Public safety

Mande Wilkes | For answers on guns, look to Israel

December 22, 2012 

When I was running for Congress, I made nonstop mention of the fact that I hold an Israeli passport. You know why? Because Americans in general, and Republicans in particular, absolutely adore Israel.

Except … I’m not sure that Americans (including Republicans) know much, if anything, about the Israeli way of life.

By that I mean that Israel is pretty solidly socialist, having had since its inception a socialized health care system as well as a cushy social safety net. And further, consider Israel’s compulsory military service – a herding of men and women into government work, totally at odds with the American commitment to individualism.

In other words, for all the talk about “socialist Europe,” it is actually America’s most sacred ally that is pretty proudly socialist.

Which brings me to the topic of guns.

In the wake of the devastating Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, our country is engaged in a debate about the government’s role in regulating gun ownership.

It’s no secret that we Americans revere our guns – a veneration that goes back to the country’s birth, as the “right to bear arms” is enshrined in the nation’s founding document. I’m not sure, though, how to reconcile the American people’s gun worship with their adoration of Israel – a country that decidedly does not recognize a right to bear arms.

There are very few guns in Israel – ironic, since it is inarguably the most defensible country on Earth. Sure the military is extremely well-armed, but civilians? Not so much.

Only half a million private guns exist in all of Israel – a rate of 7 guns for every 100 people, compared to an American ratio of 88 guns per 100 people. Put another way, that’s almost one gun for every one American.

The reason there are so few guns in Israel is because to get a gun, an Israeli civilian has to prove a direct need. There’s no such thing in Israel as having a gun just for the heck of it.

And even those few who are permitted a gun are strictly limited in terms of ammunition. Further, an Israeli gun-owner must be at least 21 years old. In addition to all these limitations are stringent background checks by the Israeli government, repeated every three years.

It’s no wonder, then, that there are so few gun-related deaths in Israel – less than 150 per year, compared to 11,000 annually in the U.S. Nor are there any mass shootings in Israel, in elementary schools or anywhere else.

All of this is not to say that the American government should enact tougher gun laws. In my own life I’m not a gun fan, though I am a fan of tiny government and personal privacy – so even though I don’t want a gun, I have no desire to bug you about yours.

No, this column is not to call for stricter gun laws, but to call attention to the divide between what we want and what we say we want – the divide between who we respect and who we are. That we are so profoundly fond of Israel is a wonder, because we so profoundly oppose its socialist spirit.

Either we as Americans are not who we say we are, or we’re in the midst of a serious identity crisis.

Contact Wilkes, a local cultural commentator, at m@mandewilkes.com.

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