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Guns in the wrong hands
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Guns in the wrong hands

For Americans who see stricter gun controls as essential to cutting down on the slaughter of innocents, Israel offers an instructive example. While it has extremely strict rules for civilian gun ownership, hundreds of soldiers walk the streets carrying weapons, travel on public transportation, and take them home with them. And yet — despite the “rough neighborhood” — the population has a remarkably low level of gun violence.

In the wake of yet another horrific shooting in Florida this past weekend, the largest of its kind ever in the United States, and with growing desperation for an effective response, the question has to be asked: Is there any way the United States could emulate that situation, patterning our citizens’ right to bear arms on the ways of the Israel Defense Forces?

For those in sympathy with the positions taken by the National Rifle Association (and lately by the presumptive Republican presidential candidate), the Israeli model might well seem like an ideal. It bears out the slogan that “guns don’t kill people; people kill people.” With an abundance of weaponry and ample ammunition, Israelis don’t go around shooting one another the way Americans do.

So, what would be needed to make conditions in this country more like those in Israel?

First, there is the matter of training. Those gun-toting Israelis — by U.S. standards, many of them too young even to drink alcohol — have undergone weeks and months of training in how to use their weapons. For civilians, there are also stringent background checks.

Second, those guns are accounted for, numbered, listed, and fastidiously tracked. There must be occasions when the system slips, but for the most part the user of every military weapon is known, his or her approximate location is known, and any variation in their assigned or approved movements is quickly noted.

Third, they know that any and every time they fire those weapons, there will be an investigation. There might be controversy and disagreement, and even international condemnation for some of the times they have fired those guns, but it is never without consequence.

But perhaps most important of all is the targets, whom they turn their guns against. Guns do kill, but only as directed by human intention. Faced with imminent and very real danger, Israeli gun users are taught self-control. They might feel anger, even hatred, the same as their American counterparts, but the kind of rabid, burning self-righteousness manifested by American shooters rarely erupts. 

If we could mirror those conditions, the NRA might have a case.

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