Men shoot at a gun range in Jerusalem in October 2015.
Jerusalem CNN  — 

Israel has relaxed the country’s restrictions on gun licenses, in a move that could make up to 500,000 more civilians eligible to carry firearms, provided they have a certain amount of military or security training.

The new regulations allow veterans of Israel’s infantry units to more easily obtain licenses, as well as allowing officers and commanders who have completed their reserve duty to keep their weapons. The regulations also allow emergency responders and former police officers to obtain gun licenses more easily. 

The change could potentially quadruple the number of civilians in Israel who have gun permits. Roughly 145,000 civilians currently have gun permits, according to Israel’s ministry of public security. 

The changes went into effect Tuesday, with Israeli minister of public security Gilad Erdan saying more armed civilians increases the chances of stopping attacks and preventing injuries.  

“Trained citizens who hold weapons in the public sphere contribute to the feeling of security,” Erdan said in a statement announcing the new regulations. “They are an important line of defense against ‘lone wolf’ actions and are used in a sense as a temporary force multiplier, thereby strengthening public safety.” 

Erdan has been pushing to ease gun restrictions since a wave of Palestinian lone wolf attacks between late 2015 and early 2016, most of which were stabbing or car ramming attacks. In October 2015, at the height of what was sometimes called the “Lone Wolf Intifada,” Erdan said armed citizens had helped police stop such attacks. While there have been less attacks of this type in the past two years, Erdan has continued to advocate for a relaxation of gun laws.    

“The new policy balances between the need to protect the public that could find itself at risk and the need to protect the public safe from the misuse of firearms,” Erdan said Tuesday. 

Critics slammed the new regulations, arguing the government is attempting to solve a problem by expanding that same problem.

“Instead of dealing with the enormous amount of illegal weapons that are circulating on the streets and endangering lives, [the Ministry of Public Security] simply expands the number of weapons licenses,” Israeli opposition Member of Knesset Tamar Zandberg tweeted. “We’re talking about weapons of death of which there should be a willingness to reduce these as much as possible.” 

Visitors to Israel are often struck by the relaxed way guns are openly carried in the country. Soldiers and police openly show their arms and civilians carry pistols on their belts. But Israel has tight restrictions on gun regulations under the ministry of public security, and the new regulations do not affect most of the basic requirements for gun ownership. 

An Israeli citizen who wants to apply for a weapon is required to register with the government and establish a need to carry a weapon.  

In addition, Israel imposes age restrictions on gun licenses, as well as mental and physical health checks and recurrent proficiency training. There are additional regulations and training for applicants who wish to serve as security guards or other professions that require guns.  

Most gun license holders are restricted to the possession of handguns and no more than 50 bullets.  

According to the 2017 Small Arms Survey, there are approximately 557,000 registered and unregistered guns in Israel, or 6.7 guns per 100 people. That number is a tiny fraction of America’s 120 guns per 100 people. According to the survey, there are more than 390 million guns in the United States.