My law school teaching brought me into few intersections with guns except for the occasional case or statute I taught that involved firearms. Then, about fifteen years ago, while still an academic, I went to Israel with others on a fellowship to study terrorism. As part of this junket, we were taken to various police and military installations, and, of course, there were guns. At one of them, after a tremendous display of marksmanship by those trained for hostage situations, our group was taken to a range and, after brief instruction, given automatic pistols to fire at targets. I felt quite comfortable firing off some rounds and was told that I had done quite well. I never saw the target, and the praise may have been given to all us, but I prefer to believe that the remarks to me were right on.) I enjoyed the experience, and a picture of me aiming the pistol hangs in the passageway to my bedroom.
The sight of guns, however, was not limited to military installations. Armed forces personnel were carrying rifles almost everywhere we went. Buying gum at a highway rest stop, I found I was standing behind one rifle in the queue and in front of another. Military people were carrying guns walking down the streets of Tel Aviv, which is where I saw one of my favorite Israeli sights. A woman in an army uniform was on a corner talking with a colleague. She had a rifle slung over one shoulder, and over her other shoulder was slung the biggest, reddest purse I have ever seen. The need for all this seemed obvious, and after a little adjustment, I hardly noticed this open display of weaponry. A normal society and many visible firearms were not incompatible. But even so, there were fetters on these military weapons. Security checkpoints were almost everywhere, and the military personnel often had to show something, I am not sure what, to carry their rifle into an establishment. Those of us not visibly carrying a gun also had to go through numerous security procedures. Before walking into a grocery store, for example, I was, as was everyone else, “wanded.” I did wonder about the efficacy of much of this. Entering our hotel, we had to go through metal detectors but after a few days, but after a few days, we were simply waved in. I went to a restaurant and had to go through a checkpoint, where I was searched. A couple days later, I returned to that eating place (they had pork, and I was hungering for it), and the security guy asked, “Got a gun?” I replied, “No,” and without further ado, was allowed to enter.
I did not know what to make of all of this. This was a society with many visible firearms, but the guns I saw were carried by trained personnel, and there were many security checkpoints to see if unauthorized people were carrying weapons. I was led to believe that the society had little gun violence, but the connection, if any, between visible weapons, the ubiquitous security, and a low gun homicide rate was not clear to me.