In a stormy meeting, National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir on Tuesday demanded that authorities responsible for processing gun permits dramatically speed up the process or be fired.
Following a terror attack outside an eastern Jerusalem synagogue in which seven people were killed, security officials across the board called on Israelis who are eligible to carry guns to do so.
Ben-Gvir said in a statement that his ministry’s Firearms Licensing Department received 42,236 new applications for a license to carry a private firearm in 2022. “This is a record year compared to any previous period,” the statement said.
However, there is a backlog of 17,373 requests that have not been processed. Ben-Gvir said this included 10,773 applicants who have not been able to schedule an appointment for an interview. The Firearms Licensing Division is only open four hours a day and the waiting time for an appointment is six months.
Ben-Gvir noted that 10,986 licenses were issued in 2022, while another 4,404 were given with conditional approval.
When representatives of the licensing division said it wasn’t possible to extend the hours, Ben-Gvir said that Israelis must be given the means to protect themselves. He reportedly stressed that “If the division does not know how to supply weapons to those who are authorized to carry them, we will close it and open an authority that knows how to respond to citizens.”
Ben-Gvir’s office refused to comment on what it called a “closed door meeting.”
Calls for eligible Israelis to carry guns have come from the Security Cabinet, Ben-Gvir and Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai.
Shabtai said in a police statement, “Over the years, more than once, civilians skilled in the use of licensed weapons neutralized terrorists and prevented more serious attacks when they were near the scene of an attack. Those citizens even prevented harm to civilians and the security forces more than once.”
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.
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 Department rejected 9,256 requests in 2022.
Furthermore, a license allows an Israeli to carry only one specific gun. Bullet sales are tightly regulated and normally limited to 50 bullets per owner, and carriers must also get government permission to sell their gun.
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.
According to Ben-Gvir, there are approximately 155,168 firearms approved by 147,248 license holders.