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Israel's government is encouraging gun ownership by loosening the rules

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Since Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, Israelis have been arming themselves in large numbers. Some in the government encourage it, and some Israelis ask what people may do with those guns in times to come. NPR's Eleanor Beardsley reports from Tel Aviv.

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ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: With an assault rifle slung over one shoulder, 24-year-old Amitai Turkel strolls along Tel Aviv's waterfront holding hands with his wife, Oriya.

How does it feel to walk along a beautiful beach with a huge gun...

ORIYA TURKEL: (Laughter).

BEARDSLEY: ...Like that? Isn't it weird?

AMITAI TURKEL: It's a bit heavy, so you're always uncomfortable. But it's also - I think it's a service to the public because in case that something happened, I know that I have the equipment to run and help whoever need it.

O TURKEL: I want to say I feel more safe. I feel more comfortable (laughter).

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BEARDSLEY: Before October 7, anyone with a gun was usually in the military and a common sight in Israel. But guns are now even more ubiquitous as Israeli government has moved to loosen the rules around gun ownership by fast-tracking the permitting process.

JONAH MINK: We've definitely seen an increase in requests, for sure, since October 7. Everyone is scared and wanting to be able to protect themselves.

BEARDSLEY: That's Jonah Mink, a physician in Tel Aviv. This Israeli American family doctor says it's a lot tougher for civilians to get a gun in Israel than it is in the U.S. You need to have completed mandatory military service for one. And you need a doctor's physical and mental health clearance.

MINK: Here, it's really, really strict. The process is annoying. It's long. It takes a while. There's multiple layers of bureaucratic review.

BEARDSLEY: Israel's National Security Ministry says it has received more than 260,000 firearm permit requests since October 7 and is approving up to 3,000 a day, compared with 100 approvals a day before the attack.

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ITAMAR BEN-GVIR: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: A recent video shows National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir urging people to take up arms. The controversial far-right politician has been convicted of inciting anti-Arab racism.

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BEN-GVIR: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: "My message to the public is - arm yourselves, it saves lives," he says, standing with Orthodox Jews around a crate of assault rifles. Last month, when two Palestinians opened fire killing three people at a Jerusalem bus stop, an armed civilian took down the shooters with his own gun. He was then killed by an Israeli soldier who mistook him for one of the attackers. The soldier boasted about the kill in a TV interview before he knew he had shot a fellow Jew.

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UNIDENTIFIED SOLDIER: (Non-English language spoken).

BEARDSLEY: "I was just lucky to be in the right place," he said. "Every soldier wants to tick that box." Rabbi Noa Satthat is executive director of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.

NOA SATTHAT: These are the kinds of tragic accidents that happen, so it's a false sense of safety.

BEARDSLEY: She says clashes between Arabs and Jews that are still mostly fought using fists, knives and stones could take a catastrophic turn with guns.

SATTHAT: If those kinds of conflicts are weaponized, it could be a disaster.

BEARDSLEY: Amir Ahmad Badran is one of the few Arab members of the Tel Aviv Jaffa municipal council. He says nothing good will come from arming Israelis.

AMIR AHMAD BADRAN: And this is something we fear, not only as Arabs but as a society - as a civil society because, you know, these guns soon will be turned upon us - me as an Arab, you as a Jew and us as a community.

BEARDSLEY: Badran says when this war is over, those same guns will wreak havoc in homes and communities in a traumatized society.

Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Tel Aviv.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.