Here's what happened when they 'gave Israeli teachers guns'
In the wake of the Parkland shooting, there was one sentence on the tip of many people's tongues. It went something like this: "America should just give all teachers guns - that’s what Israel did after a school shooting and they don’t have any school shootings now."
The fire was fueled by thousands of people, with many taking to Twitter and Facebook to declare that giving educators guns had been tried and tested in the Middle Eastern country - and had succeeded. Soon enough, big names like Fox News analyst Andrew Napolitan, former governor of Arkansas Mike Huckabee and executive vice president of the NRA Wayne LaPierre were all citing Israel as the model that the United States should be leaning towards.
However, there was one big problem. They were wrong.
The notion that Israeli teachers stand in front of the classroom with an AR-15 in one hand and a whiteboard pen in the other is one that is deeply misguided, and the idea of Americans using this falsehood as justification for giving their teachers guns is one that has enraged many Israelis over the past few weeks, months and years. The truth is, Israel is by no means a place where shooters are regularly deterred by a firearm in a maths teacher’s back pocket. By all accounts, one would find it extremely difficult to find an Israeli teacher who wields a weapon in the classroom.
The reality was perhaps summed up well in 2012 by one of Israel Today's writers Ron Cantor, who had lived in Israel ten times by the time the article was published. He claimed that he had never once seen a teacher holding a rifle, but asserted that there’s a chance there may be "some exceptions in dangerous areas" like the West Bank, a particularly dangerous area east of Israel where roughly 2.6 million Palestinians live on land they consider to be illegally occupied by Israel.
The initial idea of armed teachers in Israel perhaps goes back to a viral picture that comes out to play on the internet whenever there is a new school shooting. The image, supposedly taken in the Old City of Acre, Israel in 2002, shows a group of school children on an outing together with a woman with a rifle standing behind them, supposedly there to protect them if disaster strikes. First seen in 2012, soon enough the photo was being heralded as having the solution to the problem of school shootings, the idea being that all countries should follow suit and allow educators to carry firearms in the classroom in front of children.
No one really knows exactly what the situation in the image is, but what we do know is that every time it goes viral, Israelis take to the internet to take issue with it. Many have claimed that the woman standing behind the children is most likely a security guard, not a teacher and this claim appears to be credible. In reality, most Israeli schools have armed security guards who are present to protect the students if needs be, yet there currently is no record of any teacher being allowed to bring a gun into the classroom. However, what you will find is that the country has many other effective ways of ensuring that incidents like the one which took place on February 14, 2018, don’t happen in their educational institutions.
Obtaining a firearm is a dramatically different experience in Israel than it is in the USA. Despite being perhaps one of the most dangerous places in the world to live, Israel has some of the strictest gun laws on the planet and, rather than a right, it is a privilege and a great responsibility to be given a gun over there.
The country has strict background checks that make it incredibly difficult to acquire a firearm. Applicants must first prove that they have a specific reason for needing a gun, whether that be working in a security role, or living in the settlements where there is limited Israeli security presence and a higher rate of attacks against Jews.
After this, officials will study an applicant's criminal, physical, and mental health records and evidence must be shown that they have a clean bill of health from their physician. In addition, they will have to pass a mandatory shooting course at a licenced gun range and - even after all of this - there’s a strong chance, their gun licence application will be rejected. According to the Associated Press, about 80 per cent of the 10,000 people who apply yearly for licences are turned down.
But even gaining the right to bear arms is not the end of the process for Israeli citizens. If approved for a licence, ammunition is reportedly strictly limited to 50 bullets per gun and, according to the Israeli gun lobby, gun owners must retake their licence exam every three years. In addition, Amir Ohana, a conservative Israeli Parliament member has claimed that Israel’s Ministry of Homeland Security performs a cross-data check every three months to ensure that no one with mental health issues slips through the cracks. All of these procedures ensure that all citizens allowed to carry guns are responsible and mentally stable.
So how do America’s gun regulations hold up in comparison? Unfortunately, they're nothing compared to Israel's, with a federal law background check provision allegedly only covering about 60 percent of gun sales. Reportedly, Individuals in 32 states can legally bypass a background check by purchasing their weapons through private sales, such as by meeting a seller online or at a gun show, and acquire guns with no questions asked. Furthermore, shooting courses are not required, there’s no licence to be renewed, and they never need to provide a reason for owning a gun.
The truth is, Israel didn’t solve their "gun problem" by giving teachers guns. This is not only because of the strict gun laws they put in place, but also because they never actually had a gun problem like America. Take a look back over the past 40 years and you’ll come across only two school shootings in Israel’s history. In comparison, America’s gun problem is uniquely horrifying with studies showing that Americans own nearly half of the estimated 650 million civilian-owned guns worldwide and the country sees more of its own people killed by fellow citizens armed with guns than in any other high-income nation in the world.
Every time the two are compared, Israeli officials distance themselves from America, pointing out that the two countries are simply beyond comparison. "We’re fighting terrorism, which comes under very specific geopolitical and military circumstances. This is not something that compares with the situation in the US," Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said in 2012.
Despite this, the myth that Israel’s "gun problem" was solved by giving teachers guns continues to live on, and supporters continue to cite this piece of fake news as a justification for handing American teachers guns. They ignore the fact that if the United States follows Israel’s example, they would have fewer shootings - but not because teachers would be armed. Instead, because of the months of security checks, mental health assessments and shooting courses that are required of anyone owning a gun in Israel.
Ultimately, Americans should continue to cite Israel as a model for change. But not because gun problems are fixed with more weapons, but because any potential gun problems get solved with strict gun laws.