Discourse about gun control is incredibly heated right now in the United States in the light of an immense number of gun-related homicide cases. Talking and discussing with others about this topic turns hostile quickly, as a large number of people have strong possessive and emotional ties to the discourse, its flaws, and its implications. However, it can be incredibly eye-opening to examine how other countries handle and control the use of guns to help eliminate gun-related deaths. This is a brief look at some countries who have drastically different gun laws than the United States.
The United States
The United States, as a baseline, has a track record of being incredibly irresponsible with firearms. This irresponsibility dates back to the conception of the Second Amendment, which has been the catalyst for courts of law to consistently allow states the right to regulate firearms independently. The Second Amendment has constantly been cited to be an essential right, fundamentally given to U.S. citizens by the Constitution.
The U.S. has an incredibly bad relationship with gun ownership and gun deaths. Americans own the most guns per person in the world, according to a 2017 Pew Center Study. Additionally, around 310 million firearms exist in the U.S. that are freely available for American citizens. There are more mass shootings in the U.S. than in any other country in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the U.S. has one of the highest rates of death by firearm in the developed world. While two-thirds of American gun owners say the reason they own a gun is for their own protection, the majority of America’s firearm-related deaths are attributed to gun-related suicide. Gun-related suicide is eight times higher in the U.S. than in other high income nations.
Analysts cite not only the huge amount of guns in the U.S. as responsible for these harrowing statistics, but also the incredibly shallow and simple process through which someone can obtain a gun legally. While federal law in the U.S. creates its own gun laws, they are incredibly small. Individual states often create their own laws to supplement them.
To purchase a firearm legally in the United States, you must pass a background check. Private sellers often do not require background checks, so this can be easily avoided.
In Canada, federal legislation creates restrictions across the country, but provinces, territories, and municipalities all supplement the restrictions. Most gun laws in Canada were made in response to gun violence, specifically the Montreal massacre, which happened in 1989. The 1995 Firearms Act required owners to be licensed and required registration of long guns (rifles and shotguns), and additionally banned more than half of all registered guns. However, in 2012, the long gun registry was scrapped because of expenses. Yet, compared to the U.S.’s 7,105 handgun deaths in 2016, there were only 130 in Canada.
To purchase a firearm legally in Canada, you must prove that you are in a club, go to a range, or are a collector, complete a safety course and pass a written and practical test, have two references, apply for a permit, wait 28 days for processing, pass a background check that goes over criminal history, mental health, and drug addiction, and register any handguns with the police before taking it home.
In 1996, Australia was hit by the Port Arthur massacre, which was the worst mass shooting in Australia’s history. Less than two weeks after the massacre, the famously conservative government changed their gun laws at a fundamental level to regulate the possession and usage of guns in the country. The national agreement on firearms prohibited automatic and semiautomatic assault rifles, made more regulated licensing and ownership rules, and made a temporary gun buyback program that took 650,000 assault weapons out of circulation. It also required that citizens wanting to possess a license for a gun must have a genuine reason and take a firearm safety course. These laws and regulations are incredibly effective. Australia has had declining gun death rates, and no mass shootings since 1996.
To purchase a firearm legally in Australia, you must join a hunting or shooting club, or document that you are a collector, complete a course on firearm safety, pass a written assessment, acquire a regulated safe and ammo storage, pass a review of criminal history, domestic violence, restraining orders and arrest history, have interviews of your family and neighbors, apply for a permit for a specific weapon, and wait at least 28 days.
In Israel, there is a very different attitude about weapons. Military service is required for every able-bodied 18 year old, who are psychologically screened and take weapons training. After serving 2-3 years, most Israelis are discharged and must follow the usual civilian gun laws, which are incredibly strict. There is an assault weapons ban, required gun owner registration, etc. You must be a citizen or a permanent resident, be at least 21, speak some Hebrew, and have a genuine cause. There is also a very limited supply of bullets available to a gun owner, which rests at usually around 50 bullets.
There is some criticism about the gun laws in Israel, saying that the legislation in place is not enough. Since most of the population has indirect access to high powered assault weapons through family or friends who are in the military, some believe weapons should be even more regulated. However, there is an incredibly low gun death rate in Israel.
To purchase a firearm legally in Israel, you must join a club, prove you work in a dangerous area, or live in an area authorized for gun ownership, get a doctor’s note that says that you are mentally healthy and have no history of drug abuse, have proper firearm storage, release criminal and mental health history to officials, and demonstrate that you can use the weapon correctly at a firing range.
Japan has the lowest gun homicide rate in the world. Japan has incredibly restrictive firearm regulations. Most guns are illegal full-stop, and there is low gun ownership because of this. Under Japan’s Firearm and Sword law, the only guns okay to use by citizens are shotguns, air guns, guns that are needed for research or industrial purposes, or competition guns. To even obtain one of these accepted guns, you must have formal instruction, go through a rigorous background check, drug tests, and pass several mental, physical, written tests,. Gun-owning citizens also have to be incredibly open with authorities about how the weapon and ammo is stored, and go through a yearly firearm inspection.
Most analysts believe that Japan has an “aversion to firearms," which would be a side effect of the demilitarization of Japan after World War II. In addition, the overall crime rate in Japan is so low that Japanese citizens see no need to own a firearm.
To purchase a firearm legally in Japan, you must take a firearm class and pass a written exam up to three times a year, get a doctor’s note saying that you are mentally fit and have no history with drugs, acquire a permit to take firing training which takes up to a month, participate in a police interview with takes up to a month, pass a review of your criminal history, gun possession record, employment, debt, and relationships with family, friends, and neighbors, apply for a gunpowder permit, take a one day training class, pass a firing test, obtain a certificate from a gun dealer that describes the gun you want, apply for a hunting license (if you’re a hunter), buy a regulated gun safe and ammunition locker, allow police to inspect your gun storage, and pass an additional background review.