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This man designs submachine guns to look sexy for the Israeli Army

The Tavor assault rifle is compact and heavy. It's a rough, dull, dark grayish-brown. Cradling one, your stance automatically hardens and your jaw clenches. You are ready to go.

Shotgunnews.com calls the Tavor "the Hebrew hammer used to smite the foes of Israel" and American Rifleman awarded it its Golden Bullseye Rifle of the Year for 2014. It is pretty much a high school boy's fantasy of a submachine gun.

In this handout photo provided by the Israeli Defense Force, Israeli Gen. Gadi Shamni tries out the first operational Micro-Tavor.
Getty Images
In this handout photo provided by the Israeli Defense Force, Israeli Gen. Gadi Shamni tries out the first operational Micro-Tavor.

"That's the point," says Tamir Porat, 47, the rifle's creator. "Civilians would like to mimic guns in military use. It's a fun gun to use for shooting practice or for hunting."

In 2013, the Tavor assault rifle began to be marketed to the general population in the US — the only country in which the rifle is available to civilians.

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The stubby, powerful weapon was originally conceived with the dusty landscapes of Middle Eastern urban warfare in mind, but following the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Porat says, American tastes in gun aesthetics changed, and "the desert tan camouflage look became very popular in the US."

Porat, an Israeli who in his spectacles looks like a Harry Potter character arrived at the early flushes of middle age, is one of a minuscule guild of firearm designers around the world. He came to the profession circuitously.

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He says he always loved military history and was "fascinated by weapons from a young age, from the engineering point of view." But his service in the Israel Defense Forces was unrelated, consisting of analyzing psychometric results of potential recruits.

After that, he studied industrial design at Jerusalem's Bezalel Academy of Art. For 10 years, he was chief designer for Hazorfim, a premier purveyor of fine silver Judaica.

Gun design "isn't something you study," says Porat, now the CEO of Versia Military Design.

Porat was commissioned to design the Tayor assault rifle for the Israeli army in the 1990s. It is the IDF's standard issue weapon, and has been acquired, through sales by companies authorized to sell Israeli weaponry abroad, by the Indian, Vietnamese, South African and Central African armed services, among others. (Porat does not make a penny on sales.)

In the US civilian market, you can get one for around $2,000. The military versions are priced differently.

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The Tavor offers distinct design advantages to large military organizations, not the least of which is the fact that it is ergonomic and fully ambidextrous. (Imagine, being in the 2 million-strong Indian army, trying to figure out who gets the left-handed weapons.) Its frame is made entirely from unique, weapons-grade reinforced polymer that is "nice to handle," in Porat's words.

Israeli Yitzhak D., 21, a soldier serving in his last year of compulsory service who spoke with GlobalPost without permission from the army, said the Tavor is his "favorite armament."

"It's super comfortable, in my opinion much more than any other weapon. It's smaller and it doesn't get in your way and bang against your legs like an M-16 so you can really run with it. It may weigh a little more, but you don't really feel it because its weight is concentrated and it stays right close to your body."

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Of course, an Israeli who's gone back to civilian life can't get his hands on a Tavor. Israeli gun laws tend toward the exclusionary, in marked contrast to those in the US, where the Tavor has been sold for the past year. According to the Small Arms Survey, Americans own 88.8 guns per 100 people — 12 times Israel's figure.

In recent years, mass shootings in the US have been much discussed in Israeli media. Although the Tavor has not been used in US shootings, similar military-grade semi-automatic weapons have: the Bushmaster at the Sandy Hook school in Newtown, Conn., and the AR-15 in Oregon.

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Porat, the father of a small boy, has little to say about the epidemic of gun-related violence in the United States. "I'm not a student of culture," he said. "Israel is a highly militarized society. I don't know why it happens there and not here. I can't explain it."

Most Israelis carrying guns are trained soldiers, whereas American civilians can purchase weapons online. But that doesn't explain away the phenomenon, he says.

Of one thing he is sure, however. The responsibility does not lie with designers like him. "It's like asking a car designer if he feels blame for accidents that happen," he said, shrugging.

By Noga Tarnopolsky, The Global Post