By Yakov Amit, head of the Firearm Licensing Department; excerpted from the Ministry's latest issue of Innovation Exchange.
Public Security in Israel goes well beyond stopping terrorists and fighting crime. In a country where hundreds of thousands of people carry firearms, it is essential to manage the training, licensing, and authorization of those who wish to be armed. Because firearm licensing is a major factor in the country's security, on March 1, 2011, the Firearm Licensing Department was transferred from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Public Security.
Since the establishment of the state of Israel, the Firearm Licensing Department was under the authority of the Ministry of the Interior. In 1992, a watershed event occurred, which caused a drastic change in firearm licensing policy: A patient being treated at a psychiatric ward killed four social workers. Because the patient had been working as a security guard, he was entitled to carry a weapon.
It is important to note that in the late 80s, at the height of the first intifada, there was an enormous increase in firearm applications, and there were about 300,000 firearms in the possession of civilians. In September 1992, after that tragic event, the Minister of the Interior appointed an inter-office committee, known as the Cohen Committee, to reexamine the policy of issuing firearm licenses. The committee found that many areas were in need of improvement.
The committee's report included findings and recommendations on licensing policy, licensing criteria, management and supervision, organization, information and computerization. For example, previously, there had only been general guidelines, which stated in broad terms that applicants should be checked for mental health problems and criminal history.
In 1993, following the endorsement of the Minister of the Interior, the recommendations of the Cohen committee were adopted, and the Ministry of the Interior began developing new criteria for firearm licensing. In 1995 the criteria were completed, reflecting a more restrictive policy. The new criteria allowed weapons to be issued to:
- People who reside or work in dangerous geographical locations
- People employed in lines of work requiring extra security
- Groups involved in the country's public security
In addition, it was decided that the criteria should be constantly reviewed and updated.
Prior to the Cohen committee and the establishment of the new criteria, firearm licenses needed to be renewed every five years. The Committee recommended shortening the time to every three years.
Weapons Belonging to Organizations
Security organizations, shooting ranges, weapons manufacturers, private factories and government offices were each given their own requirements for renewing licenses. Government offices would have to renew their licenses every five years, and private organizations every three years. Prior to the Cohen committee the system of renewing licenses was not properly organized and there were no exact renewal dates for organizations.
Firearm Licensing Agents
Prior to 1996, agents were certified directly by the Minister of the Interior. Certain agents were authorized to issue licenses only to private citizens, while others could provide licenses to both citizens and organizations. In 1996, when I took over, I decided that all the licensing agents should be certified to issue any type of license. Furthermore, I wanted all the agents to learn the relevant firearm licensing laws, as well as the Minister's policy on issuing firearm licenses. The goal was to better qualify the agents and provide them with information, should they be asked questions by applicants.
The 1999 Reform
In 1999, another reform was carried out; this time in the areas of licensing, supervision and training. Prior to 1999, the training that individuals were required to undergo before renewing a license – the main condition of the renewal – was not supervised. In 1999, it was decided that only after an individual completed the requisite training would his license request be examined. In addition, all applicants would need to submit a health form.
Applicants were required to undergo training at a shooting range, which included:
- Examination of the firearm
- Examination of all the ammunition in the possession of the firearm owner
- Examination of the owner's proficiency in using the firearm
Prior to that, the law stated only that a firearm owner should examine his weapon, but no system or details were provided, and no enforcement existed. The owner was required to pass a brief shooting range test and pay the renewal fee.
In 1999, it was discovered that 72,000 registered firearm owners lacked a valid license. However, once the new criteria were implemented, the number of registered firearm owners without a valid license dropped to 33,000; and as of March 2012, less than 9,000 firearm owners have invalid licenses. Many of the people with invalid licenses are elderly individuals who are not aware of the new changes and requirements.
What Have we Accomplished?
- A sharp decline in the number of licenses.
- As a result of all the reforms and changes, the number of people carrying firearms has gone down significantly; and as of 2012, some 170,000 private citizens have firearm licenses.
- Advancement of capabilities. As a result of the more stringent training requirements, firearm owners are better trained and more capable.
- Paying over the internet. In an effort to facilitate the public, the Firearm Licensing Department now allows individuals to pay license fees and download forms for renewing licenses over the internet.
Our objective is to simplify and shorten the process people must go through when dealing with the department. We have extended our operational hours and made ourselves more available to the public. These are all steps we have taken to allow for better control and supervision of firearms.