In the 18 days since the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on the western Negev, more than 100,000 Israelis have filed requests for gun licenses, according to the National Security Ministry.
Before the war, the ministry added, that number would have equaled two years of requests.
“If I don’t protect myself, no one will,” Shahar Fishbein said.
The 23-year-old resident of Kadima-Tzoran, east of Netanya, recently finished his military service and is in the process of obtaining a firearm license.
But after filling out and sending in the requested paperwork, Fishbein doesn’t know the status of his request.
“I have been waiting for an answer from the National Security Ministry but only got a confusing message that my request was accepted in the system,” he said.
Hamas’s assault on Gaza border communities triggered a tsunami of requests for permits as the Israel Defense Forces was caught off guard by the attacks. It took several days for the military to regain control.
In the wake of the attack, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir eased restrictions on permits. Eligibility has been expanded to include more former combat soldiers as well as active emergency medical responders and firefighters.
After a telephone interview with the ministry’s Firearm Licensing Department, eligible citizens without a criminal record or health issues can now be issued a gun license within a week.
Citizens are now allowed to own up to 100 bullets, up from 50.
The ministry has also begun distributing weapons, helmets and bulletproof vests to thousands of security volunteers in “mixed cities” (those with large numbers of both Jewish and Arab residents), border communities and towns in Judea and Samaria.
Israeli citizens do not have a legal right to privately carry firearms and the country has strict gun control laws.
Applicants must meet minimum age requirements, have no criminal record, and provide a declaration signed by a doctor that they are physically and mentally healthy.
Citizens who served in the military, national service or civil service must be at least 21 years old. Citizens who did not serve must be at least 27. A person who is not an Israeli citizen must be at least 45 to obtain a license.
Applicants must also explain to the Firearms Licensing Division why they need to carry a gun. The type of gun an Israeli is permitted to carry may depend on the reason given to the authorities.
Permission is not automatic. According to Ben-Gvir, the Firearm Licensing Division rejected 9,256 requests in 2022.
Licenses must be renewed every three years. This process includes a health declaration signed by a doctor, confirmation of completing a refresher training course and a firearm check to verify the gun is in working order.