As a political science major and news “junkie,” I have been doing as much as I can to stay informed in regards to American news stories during my time in Israel. None of these stories has affected my classmates and I abroad more than the Parkland shooting and the activism that has been sparked in its aftermath. The gun control debate in the US has consistently been a controversial, heated, and emotional issue with many suggestions for change but no clear correct solution. For my classmates and I, being in Israel has added another dimension of complexity to this debate.
In Israel there is mandatory military service, meaning that just about every Israeli, regardless of what their service entailed, has training on how to use a gun. Beyond this, in Israel, soldiers are allowed to go home on weekends, and because of the quick-changing nature of the conflicts the country faces the soldiers bring their assault rifles home with them. As a result, simple train or bus rides can have 10 or more large assault rifles riding along.
As an American who knows many who have been affected by mass shootings that utilize this weapon, these guns on the backs of soldiers initially made me incredibly nervous and scared. For Israelis, however, no one so much as bats an eye. These guns don’t represent mass shootings or heated and emotional debates to them. Rather, they represent safety and security from the conflicts that surround the nation.
As my peers and I have gotten more used to seeing these weapons almost everywhere we go, from the market to the train to the beach, we have become more desensitized to their existence and presence. As a result, our discussions regarding the gun control debate in America after the Parkland shooting have shifted. Mass shootings are not a common occurrence in Israel, and despite the terrorist threat in this country, gun deaths per capita are far lower here than in the US. While this way of life, with guns always present, seems to work in Israel, my classmates and I wonder why it is something that seems to be very problematic in the United States.
So far, this is my first confrontation with a true cultural dilemma. Because of my experience abroad in Israel, I now understand that cultural attitudes can play a big role in affecting the effectiveness of policy. While guns are everywhere in Israel causing little issue, the same cannot necessarily be said for the US. These revelations haven’t necessarily changed the views of my peers and I on the issue of gun control, but they have certainly allowed us to see how cultural attitudes can have a large affect on policy debates. Without my experience abroad in Israel, this understanding would not have been possible.