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Over the past decade, the total number of firearms owned by private individuals in Israel has decreased dramatically. This has been achieved thanks to stepped up enforcement and requirements firearms license holders must meet, such as training, fire practice and medical checkups. The number of individuals who own firearms is in decline. There are currently some 150 thousand privately-held firearms and about 130 guns owned by organizations. Out of the latter, some 40 thousand firearms are held by security companies.
These details were disclosed toby Yaakov Amit, head of firearms licensing at the Israeli ministry of internal security. The ministry recently announced that for the first time ever, Israeli seeking firearms license to undergo psychological assessment as a precondition to receiving the permit. The new legislation has entered into effect as of January 1st 2015. From this date on, any existing license holder and firearm owner, or carrier, is required to undergo preliminary mental assessment by a psychologist as part of the licensing and license renewal process.
Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich adopted the recommendations of a special committee which was established following quite a number of incidents in which passersby were victims of unlawful use of guns which were held legally. According to Amit, 2013 saw “a cluster of events”, as he put it, including murders perpetrated by private gun owners. Experts argue that these cases could have been prevented, had the gun owners undergone any mental assessment following which their firearms license would have been revoked. The committee comprised of delegates from Israel’s Health, Internal Security, Justice and Welfare Ministries. Its primary recommendation was to demand prior psychological assessment in order to gage whether prospective and existing license holders pose a danger to themselves and to others.
This state-mandated test, to be carried out by a psychologist, will apply to:
- Armed guards
- Factory employees with special licenses
- State-licensed firearm owners
- Security companies’ employees with special licenses
The clean bill of mental health will be issued following the completion of three phases, whereas up until now, there were only two. The first phase will consist of a test carried out by Israeli Police, to determine whether the individual applying for a licensing or seeking to renew it, poses any risk. The police will check whether this individual has a criminal record or whether he or she are associated with any investigation. The second phase will consist of medical assessment, including prior admission to mental health institutions or whether the license seeker had ever been reported as dangerous. The new, third phase which was just introduced, comprises an appointment with a trained psychologist (clinical, medical and so on). Fire practice centers and security companies will be forward a list of mental health professional authorized to see prospective firearm owners. Each license will be valid for a period no longer than six months. The legislation further stipulates security guards’ employers will cover at least half of the cost of this psychological assessment.
Yaakov Amit further added that the Internal Security Ministry’s policy is balanced. On the one hand, the fact that many Israelis are armed is useful in daily routine. On the other, in the hands of unstable persons, this poses a notable risk. Accordingly, the ministry reassess the licensing situation every 12 to 24 months. This reassessment leads to adjustments in enforcement, regulation and requirements as far as gun controlled is concerned.
The ministry does not have any figures pertaining to illegal arms in Israel. Some claim there are dozens of thousands of illegal firearms in the hands of unlicensed persons. Nevertheless, Amit maintains this issue is the responsibility of Israeli Police.