How many illegal guns are there in Israel?

Illegal guns Credit: Israel Police Spokesperson

It depends who you ask. Some say 10,000 and others say 500,000. "Globes" investigates.

How many illegal guns are there in Israel? It seems that nobody really knows but that doesn't prevent politicians and the police from throwing out numbers.

During discussions in 2020 by the Knesset Committee for the Promotion of the Status of Women, the then chair of the committee Oded Forer said, "There are 400,000 illegal guns …… which are sometimes used for murdering women and sometimes for other violence." Such a number is quadruple the number of licensed privately-held guns in Israel.

How did Forer come up with this number? The number came from a women's organization called The Gun on the Kitchen Table, which seeks greater restrictions for gun ownership by Israeli citizens. The organization writes, "According to reports that have not been verified, in 2013 the police estimated that the number of illegal guns in Israel was 400,000." In other words the report was based on an unverified estimate by the police nearly a decade ago. Forer himself currently admits that the "Police provides different estimates every time."

In May 2021, Forer asked then Minister of Internal Security Amir Ohana whether the 400,000 number was correct. Ohana said, "This number has been known to me for years and when I entered office I requested that it be confirmed or denied. I asked the police how many illegal guns are there in the State of Israel, and I added and asked where the number 400,000 came from. The answer was that nobody knows where the number comes from and we have no data on how many illegal guns there are in Israel but just an estimate. It is not based on data. We have no data."

Regarding Israeli Arab society nobody has any information either. During a special debate convened by Ohana by the Knesset Committee for Arab Affairs Deputy Commander Yigal Ezra, Head of Israel Police Department for the Prevention of Crime in the Arab Sector said, "We are talking about thousands of guns and not about tens of thousands. If we see one gun that we connect to 20 crime scenes, we understand that not every family has a gun but the gun has been passed around between different families."

Ezra added, "Not hundreds. Not hundreds of thousands and not tens of thousands. I'm talking about 8,000-10,000 guns, that's my estimate, more or less. It's a rough estimate and it's not based on anything but I see scenes connected to each other by the same gun which has been shot in several places and that shows that not every family has a gun."

But Ezra also admits that he is talking about a rough estimate, which "is not based on anything."

And as the State Comptroller wrote in both his 2018 and 2021 reports, "The police has no estimate regarding the scale of illegal weapons in Israel in general and Arab society in particular."

Many numbers, zero sources

The Knesset Research and Information Center surveyed the issue of the transfer of weapons and tried to obtain official estimates about the number of illegal guns from Israel Police and the Ministry of Internal Security but failed. The information that the Knesset Research and Information Center did receive was that most of the illegal guns in Israel were smuggled in from abroad (Jordan and Lebanon) or manufactured in 'pirate' plants in the Palestinian Authority. Only a small number of guns reach the illegal market after being stolen from private owners in Israel or the security forces. This means there is an in-built difficulty in accurately assessing numbers.

The bottom line is that nobody has a clue how many illegal guns there are in Israel, although that doesn't stop inflated numbers from reaching the media. Likud MK Nir Barkat said last month, "In the Arab sector there are more than 100,000 illegal weapons." Just a week later on April 5, the same Nir Barkat was quoted as saying that, "In the Arab sector there are about half a million illegal weapons."

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 18, 2022.

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd., 2022.

Illegal guns Credit: Israel Police Spokesperson
Illegal guns Credit: Israel Police Spokesperson
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