- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 7, 2002

JERUSALEM Sixty thousand additional gun permits are to be distributed to Israeli civilians as authorities loosen licensing restrictions to help fight a growing wave of terrorism.

Armed civilians have played a significant role in bringing down terrorists during the Palestinian uprising, most recently during an attack this week by a Palestinian gunman at a Tel Aviv restaurant where a wedding party was under way.

A 46-year-old civilian packing a pistol fatally shot the terrorist at close range after three persons had been killed and he had been wounded. When a radio reporter asked the man whether he was a member of the security forces, he said he was a shoe salesman.

Police and Interior Ministry officials decided this week to make 60,000 more gun permits available to civilians, particularly reserve army officers and veterans of combat units. Guns also are being issued to firemen and municipal inspectors while they are on duty.

Most Israelis are army veterans and are familiar with firearms. Already, 265,000 guns are in civilian hands, particularly in border areas and the occupied territories. With terror now striking the Israeli heartland almost daily, officials decided to make more guns available there as well.

Police Inspector-General Shlomo Aharonisky cited a danger that some people would be too quick to use the weapons.

"But," he said, "there's no question that weapons in the hands of the public have prevented acts of terror or stopped them while they were in progress. Chance passers-by have killed terrorists in the midst of gun attacks."

New bylaws obliging large businesses to post armed guards outside their premises are soon to go into effect.

The laws will apply to any business with more than 5,000 square feet of floor space as well as hotels, cinemas and other locations that draw large crowds. Police patrols are being stepped up around schools, including kindergartens.

Adi Eldar, mayor of the city of Karmiel in Galilee, has asked all city officials to carry weapons during working hours. Mr. Eldar, head of the Union of Local Authorities, has called on all mayors in the country to do likewise.

One-third of the nation's 6,000 bus drivers also carry personal weapons to work.

Despite the uneasiness caused by the terror attacks, the public is not panicked. The dominant sentiment appears to be a desire to strike back at the Palestinians.

That mood was captured in an article published yesterday in the newspaper Yediot Ahronot under the headline, "What to do [when facing] an armed terrorist."

In the article, a retired police officer said civilians firing at armed terrorists might hit other civilians but argued that the risk had to be accepted.

Another retired police officer assured a radio interviewer that an easing of licensing restrictions would not put weapons in the hands of criminals. "Every criminal who wants a weapon already has one," he said.

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