Israeli law regulates the issuance of firearms to both civilians and soldiers. Israel maintains restrictive policies with regard to issuing and renewing firearms licenses, and restricts their use.
The law designates persons holding certain positions, such as designated ministry employees, authorized community leaders, managers or owners of premises, and licensed guards and escorts, as eligible for firearms licenses based on security needs. Licensed private investigators, providers of guard services, and authorized escorts for field trips or camping trips may similarly be granted a license. The law also authorizes the issuance of firearms licenses to film producers and performers for purposes of gun possession or use during a performance.
Issuing a firearms license for private use to other persons requires proof of the existence of a cause that justifies the license. In addition to specific training and mental health requirements, applicants must prove that possession of a firearm is needed based on the location of their residence or employment, the type of occupation they are engaged in, or service in elite Israel Defense Force (IDF) reserve units.
Military firearms are issued to IDF soldiers. As a general rule, a soldier does not take his gun on home leave. Exceptions to this rule apply to soldiers who serve in combat units, those who serve in the West Bank or other specified areas, or who have obtained special authorization from high-ranking military officers based on their officer rank or for reasons of personal safety associated with their home or service location.
There is no clear right to bear arms under Israeli law. In accordance with Israel’s Firearms Law, 5709-1949 (the Law) activities involving firearms, including the manufacture, trade, possession and use of firearms, require authorization. Accordingly, any act involving firearms for civilian use requires a special license issued by the Ministry of Public Security and approved by the police. Activities involving firearms for Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) use require authorization by the Minister of Defense. The issuance of a license or authorization for firearms is based on restrictive criteria established by the relevant Ministry.
The Law defines a “firearm” as
a barreled instrument adapted to throw a bullet, projectile, shell, bomb or the like, capable of killing a person, and includes any part of, accessory to and ammunition for such an instrument, including a container that contains or may contain such material, excluding a container for tear gas.
Licensing of Firearms to Civilians
Proper Operation and Training
The Firearms Law requires the firearm subject to a license to be checked and approved as suitable for use prior to the issuance of a license. The Law further requires the individual obtaining the license to have proper training in the use of the specific firearm he wishes to acquire or possess. Firearms Regulations (Training for the Grant and Renewal of a License) 5752-1992 regulate training programs, their frequency, and certification of training, which is required as a precondition for the grant and renewal of firearms licenses. According to the Regulations, a person who possesses different types of firearms must undergo training for each one of them.
The Law requires shooting ranges and their supervisors to be licensed. The Law further regulates the admission of trainees, including those operating firearms for sport purposes, into shooting ranges by requiring proof of minimum age, depending on the type of activity for which the training is sought, as well as recommendations from appropriate associations such as sport associations, for training in specific types of firearms.
Persons Who May Obtain a License
The Law authorizes the Minister of Interior and the Minister of Defense (hereinafter licensing authorities) to issue licenses to
- the leader of a community for the protection of the people and property of, and traffic to and from, the community;
- the owner or manager of an eligible establishment to protect the premises, its employees, and traffic;
- an employee designated by a Minister for security purposes in connection with the functions of the employees of that ministry;
- the producers of a film or a play, or people authorized by them to carry a licensed firearm during a performance;
- the holder of a license for guard or private investigator services under conditions prescribed in the special license; and
- escorts for field trips or camping trips, provided that the application is made in advance as prescribed by the licensing authority.
Mental Health Requirements
The Law requires any physician, psychologist, mental health officer, or social worker to file a report with the Manager of the Ministry of Health regarding any patients under their care who would constitute a danger to themselves or to the public if they had access to a firearm. Such a report may be forwarded by the Manager to the IDF or to state security agencies such as the police or prison authorities, who routinely inform the Ministry of Health of the names of their applicants for employment.
License applications and information regarding the eligibility of applicants for employment with security agencies must be forwarded by licensing officials to the Manager, who will inform them of any records of the applicants’ hospitalizations for mental health problems.
A person who carries a firearm must carry his license or authorization with him at all times and present them to any policeman who so requires. A person who possesses a licensed firearm must deposit it at the police station at the place of his residence or occupation after expiration of his license. Special provisions apply to the seizure of firearms suspected of being involved in the perpetration of offenses.
Confiscation of Firearms and Revocation of Licenses
The Law imposes double penalties for committing offenses while using firearms. In addition, a court that convicts a person of an offense against the Firearms Law may order the firearm to be forfeited to the state.
In addition, the conviction of a person for a violent offense may, upon the prosecutor’s request, result in an order for the cancellation of the person’s firearm license and in license ineligibility for a period defined by the court. The conviction may also result in an order that the convicted person deposit his firearm at the police station close to his place of residence or business. Such an order may also be prescribed by a court, upon a prosecutor’s request, in cases involving convictions for domestic violence offenses.
Ministry of Public Security Criteria for Licensing of Firearms
The Minister of Public Security is authorized to implement the Firearms Law. According to information posted on the Ministry of Public Security (MOPS) website, the Ministry’s policy is to limit the number of firearms available to the public, while giving preference to authorized organizations and their employees. Indeed, whereas in the late 1980s during the first Intifada the number of private citizens who held firearms licenses reached 300,000, by June 2012 this number had been reduced to 170,000 and continues to decline.
According to the MOPS website, a person who wishes to obtain a firearm license must meet one of the criteria for issuance of a firearm license, as determined by the Minister in collaboration with security authorities. The current list of criteria is available on the Ministry’s website and is discussed below. A license is valid for a period of three years after which it must be renewed.
The following discussion describes the evolution of criteria established by the MOPS from the mid-1990s to today.
Firearms’ Licensing Criteria: 1995–2011
The Ministry’s policy of restrictive licensing has evolved since the mid-1990s. A 1992 shooting at a psychiatric ward, killing four social workers, by a patient who as a security guard had a license to carry a weapon, prompted the appointment of the Cohen Inter-office Committee. The Committee reexamined the then-existing criteria for issuing firearms licenses and made recommendations that became the basis for new criteria adopted in 1995. According to these criteria, in addition to the criteria established by the Law, the issuance of firearms licenses is restricted to people who reside or work in dangerous geographic locations, those employed in lines of work requiring extra security, and groups involved in the country’s public security.
Further firearm licensing reform took place in 1999 and resulted in the introduction of additional preconditions. License applicants, accordingly, are required to complete proper firearms training and submit a health declaration verified by a family doctor attesting to their fitness to use a firearm. According to information posted on the MOPS website, the passage of the new restrictions has resulted in the reduction of the number of invalid licenses from 72,000 in 1999, to 33,000 after the initial introduction of the restrictions, and to less than 9,000 as of March 2012. Apparently, “[m]any of the people with invalid licenses are elderly individuals who are not aware of the new changes and requirements.”
The head of the MOPS Firearm Licensing Department, Yakov Amit, counted the sharp decline in the number of licenses, and the “[a]dvancement of capabilities” resulting from “the more stringent training requirements,” as some of what he saw as accomplishments of the 1999 reform.
Firearms Licensing Criteria: August 2011–Present
New firearms licensing criteria were approved by the Minister for Public Security in August 2011. In addition to the criteria established by the Law (submission of a health form and training), the new rules require proof of permanent residence and uninterrupted stay in Israel for a period of at least three years, and a basic knowledge of the Hebrew language. They also establish minimum age requirements—twenty-seven for citizens with no military or national service ties, twenty-one for those who served in the Israel Defense Force (IDF) or national service, and forty-five for permanent residents who are not citizens.
In addition, the 2011 criteria introduced a requirement of proof of “a cause that presumably justifies issuing a firearm license to an individual.” Such causes include residence or employment at locations that have been approved for firearms possession. To obtain a gun license based on these grounds the applicant must submit proof that his life is centered in the approved municipality or that most of his work for three months preceding the application was performed there. A license based on these grounds is limited to “one gun and fifty additional bullets.”
Other causes that create a presumption of a justification for the issuance of firearms licenses to individuals include the transfer of explosives by a person licensed to do so, and the submission of invoices issued within the preceding three months or an income tax certificate attesting to the applicant’s income from this occupation. A license based on this ground is similarly limited to “one gun and fifty additional bullets.”
High-ranking regular service officers at the captain ranking or higher in the IDF, or at a lieutenant or equivalent level in other security forces, who have served at least two years at this rank, and reservists who belong to special reserve units, are similarly qualified for a restricted license for the possession of “one gun and fifty additional bullets.” An application for a license under these circumstances must include a recommendation by a unit commander at the rank of an IDF lieutenant colonel or higher, or the equivalent in other security services.
A gun license may also be issued to retired officers at the rank of lieutenant colonel or higher and to reservist officers at the rank of captain or higher, or to persons at equivalent ranks in other security forces. A license may also be issued to security officers in a public institution who were trained by the police and who have at least one year of experience on the job, and to other persons who are identified by the police or other security agencies as having a “special interest” for the purpose of gun possession. As in other cases, these licenses apply to the possession of “one gun and fifty additional bullets.” Specific documentation and recommendations are similarly required.
In addition to certain high-ranking security officers, firefighters and Magen David Adom employees with at least one year experience may be eligible for a license for “one gun and fifty additional bullets.”
Instead of a license limited to “one gun and fifty additional bullets,” an active sportsman/woman may qualify for a license for possession of a firearm that is recognized by the licensing authority as a firearm approved for sporting purposes, and for ammunition as determined by a shooting association.; Similarly, a license may be issued to a licensed hunter for a firearm recognized by the licensing authority as one used for hunting purposes, along with 700 bullets, or to an authorized person for possession and use of a firearm that was similarly approved for “treatment of agricultural harm” and 700 bullets.
As a general rule, an individual who qualifies for a license may be eligible for only one firearm. Possession of additional firearms may be licensed for special reasons, including when the additional firearm is an air or BB gun, when it is designed to be held as memorabilia, or when it is required for different fields of sports or for the prevention of harm to agriculture.
Authorization for Possession of Military Firearms
Soldiers on Home Leave
The duties of soldiers to carry and safeguard personal weapons are regulated by orders issued by the IDF Central Command. As a general rule a soldier will not take his gun on home leave. Exceptions to this rule apply to soldiers who
- serve in combat units;
- serve in the West Bank or in other areas specified by an order for this purpose;
- were authorized by their unit officer at the rank of a colonel or higher for reasons of personal safety associated with their home or service location; or
- are officers whose request for a personal military weapon was approved by their unit officer at a ranking of colonel or higher.
The IDF recognizes that personal weapons are an attractive target for theft by both terrorist and criminal elements. According to news reports from September 2012, in an effort to prevent weapons theft IDF has prohibited soldiers belonging to a specific combat unit from carrying their personal weapons while on leave. According to IDF sources, soldiers of that unit were subjected to a very strict sorting procedure at the end of which a determination would be made with regard to soldiers’ eligibility for carrying weapons while on home leave.
Persons Belonging to Special IDF Units
Persons serving in special IDF programs that involve a combination of both military and other duties may be issued military weapons under special personal authorizations and subject to numerous conditions that include similar health and training requirements, authorizations from relevant authorities, and a temporary trial period before a weapon is issued by IDF. Such programs include the Yeshivat Ha-Hesder, for military and religious training, or the Nahal Brigade, which combines military service and the establishment of new agricultural communities. Special requirements regarding safeguarding and storage are specified by the military order under which weapons can be distributed in these circumstances.
Prepared by Ruth Levush
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
- Firearms Law, 5709-1949, § 11, 3 Laws of the State of Israel [LSI] 61 (5709-1949), as amended. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 11. [Back to Text]
- For the Ministry of Public Security policy regarding licensing, see Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm as Approved by the Minister on Aug. 4, 2011, Israel Ministry of Public Security (MOPS) (Aug 19, 2011), http://mops.gov.il/Pages/Firearm LicensingCriterion.aspx (in Hebrew). [Back to Text]
- Firearms Law § 1 (translated by author, R.L.). [Back to Text]
- Firearms Law § 5A. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 5C. [Back to Text]
- Firearms Regulations (Training for the Grant and Renewal of a License), 5752-1992, Kovetz Hatakanot (Subsidiary Regulations) No. 5415 p. 668 (in Hebrew). [Back to Text]
- Firearms Law §§ 7, 7C. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 7A1. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 9. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 10. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 10A. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 10B. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 10C. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 10D. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 11A(a). [Back to Text]
- Id. § 11A(b). [Back to Text]
- Id. § 11B. [Back to Text]
- Any reference to males in this report applies equally to females. [Back to Text]
- Firearms Law § 13. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 17. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 18. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 18A. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 18B. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 21. Note that implementation authorities were initially prescribed to the Minister of the Interior but were transferred to the Minister of Public Security on March 17, 2011, with firearms licensing authorities transferred to the head of the firearms licensing division in that Ministry on September 12, 2011. See Yalkut Hapirsumim [Government Notices] No. 6214 p. 3162 (2001) and No. 6292 p. 6468 (2011), respectively. [Back to Text]
- See Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm, supra note 3. [Back to Text]
- Tal Wolfowitz & Nitsan Shiri, Deadly Weapon, 1 Domestic Security 41 (June 2012), http://mops.gov.il/Documents/Publications/MopsNewsletter/MNL1June2012/MopsNewsletterFatalWeapon%20-p%2040-43.pdf (in Hebrew). See also, Yakov Amit, History of Firearm Licensing in Israel, MOPS, http://mops.gov.il/ English/AboutUsEnglish/Firearm/Pages/History_Firearm.aspx (last visited Dec. 17, 2012). Yakov Amit is the head of the Firearm Licensing Department at the Ministry of Public Security. [Back to Text]
- Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm, supra note 3. [Back to Text]
- Sheli Mizrahi, Firearm Licenses for Private Citizens: Policy and Numerical Data 2 n.10 (Knesset Information and Research Center, July 5, 2010), http://www.knesset.gov.il/mmm/data/pdf/m02587.pdf. [Back to Text]
- Amit, supra note 27. [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm, supra note 3, at 2, items 3–4. [Back to Text]
- Id. at 2, item 1. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 2. [Back to Text]
- Id. [Back to Text]
- For example, dangerous locations requiring self-protection. [Back to Text]
- Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm, supra note 3, at 3, items 1–2. The text uses the term אקדח, which means "gun," not the general term כלי ירייה, which means "firearm." [Back to Text]
- Id. item 3. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 4. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 6. [Back to Text]
- Id. items 4 & 6. [Back to Text]
- Id. items 5, 6, 8 & 9. [Back to Text]
- Magen David Adom is Israel’s medical service association, equivalent to the Red Cross. For additional information, see the Magen David Adom website, http://www.mdais.com/271/ (last visited Dec. 20, 2012). [Back to Text]
- Criteria for Grant of a License for Personal Possession of a Firearm, supra note 3, items 10-11. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 12. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 14. [Back to Text]
- Id. item 13. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 3. [Back to Text]
- IDF Central Command Order No. 2.0101, Duty for Carrying and Safeguarding Personal Weapons, issued June 15, 1986, updated Oct. 11, 2007, § 5, http://dover.idf.il/IDF/pkuda/020101.doc (in Hebrew). The Order uses the term נשק, correlating to “weapon” in the English language. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 7. [Back to Text]
- Id. § 2. [Back to Text]
- Yoav Ziton, Combatants on Condition, Depositing Weapons Before Leave, YNET (Sept. 19, 2012), http://www.ynet.co.il/articles/0,7340,L-4283806,00.html (in Hebrew). [Back to Text]
- Nahal Brigade, IDF, http://www.idf.il/1515-en/Dover.aspx (last visited Dec. 18, 2012). [Back to Text]
- IDF Central Command Order No. 2.0107, Delivery of Military Weapons to Civilians, issued Mar. 1, 1981, updated Sept. 26, 2006, http://dover.idf.il/IDF/pkuda/020107.doc (in Hebrew). [Back to Text]
Last Updated: 05/03/2013