Shooting for gun control?

In the wake of the Texas massacre, Americans ought to consider what Israelis have learned the hard way: that firearms aren’t the problem; in the hands of heroes, they’re often the only solution.  

Target practice at a Jerusalem shooting range. April 3, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Target practice at a Jerusalem shooting range. April 3, 2022. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Ruthie Blum. Photo by Ariel Jerozolomski.
Ruthie Blum
Ruthie Blum, former adviser at the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is an award-winning columnist and senior contributing editor at JNS, as well as co-host, with Amb. Mark Regev, of "Israel Undiplomatic" on JNS-TV. She writes and lectures on Israeli politics and culture, and on U.S.-Israel relations. Originally from New York City, she moved to Israel in 1977 and is based in Tel Aviv.

The May 24 slaughter of 19 children and two adults at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas provided fresh ammunition for the rhetorical and ideological battle over gun control. Combatants in this ongoing war tend to be diehards on the left and right.

The former hold firearms and those who champion the constitutional right to bear them responsible for such horrific acts of violence. The latter hail the Second Amendment and support the National Rifle Association, which backs the right of law-abiding citizens to to defend themselves and their homes.

Both groups came out swinging, each from its own political corner, following the horrifying mass murder committed on Tuesday by 18-year-old Salvador Ramos. Arguments on each side included comparisons between his dastardly deed and the Dec. 14, 2012 massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, carried out by killer Adam Lanza.

One parallel between the two incidents is that Lanza committed matricide before murdering 20 children and six adults, while Ramos attempted to kill his own grandmother (who is currently hospitalized in critical condition with bullet wounds to her face) prior to his vile spree.

A far more recent mass shooting has been noticeably absent from the gun-control debate, however. Indeed, the May 14 slaying of 10 shoppers at a Tops Friendly Markets store in Buffalo, New York aroused a different left-right fight: the one surrounding “systemic racism” in America.

This was due to the fact that it involved a self-described white supremacist, 18-year-old Payton Gendron, who had expressed, in a lengthy manifesto, his intention to eliminate blacks. In contrast, Ramos and his victims were all of Latino origin.

One attitude surprisingly shared by Americans across the political spectrum is anger at the Uvalde police for failure to do its job. When details of the event began to emerge, there was virtually universal disgust in the way that the men-in-blue on the scene behaved—as though they were more afraid for their own safety than for that of the fourth-graders locked in a classroom with and eventually gunned down by Ramos.

But the astounding consensus on this point has only enhanced the controversy about guns, even in the grieving rural Texas town where deer-hunting is a prized pastime. While some residents are rethinking their position on the state’s lax laws, others are more convinced than ever of the need to be at the ready with their weapons wherever they go.

The logic is twofold. On the one hand, had Ramos not been able to legally purchase the AR-15 with which he killed his helpless victims, he would have found an illegal way to acquire it. On the other, the cops, due to poor orders from their commanders, were ineffectual, as State Police director Steven McCraw acknowledged on Friday.

This brings us to Israel, where obtaining a gun license is difficult, despite compulsory military service that includes serious training. Even Israelis who are called up regularly to the reserves and are armed for the duration of their stints have to meet many criteria—including a clean bill of mental health—before being permitted to purchase guns for private use.

Such limitations are taken for granted in the Jewish state, where—unlike in the United States—a gun license is a privilege, rather than a right. And extending this allowance too freely has been frowned upon by successive governments bent on preventing unnecessary deaths during volatile situations.

The idea, of course, is to leave the taking down of criminals and terrorists to security forces. In a perfect world, this might make sense. But in a country whose citizens are constant targets of jihadist organizations and “lone wolves,” it hasn’t worked out that way.

In March, for instance, it was civilians and off-duty Border Police officers who neutralized the Arab Israelis and Palestinians on stabbing, car-ramming and shooting rampages in Beersheva, Hadera and Bnei Brak. In light of the circumstances, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that “whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it.”

The spike in anti-Semitic assaults also spurred the Israel Police to urge the public to volunteer for the Civil Guard, and led to a steep rise in the number of civilians seeking gun permits. In other words, desperate times call for commensurate measures.

Americans with an aversion to firearms, particularly those “progressives” who have been on a campaign to defund the police, would do well to keep this in mind. They should also wake up to the reality that Israelis live with daily: villains on a mission to spill blood don’t need guns; cars and kitchen knives get the job done, too.

Furthermore, guns in and of themselves aren’t the problem; in the hands of heroes, they’re often the only solution.

Ruthie Blum is an Israel-based journalist and author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring.’ ”

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