Photo Credit: Kobi Richter/TPS
Guns at the Israel Defense & HLS Expo 2019 at Tel Aviv Conventions Center in Ganei HaTaarucha. Tel Aviv, Jun 3, 2019

The police have recorded a 195% increase since the beginning of 2018 in seizing of Airsoft guns that have been modified and converted into lethal weapons, the Knesset’s Public Security Committee learned.

The Public Security Committee discussed on Tuesday the Firearms Bill, which proposes to regulate the use of objects that resemble firearms and can be converted into lethal weapons.

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“This is an important bill that is part of the war waged by the police and the Government on crime in the Arab sector,” said Committee Chair MK Merav Ben Ari. “The goal is to advance the bill quickly to its second and third readings, because we are in the midst of an actual war.”

In late 2021, the Economic Affairs Committee approved an order prohibiting the import of Airsoft guns to Israel until the end of 2022, after the Ministry of Public Security and Israel Police said converted Airsoft guns were being used to commit crimes and acts of terror.

The weapon used in the terror attack in Beni Brak in April and which left five dead was an Airsoft M-16 converted to a firearm.

Under the bill, the purchase, storage, transport, production, import, export and sale of items resembling firearms will require a license issued by the Ministry of Public Security, and only licensed gun clubs will be permitted to hold them.

Importers of Airsoft guns and owners of Airsoft clubs said the guns are used solely for sport and leisure, and that the law would put them out of business.

According to data presented to the committee by the Public Security Ministry, 1,820 illegal firearms were seized in 2021. Since the beginning of 2018, the seizure of Airsoft guns that were used illegally increased dramatically. During that year, 57 converted Airsoft rifles were confiscated, while 168 such rifles were seized in 2021, a 195% increase.

A Public Security Ministry official said that among the reasons for the increase in the use of converted Airsoft rifles is their low cost. An M-16 rifle costs NIS 100,000 in the illegal market, while a converted Airsoft rifle costs NIS 45,000. “We know that there is pressure within the illegal market from the measures taken by the Knesset to reduce the importing of these tools,” the official said.

Yisrael Avisar, head of the Firearm Licensing Department in the Ministry of Public Security, said that “The main goal is to prevent these guns from reaching terrorist and criminal elements. Currently, there are tens of thousands of such guns that are privately owned, and the market is completely open. Therefore, it makes sense to regulate it in law. However, the regulation and supervision over importing will remain in the Ministry of Economy.”

Israel Police’s legal advisor Idan Katz said many Airsoft guns held in Airsoft gun clubs end up in the Palestinian territories, in workshops, where they are converted into lethal weapons that are eventually used by crime and terror organizations.

Ben Ari concluded by stating that “the gap in the clauses of the bill must be addressed” and requested that sides reach an agreement until the next discussion on the sections of the law.

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TPS - The Tazpit News Agency provides news from Israel.