Home world Aghast at Hamas killings, Israelis buy up guns with government's blessing

Aghast at Hamas killings, Israelis buy up guns with government's blessing

Aghast at Hamas killings, Israelis buy up guns with government's blessing
Published October 27, 2023 Updated October 27, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

KFAR SABA (Israel) — After Hamas’ shock attack on Israel, Shimrit Ben Arosh, a mother from an Israeli settlement in the occupied West Bank, drove up to a shooting range in central Kfar Saba for gun licence firearms training.

“I have six children, and after the incident of the 7th of October, I understood that I must protect myself. The nights are very frightening, and so I wanted to get a licence for a gun, to be safe, to protect my children,” she said.

Aghast at the Hamas killing spree in their southern towns and villages, and worried by the military’s slow response, Israelis are arming themselves in record numbers with the blessing of their government.

Gun stores and shooting ranges have been working overtime to accommodate the sudden demand, with some former advocates of stricter firearms controls among the new clients.

Israel has been bombarding the Gaza Strip since Hamas’s attack on Israeli communities on Oct 7, which it says killed some 1,400 people.

On Thursday it said its ground forces had made a big push into Gaza overnight to attack Hamas targets as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it was still preparing for a ground invasion that could be one of several.

According to Channel 13 TV, there have been 150,000 applications for gun licenses since the cross-border onslaught — compared to just 42 applications in the same period last year.

Firearms sales are highly restricted in Israel, and obtaining a civilian firearms license is no easy feat. An application can sometimes take months.

Some survivors of the rampage credit the guns they had near to hand, with which they said they defended their homes until security forces arrived — often after delays of several hours.

The far-right minister for police, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has also described private gun ownership as a precaution against any recurrence of the internal unrest between Israel’s Arab minority and Jewish majority that accompanied the last Gaza war, in 2021.

Mr Netanyahu has said Israel was in an all-out war against Hamas. This included “encouraging civilians and helping civilians to arm themselves for their self-defence”, he said in a televised speech on Wednesday.

The gun licenses — usually for pistols, rather than rifles — once took months to process. They can now be obtained in just days online. Before, it was mostly veterans of military combat units or residents of frontline towns who qualified. Now a year of civilian national service can suffice, the police ministry says.

Arab citizens of Israel, many of whom identify as Palestinian, are generally exempted from mandatory conscription and may not be able to get a license.

Before Oct 7, the Kfar Saba Shooting Range was holding just one training course per day, now they’re holding three to four daily.

Gil Shemesh, a firearms instructor at the shooting range, said the swelling number of applicants has been overwhelming and includes “people living in dangerous areas, to normal people who just want to protect themselves because they saw what happened”.

The company is hiring new instructors just to keep up, he said.

Gun control advocates say making firearms too freely available raises the risk of accidental shootings, murder and suicide.

“An untrained response in the event of a subjective sense of danger is liable to bring about the needless death of innocents,” said an Israeli advocate group called “Pistol on the Kitchen Table”. REUTERS