In the U.S., every discussion of gun ownership leads to the Second Amendment and a guaranteed constitutional right. In Israel, the ubiquity of guns distorts a deeper sensibility that carrying a weapon is not a right -- it is a responsibility and a tragic necessity.
Most Israelis who carry guns are permitted to have them because they live in dangerous areas, were officers in the army or are currently serving in the armed forces. Thus, almost all Israelis who carry guns had their first encounter with weapons in the army. A longstanding tradition in the Israel Defense Forces is the concept of "tohar ha-neshek," or the "purity of arms." Recruits, from a largely secular society, are taught that the use of weapons must be "pure" -- a term distinctly taken from the Bible.
As the conflict with the Palestinians has muddied the waters of who is and is not a combatant, Israelis tend to use the phrase less. But in a country where almost everyone serves in the army -- in which guns are associated with the country's endless battle to stay alive -- a culture of weapons responsibility, rather than rights, has emerged.
Along with that sense of responsibility -- and the knowledge that Israel's enemies, who live not far from us, are constantly looking for weapons to steal -- comes intense caution. When our children were in the army, we got used to them coming home with weapons, disassembling them, hiding the parts separately and locking the doors to their rooms whenever they weren't in them. There was no swagger or bravado about walking around with a gun; the sense was that it was sadly necessary -- and dangerous. Young people in Israel are taught to take both the necessity and the danger seriously. They take their army- issued weapons with them wherever they go -- even to weddings, even to the beach.
Israel, of course, has had horrific cases of gun violence. Baruch Goldstein killed 29 people and wounded 125 in an attack on Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. Yigal Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Mentally ill soldiers such as Eden Natan-Zada(who was technically a deserter) have attacked innocent people. Israel has an underworld, and occasionally intended "hits" go wrong, killing bystanders. Israel is hardly immune to gun-related violence and death.
But as Obama noted: Despite the hundreds of thousands of guns legally and illegally owned in Israel, and despite the stresses on society, Israelis kill one another with firearms at a small fraction of the rate of Americans. Just like the U.S., Israel is a society predicated on citizens' rights. Unlike the U.S., however, those rights do not extend to gun ownership. So far, that has seemed to make all the difference.
Daniel Gordis is senior vice president and Koret distinguished fellow at Shalem College in Jersualem.
For the full article, go here.