed guns, since 2002, say women’s groups.

Israelis who carry guns say they make them feel safer.

“When I moved to Israel in 1976 from Memphis, Tennessee, I brought two hand guns with me,” Alon Kirschner, a physiologist told The Media Line. “In Tennessee, if you don’t have a gun by the time you’re 8, you’re considered a sissy.”

Kirschner did his compulsory army service as a sniper. He lives in Ma’alei Adumim, a Jewish community 4.5 miles east on Jerusalem on land thatIsrael acquired in 1967. Several times he has had rocks thrown at his car as he traveled to and from Jerusalem, but he has never opened fire. He is responsible for coordinating security at his synagogue.

“In the attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem they were all ultra-Orthodox and none of them had guns, probably because they didn’t serve in the Israeli army,” he said. “Maybe if some of them had been armed, they could have shot the attacker before he killed anyone.” 

His behavior has changed since the synagogue attack. Instead of leaving the gun in a bag on the back seat, he leaves it on the passenger seat. Issachar, the contractor, says he used to leave his gun at home when praying at the synagogue two doors down from his Jerusalem home, but now he takes it with him. His daughters are afraid to go out running after dark.

Some who carry guns say do it less for personal safety than to protect other people. 

“If someone is going to attack me, I probably won’t be able to respond quickly enough,” Harold Bergstein, a Canadian-born Jerusalem dentist told The Media Line. “But if I saw an attack like the one that happened in the synagogue, with God’s help, I would keep my wits about me, and would know what to do.”