More than 260,000 Israelis have applied for gun permits in the past six weeks, according to Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Speaking on Monday at a faction meeting of his Otzma Yehudit Party, Ben-Gvir said the applicants were normal people who simply wanted to protect themselves and their families.
“My policy within the office is to allow as many people as possible to receive weapons, and as [to bring in] many people as possible to handle their applications,” he said. “In a very short period, the Firearms Licensing Dept. did a great job. If permits were once given to only a hundred people a day, we have increased to 1,500 and 1,800, and the hand is still outstretched,” he said.
There has been a surge in permit requests since the Oct. 7 massacre, in which 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were killed by Hamas terrorists.
Ben-Gvir defended his policy, noting he was putting into action his party’s pledge before Oct. 7 to place more guns into the hands of responsible citizens.
“Before we arrived at the ministry, the view was that only [those with advanced infantry training] were allowed to possess a weapon, but Otzma Yehudit’s view was that every soldier can carry weapons and [that] these regulations need to be eased as much as possible,” said Ben Gvir.
The relatively high previous standard limited the pool of candidates eligible for a personal firearm permit.
Ben-Gvir’s plan has met with some pushback. On Monday, Yisrael Avisar, the head of the Firearm Licensing Department within the National Security Ministry, resigned.
Avisar left after coming under fire in the State Control Committee last week from opposition members over the qualifications of those tasked with handling firearm permit requests.
Ben-Gvir rushed manpower to the licensing division to handle the stream of applicants for permits, including assigning volunteers from the National Service—a substitute for military service chosen mainly by religious women.
Ben-Gvir’s office said that before quitting, Avishar complained to the minister about the public criticism he had endured in the Knesset committee and asked that the ministry’s weapon licensing policy be reconsidered.
(Labor Party Knesset member Gilad Kariv leveled the harshest criticism. He has demanded that the attorney general cancel all licenses issued by unauthorized parties.)
“He told me that he was having a hard time with all these attacks from the left,” Ben-Gvir said of Avisar on Monday.
“People from the left, some of whom turn to us with requests to help them with gun licensing, they then go and pose for pictures in committees and attack dedicated and loyal public officials,” he added.
Avisar’s was the fourth exit from the ministry in recent months.
“I say to my friends on the left: We should allow as many people as possible to carry weapons,” said Ben-Gvir. “And this campaign, this attack against public servants, this attack against women in the National Service and the employees of the Ministry of National Security, who are all recruited to handle requests, is an immoral one that harms the security of the State of Israel.”
Ben-Gvir assured that the ministry’s policy would not change. A gun can save a life, he said.
He added that an assault rifle can save “a building, a street, sometimes an entire neighborhood, and we will do as much as possible to provide as many people as possible with the means to protect their safety.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu signaled support for Ben-Gvir’s policy at a Dec. 2 press conference.
Asked about the Nov. 30 attack in which an Israeli citizen killed two terrorists at the entrance to Jerusalem only to then himself be shot by IDF soldiers, the prime minister said that he nevertheless supports putting more guns into the hands of civilians, noting there are dozens of cases of armed civilians stopping terrorists.