The legislation that regulates the ownership and usage of guns – especially in the civil context – varies vastly in different countries. While some countries allow their citizens to hold and use firearms, choosing not to interfere in the citizens’ right to self-defense, others do not allow non-military personnel or civilians to own and carry firearms. Yet other countries restrict civilian ownership by specifying criteria and issuing licenses or permits. The issue of gun-control has been a very important issue of political debate in many countries. In some countries such as the US, both parties have steered clear of the issue unwilling to antagonize the gun-owning masses by subscribing to gun control. The need for regulation, however, is quite often a real one. Gun ownership and usage restrictions allow the monitored usage of firearms, thereby curbing terrorism, gun violence, and even suicides.
A Look at Recent Events
In the US a number of recent incidents have rekindled the debate on sale of firearms. The deadliest among these was the 2012 Aurora shooting. On July 20, 2012, during the midnight screening of the film The Dark Knight Rises, a gunman used multiple firearms to shoot 12 people and injure a further 58 members of audience. The prime accused, James Holmes is believed to have used the Internet to buy an inordinately large quantity of guns and bullets. Such uninhibited sales did not ring any alarms, though.
On August 5, 2012, in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page used a Springfield XD (M) 9-milimeter semi-automatic pistol to shoot six victims in a Sikh temple. Page had bought the gun legally at Shooter Stop, a Milwaukee-area gun shop, and had been issued five gun permits in North Carolina.
In early August 2012, DC resident Seth Horvitz ordered a flat-panel TV on the Internet through a third-party vendor of Amazon.com. When his order was delivered to him, however, Horvitz discovered that he had received a Sig Sauer SIG716 semi-automatic assault rifle instead. It is illegal for a DC resident to carry an assault rifle. The incident has raised many gun-control concerns.
In The US
Gun control has long been acknowledged one of the most controversial issues in the US political environment. The Second Amendment to the US Constitution provides individuals the right to own firearms for the purpose of self defense - "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed" While automatic firearms were restricted the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban imposed restrictions on the manufacture of semi-automatic guns and high capacity magazines for civilian use. When the ban lived out its time limit in 2004 the US Senate did not allow an extension or renewal.
In the US, there are no federal laws restricting the sales of ammunition – bullets being sold in supermarkets in many states. Online sales of ammunition include bulk sales and offer discounts as well. The National Rifle Association is a very strong lobby and has been successful in holding off all gun control legislation.
Some of the US States have imposed restrictions on the ownership of gun and other arms. While many states like Arizona, Florida, and Mississippi have very lax gun-ownership restrictions, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York prohibit the manufacture of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 bullets, and California has restrictions on ownership of semi-automatic rifles. The state also requires the serial numbers of handguns to be logged. Permits to carry concealed weapons are issued by local police departments and by the councils. New York also imposes restrictions on owning assault weapons and owners require licenses for handguns.
Following the Aurora shootings, New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg has advocated a ban on the sale of high-capacity ammunitions. Gun-control, however, remains a very sensitive issue. Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats are likely to propose sweeping changes, thus running the risk of offending the gun owners among the voters. Late in July, US President Barack Obama made an appeal to both Democrats and Republicans to arrive at a consensus aimed at reducing gun violence. The President, however, did not ruffle the mandate and propose any reforms in view of the forthcoming elections.
Death by Firearms – A look at the US
In the US, it is estimated that civilians own approximately 270 million guns – the highest in the world.
|State||Total Murders By Firearms (2010)||% Of All Murders (2010)|
|District of Columbia||99||76|
Australia – In Australia the state laws govern the ownership and use of firearms. To buy a gun a resident of Australia must own a Permit to Acquire. A Genuine Reason (apart from self-defense) needs to be established and the firearm sale must be logged to the owner by serial number. Currently about 5.2% (over 765,000) Australians own firearms for hunting and game shooting.
Brazil – As of 2008, there were about 17 million guns in civilian hands in Brazil, including 9 million unregistered firearms. The laws governing ownership and use of guns in the country are very stringent and since 2002 obtaining a gun purchase permit has become very difficult. The gun ownership tax is BRL 85 levied every three years.
Canada – The registration of handguns was deemed mandatory in 1930 and as of 2012 all firearms in Canada need to be registered. A Possession and Acquisition License is required. A course in firearms safety is also mandatory. It is estimated that there are over 9, 95,000 civilian guns in Canada.
China – In the People’s Republic of China, the ownership and use of guns are severely restricted by the laws. Apart from authorized government personnel, sportsmen, and registered hunters, civilians are prohibited from owning and carrying firearms. Illegal possession is punishable with a minimum of 3 years imprisonment and the death penalty being the maximum.
India – Ownership of guns and firearms is laid down in the Arms Act of 1959 and the Arms Rules of 1962. The licenses or permits for obtaining firearms are extremely difficult to come by and the applicant needs to prove ‘threat to life’. Even if the license is obtained, there are stringent restrictions on the caliber of the firearms.
Russia – Russian citizens can own revolvers, shotguns, and gas pistols. Safe possession of these for five years entitles the person to apply for a carbine or rifle. It is estimated that there are about 12, 750,000 firearms in Russian civilian hands. In Moscow there seem to be over 470,000 guns.
UK – Private ownership of guns in the UK is rather commonplace. Crime rates involving guns are surprisingly low. More people in Ireland own guns than elsewhere in the country. There are about 4 million civilian guns in the United Kingdom, which is a rate of 6.7 firearms per 100 residents.
South Africa – Ownership of a gun in South Africa is subject to a number of criteria including clearing competency tests and background checks. The criteria are currently under review.
Private Guns Per Capita
According to the Small Arms Survey of 2007 the US topped the list of countries going by the rate of privately owned guns. There were 88.8 guns per 100 residents. Serbia came next with about 58.2 guns per 100 inhabitants and Yemen stood third at 54.8. Switzerland (45.7), Cyprus (36.4), and Saudi Arabia (35) came next. The other countries that made it to the top-ten list were Iraq (34.2), Finland (32), and Uruguay (31.8). The survey ranked about 178 countries. Tunisia seemed to be the country with the least privately owned guns with only 0.1 firearms per 100 residents. Timor-Leste had 0.3 firearms per 100 inhabitants. Ghana, Ethiopia, and Solomon Islands each recorded about 0.4% firearms to residents ratio. Bangladesh, Singapore, Indonesia, Fiji, and Eritrea all came next with a ratio of about 0.5%. According to the same survey – Canada’s private firearms ownership ratio was 30.8, Australia was 15, Brazil was 8, India was 4.2, Russia was 8.9, and China was 4.9.Asia seems to have a very low private ownership of firearms while North America has the highest density among the continents. This could be a result of the gun control laws of the nations in these continents.
Striking the balance between the individual right to self-defense and ownership of a firearm and the need to regulate the circulation of guns is the challenge faced by most countries. Protection against gun violence, homicide, and suicide, remains a key consideration. But should liberty be sacrificed for such security? What is your take?
Can Gun Control Reduce Crime?