Gun control is a topic of great debate and concern in many countries, including Australia, New Zealand, and the United States. Rising gun violence in many countries—particularly mass shootings and school shootings—has led many nations to implement gun laws that restrict the average citizen's ability to sell, own, transfer, or possess a gun. These gun control laws per country can range from smaller measures, such as a mandatory three-day waiting period on gun purchases, to outright bans on certain high-end gear such as assault rifles or high-capacity ammo magazines. Some countries have even made private gun ownership illegal.
Gun enthusiasts often resist such measures and instead favor more lenient laws on firearm possession, carrying, and use. This is particularly true in the United States, where unrestricted possession of firearms is seen by many as a constitutional right. The U.S. has the highest rate of private gun ownership in the world, with 120.5 civilian-owned guns per 100 civilians. Guns are regulated at the state level in the U.S., so each state's gun laws can vary considerably from those of their neighbors.
Gun control basics
Worldwide, the matter of gun control is often complicated by opposing theories about the causes of gun deaths in each country. Gun control advocates maintain that guns are too easy to obtain and argue that restricting them reduces gun violence. Gun enthusiasts counter that criminals rarely use legally obtained guns, so the problem is not that guns are too easy to get, but that there are too few civilians carrying them. If more people possessed and openly carried guns, enthusiasts postulate, potential shooters would be less likely to open fire.
Gun control laws can be quite complex, and often establish separate regulations regarding the legal sale, ownership, registration, and use of each specific type of gun (as well as ammunition and accessories such as scopes and sound suppressors). In most countries, some guns are more likely to be prohibited than others—for example, handguns and assault weapons are restricted or banned far more frequently than basic rifles and shotguns. Gun laws usually establish different guidelines for military personnel, law enforcement officials, and civilians. Gun licenses and usage rules vary as well, depending upon whether the gun will be used for sporting, subsistence hunting, self defense, and so on.
List of countries in which civilian gun ownership is illegal
- Marshall Islands
- Myanmar (except for Chin people)
- North Korea
- Solomon Islands
- Vatican City / Holy See
Countries in which guns are severely restricted
Several additional countries stop short of banning firearms entirely, but restrict them very closely. For example, Japan allows gun ownership only for the purposes of hunting and sport shooting, and licenses require significant effort to obtain—including proficiency tests and a mental health evaluation complete with interviews of family and friends—and must be renewed every three years. Ammo sales are also tightly regulated. China has a similar approach, permitting only sportsmen's clubs and a few ethnic minorities to own firearms and prohibiting private gun ownership in all other cases. Djibouti prohibits all firearms possession except in cases in which the Head of State grants an exception.
In other countries, the law does not necessarily dictate the reality. In the Central African Republic, for instance, only members of Parliament are permitted to own firearms of any kind. However, this law is widely unenforced and a healthy illicit gun market exists. Similarly, Somalia has a total ban on the import, sale, and possession of firearms, but it is commonly ignored.