Awash in Guns and Bloodshed

The U.S. and Israel stand apart from most of the developed world as modern societies awash in guns with powerful forces overriding large numbers of citizens, even majorities, alarmed at the rates of violence, writes Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Here is the question: What two “modern” societies have cultures that allow and even idealize the possession of guns? Answer: the United States and Israel.

In the U.S., there are 88 guns floating around for every 100 people, which comes to about 300 million of these weapons in circulation. This includes military-style assault weapons, of which it is estimated there are about 3.75 million in private hands. This state of affairs makes the U.S. the most weaponized modern society on the planet.

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)

Wayne LaPierre of the National Rifle Association, speaking to the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2011. (Photo credit: Gage Skidmore)


This weaponized status is not because most Americans want it this way. As President Barack Obama has pointed out, multiple national polls have shown that most Americans want stricter gun control, but that seems not to matter. Why? Because most Americans are not sufficiently politically organized around this issue to out-lobby the minority who are – mostly in the form of the National Rifle Association (NRA).

We are here referring to a rather fanatical, though culturally decisive, minority who define freedom as, first and foremost, the right to “pack” a firearm or two, or ten, ad infinitum. They errantly believe that somehow owning a gun (almost any gun) is “a birthright and an essential part of the nation’s heritage.” They expend much energy on misinterpreting the Second Amendment of the Constitution so as to allegedly prove their point. In other words, for these folks, being armed with a gun is a cornerstone of American culture.

Isn’t this somehow a corruption of the democratic process? Shouldn’t that process demand that, in matters of national security (and this certainly is such a matter), the safety of the vast majority should prevail?

Unfortunately that is not the American way of democratic politics. In truth, the U.S. is not a democracy of individual citizens, but rather one of competing interest groups. The interest group that is the NRA is better funded and more politically influential than its opponents, and so, in the matter of gun legislation, it wins. And this is so despite the fact that its victories make society much more dangerous than it ought to be.

The NRA is in total denial of the fact that, ipso facto, to be armed is to be dangerous. They illogically deny that there is any connection between the publicly held 300 million firearms in the country and the fact that the U.S. has the highest gun-related homicide rate in the “developed” world.

You can find higher rates of gun-related murder, but you have to go to places like Honduras and El Salvador to see them. Indeed the best the NRA can do in the face of the deadly mayhem for which it is at least indirectly responsible, is the statement by Wayne LaPierre, the organization’s executive vice president, who has declared that “the only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” – an absurdly simplistic assertion leading to the conclusion that what the nation needs is more guns and not fewer.

The Israeli Gun Culture

While the U.S. has evolved a self-destructive gun culture, it is not unique among the “modern” nations. There is also America’s “partner” in so much that is violent, Israel. It is hard to know how many guns are loose among the Israeli Jewish population. I remember that the first time I went to Israel, back in the early 1970s, it seemed that everyone, both men and women, was draped with military assault rifles. In later trips these became less evident but that does not mean less available.

Near universal military service, followed by enlistment in the active reserves, means that most Jewish citizens over 18 have access to a gun. Some Israelis would qualify this assertion by pointing out that, unlike the U.S., Israel has “strict gun regulations,” including a ban on assault weapons. In addition, “a person must also show genuine cause to carry a firearm, such as self-defense.”

But Israel is a chronically insecure place due to its expansionist policies and oppression of Palestinians. So “self-defense” is in the forefront of a great majority of Israeli minds.

According to Liel Leibovitz, writing in the magazine Tablet, “It doesn’t take much of an expert to realize that these restrictions, in and of themselves, do not constitute much by the way of gun control.” Every Israeli Jew can justify wanting a gun and many possess them.

So why don’t we hear about killings in Israel similar to those in the United States? Well, it is not for the misleading reasons offered by Liel Leibovitz in his Tablet article: that Israelis are more responsible gun owners and, as a nation, Israel does a better job treating disturbed, potentially violent, individuals.

As to this last assertion, Leibovitz fails to account for the significant number of armed Israeli fanatics running loose in the country’s illegal settlements. The truth is that we in the U.S. do often hear of the Israeli version of gun-related rampages. Unfortunately, most Americans don’t recognize in these reports the same sort of chronic murder we have generated here at home.

While Americans most often use their guns on each other, the Israelis primarily use their guns on Palestinians. The result is the daily harassment, injury and murder of an entire ethnically specific population by Israeli soldiers, police, settlers and other armed civilians. As a result over 9,000 Palestinians have been killed and over 73,000 injured since 2000.

This is reported to the world as acts of self-defense on the part of Israelis. But is it? Such an assertion is hard to sustain when one sees the lopsided kill and injury ratio between Palestinian and Israeli victims. Indeed, the numbers averaging around 33 to 1, suggest ongoing collective punishment against Palestinians audacious enough to resist Israeli occupation.

Both the U.S. and Israel have historically rooted gun cultures. Perhaps this is because both societies matured against the backdrop of territorial conquest, delusions of racial superiority, and near-genocidal treatment of indigenous populations.

This sort of history has produced two related consequences: first, particularly among more conservative and traditionalist elements of the population, it has resulted in obsessive concerns with self-defense. Second, it has built up an association between the possession and use of deadly weapons and the image of the brave and independent citizen defending hearth and home.

These consequences are now underpinned by psychological states that are, apparently, impervious to counter-argument. Neither the NRA devotee nor the ardent Zionist is open to the proposition that their own ideas and actions have something to do with the dangers and insecurities they feel.

And, in both countries such fanatics seem to be politically dominant. That means all citizens of these two “modern” and “developed” societies, even those rational enough to understand what is going on, are stuck within gun cultures and the explosive cycles of violence they produce.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

10 comments for “Awash in Guns and Bloodshed

  1. Alex Frediani
    October 22, 2015 at 04:40

    It is wearisome, once again, to read distorted accounts of reality. So let’s get to it:
    — Who’s responsible for protecting you? A: you are. Cops and militaries have only a non-actionable, vague duty to protect. You get maimed or killed, you can’t sue. What else do you need to know? The phrase ” … obsessive concerns with self-defense … ” used in the article
    struck me as suicidal.
    — What could possibly go wrong if the government of a country goes rancid – and also happens to have thousands of armed police and military – who are (normally) looked to for ‘protection’ by an unarmed population?
    — Would it be nice if people were trained to use their self-protection weapons? A: yes.
    — Would it be nice if our bread and circuses entertainment industry could be prevailed on to
    not glorify violence in pursuit of their bucks? A: yes.

  2. paul devincenti
    October 17, 2015 at 19:40

    I dont own but believe it necessary to uphold right to bear. there is plenty of evidence of constitutional rights destruction..police state abuse and our republic under attack by corpritocracy and one world order types within govt…so go fly a kite

  3. Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
    October 16, 2015 at 15:50

    I a pro-Palestinian rather than pro-Israeli, but I understand both sides when it comes to political arguments. Israelis have the wall around the West Banka and security restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip due to fearing terrorist attacks due to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip are occupied territories (no pun on the official Israeli name for them, the Occupied Territories).

    They do not have these restrictions on Palestinians whom are Israeli citizens, since they are not members of occupied territories, there is no reason to consider them a threat. All occupying powers would surely do what Israel does to the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.

    Israeli settlers settle in the West Bank, and did so previously in the Gaza Strip, because they genuinely believe it is their birthright, due to their religion, similarly to the American settlers thinking it was their “Manifest Destiny” to colonize North America from the Appalachians to the Pacific, and later, Americans thinking it was “Manifest Destiny” to conquer Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The Israeli government must also think this, since they build the settlements in the Occupied Territories in the first place.

    Also, Israelis genuinely (but obviously mistakenly) fear another Holocaust, due to Israel being the only place in history where the Jews have not been persecuted. Of course, this is nonsense, since there is absolutely no chance of another Holocaust, and Jews dominate Israel.

    That being said, Israel has all Palestinians swear an oath of allegiance that Jews are exempt from. But “it is not racist”, as Gwynne Dyer pointed out in an article at the time, in 2010, since all states which tie ethnicity with the state – Germany, Japan, Islamic Republics – have the right to do this, it is just that they don’t. Gwynne Dyer called the law “not racist, just short-sighted and nasty.”, but I would think that they Netanyahu just did something that is, sadly, legal. But all of that being said, Palestinians have a lot to be angry at Israel for.

    They stole the land that was to be given to Palestine in the Israeli War of Independence, they are occupying the Occupied Territories, and they are building settlements there.

    I never realised the connection between American gun violence and Israeli gun violence. Thank you. But there is a major difference. Gun violence in America tends to be school shootings, church shootings, and gang violence, while gun violence in Israel tends to be settlers attacking the Palestinians. That is more akin to the American settlers versus the Native Americans in the 19th century.

    I say that the settlements in the West Bank be abolished, and the settlers returned to Israel. Also, I say that Congress creating temporary bans on guns is not good enough – they do not go far enough, and they will be legal again in some years. The U.S needs gun control laws like Canada.

  4. Barbara Dayan
    October 16, 2015 at 04:35

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    • Rikhard Ravindra Tanskanen
      October 16, 2015 at 15:25

      While I support Bernie Sanders’ campaign for U.S president, I despise Facebook and social media due to the hype it gets, the fact that users are more depressed then non-users, and the rampant cyberbullying on those sites, and also, Bernie Sanders has nothing to do with this article. I believe that while opposed to guns, he is less so then Hilary Clinton, and as he is not mentioned in this article, I conclude that you are a troll.

  5. Michael Gillespie
    October 15, 2015 at 18:32

    Israeli writers, like Variety’s Israel correspondent Debra Kamin, would like very much to air-brush American-Israeli gun massacre murderer Baruch Goldstein’s crime from history for American audiences. After the horrific Sandy Hook Elementary School gun massacre Kamin had the gall to claim that, “Israel, well-versed in terror attacks, has never had a U.S.-style mass shooting.” How many other lies, omissions, and distortions can you find in Kamin’s article?

  6. Mortimer
    October 15, 2015 at 17:58

    Our Manifest Destiny/Exceptionalism is the only authorization needed to beleaguer “lesser” nations/peoples.
    “Bombs bursting in air” along with unlimited amounts of Firepower appear to be the Birthright of “patriotic” Americans.
    (“Damn the torpedoes, Full Speed Ahead” !!!)

    From the Halls of Montezuma
    To the Shores of Tripoli;
    We will fight our country’s battles
    In the air, on land ,and sea;
    First to fight for right and freedom
    And to keep our honor clean;
    We are proud to claim the title
    of United States Marine.

    Our flag’s unfurled to every breeze
    From dawn to setting sun;
    We have fought in every clime and place
    Where we could take a gun;
    In the snow of far-off Northern lands
    And in sunny tropic scenes;
    You will find us always on the job–
    The United States Marines.

    Here’s health to you and to our Corps
    Which we are proud to serve
    In many a strife we’ve fought for life
    And never lost our nerve;
    If the Army and the Navy
    Ever look on Heaven’s scenes;
    They will find the streets are guarded
    By United States Marines.

  7. Richo
    October 15, 2015 at 17:34

    Switzerland has probably more guns per person in the population than either. Does not seem to be a problem there.

    • Zachary Smith
      October 15, 2015 at 19:53

      Google doesn’t work for you? My search produced a “Gun politics in Switzerland” wiki.

      That nation supposedly has 25 guns per hundred people. The site also speaks of a highly controlled firearm market. Also, to purchase ammunition, customers must jump through hoops yet again. Quite unlike plopping a big bill on a counter and taking the stuff home like it is here in the US of A.

      valid official identification or passport (and must be older than 18 who are not psychiatric-ally disqualified nor identified as posing security problems, and must not be a citizen of the following countries (Art. 12 WV): Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania)
      residence address
      criminal record copy not older than 3 months
      weapon acquisition permit not older than 2 years, or a weapon carrying permit not older than 5 years

  8. JWalters
    October 15, 2015 at 17:05

    Thanks for this excellent comparison and analysis. I would add that the NRA overrules its own membership new precautions. It is controlled by the gun profiteers. Similarly, Israel is controlled by war profiteers. The religious conflict keeps the profits rolling in. More on the Israeli arms industry is at –

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