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U.S. gun culture baffles Israelis

TEL AVIV

America’s gun culture continues to baffle Israelis, despite their widespread combat training and familiarity with life in a semi-militarized society.

After the Aurora and Newtown shootings, many Israeli columnists pointed out, with pride, that despite the presence of guns among locals, only individuals in certain categories — combat soldiers, security guards and residents of the West Bank, for example — have a chance of obtaining a permit. They also noted every Israeli teenager must pass a mental health exam prior to compulsory enlistment in the Israel Defense Forces, a safeguard, perhaps, that the United States could take a lesson from.

In Israel, where terrorism is practically rote but school shootings are unheard of, the question of “why there and not here” was widely circulated but largely unanswered. Perhaps because Israelis also embrace the same movies, television shows and videogames as their American counterparts, most columnists ignored such similarities between the two allies and instead focused on the U.S.’s lax gun laws and intransigence in the face of so many shootings.

In the aftermath of the Newtown shootings, Israeli coverage followed the same formula after Aurora: find a Jewish angle, express condolences and solidarity, and offer baffled commentary as to what makes Americans so trigger-happy.

Four days after Newtown, most of Israel’s dailies continued to lead with the horrific story. Much of the coverage focused on Noah Pozner, who had just celebrated his sixth birthday, making him the youngest of the many victims. He was also the only Jewish child killed. Israeli correspondents on the ground in Newtown interviewed Noah’s rabbi and family members, and provided first-hand accounts of his funeral, which in keeping with Jewish law was held as soon as possible after the boy’s death.

“In March of this year, three young Jewish children were gunned down at the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse (France),” conservative columnist Boaz Bismuth wrote in the free broadsheet Israel Hayom, referring to an act of anti-Semitic terror in France this past spring that reverberated through the Jewish world. “Just like Adam Lanza in Connecticut, Mohammed Merah shot children at close range. In Toulouse, we know why this happened. In Connecticut, it is not certain we will ever know.”

The left-leaning Haaretz newspaper offered an analysis on the history of the Second Amendment, as well as a timeline of mass shootings in the United States. Ma’ariv, another daily, sent a correspondent to a gun show in Philadelphia, where he wrote that he was faced with “more kinds of guns than the Israeli Defenses Force’s armory.”

On the day of Pozner’s funeral, another Israel Hayom writer, Omer Lachmanovitch, grazed the issue. “Shows like ‘Dexter’ and (the 1994 film) ‘Natural Born Killers’ or the 1971 film ‘A Clockwork Orange’ are not what created the basis for the murderous madness of Adam Lanza,” he wrote. “Films and television shows are not created in a vacuum. They arise from an apathetic and technological society that has turned murderers into cultural heroes.”

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