The debate over gun control in the United States doesn’t take place in a vacuum.
Other countries all over the world play the same video games and have the same mental health problems as the United States, but manage to avoid a sky-high gun murder rate and frequent public shooting massacres.
The differences are due, in part, to the way that the different countries regulate gun ownership.
Here’s how several other prosperous nations deal with the issue:
The United Kingdom
In 2011, the U.K. had 0.07 gun homicides for every 100,000 people; the U.S., by contrast, had 3 gun homicides for every 100,000. In 2009 there were 138 gun deaths in the U.K, where there are 6.7 firearms for every 100 people.
One reason contributing to this is the U.K.’s strict gun laws. According to an English rifle and gun club legal centre, any person possessing a firearm in the U.K. must posses a Shotgun Certificate or a Firearm Certificate.
Machine guns, pepper spray, semi-automatic, and pump-action rifles, and any firearm that has a barrel less than 30 centimeters in length are prohibited.
The only firearms that can be owned legally are shotguns, black powder weapons, manually-loaded cartridge pistols and manually-loaded centre-fire rifles, all termed “Section 1” firearms.
To gain a firearm certificate, applicants must be over age 14, and must demonstrate they have satisfactory security and “good reason” to own a rifle. Applicants must declare all criminal convictions and name two references to support the application. Applications must be renewed every five years.
The requirements are largely the same for a shotgun certificate, although the applicant doesn’t need two references, only one counter-signatory — and there is no minimum age.
Anyone convicted of a criminal offence can’t even handle a gun for five years. If the sentence involved more than three years in prison, there is a lifetime ban.
The U.S.’s neighbour to the north also has outstandingly low gun casualty statistics. In 2009, there were 0.5 deaths per 100,000 from gun homicide — only 173 people. Still, the ownership is comparatively high — there are 23.8 firearms per 100 people in the country.
There is no legal right to possess arms in Canada. It takes 60 days to buy a gun there, and there is mandatory licensing for gun owners. Gun owners pursuing a licence must have third-party references, take a safety training course and pass a background check with a focus on mental, criminal and addiction histories.
Licensing agents are required to advise an applicant’s spouse or next-of-kin prior to granting a licence, and licenses are denied to applicants with any past history of domestic violence. Buyers in private sales of weapons must pass official background checks.
Canadian civilians aren’t allowed to possess automatic weapons, handguns with a barrel shorter than 10.5 cm or any modified handgun, rifle or shotgun. Most semi-automatic assault weapons are also banned. As a result of exemptions, several kinds of assault weapons are still legal in Canada, although this has been the source of some controversy.
Japan’s gun policies are notoriously strict. Civilians cannot possess handguns, automatic assault weapons, semi-automatic assault weapons, military rifles, or machine guns. Japanese civilians aren’t even allowed to own swords.
Without a licence, a Japanese citizen isn’t even permitted to touch a firearm. Failure to follow this law can result in up to 10 years in prison.
Japanese civilians hold a mere 710,000 guns, with 0.6 firearms for every person. In 2008, there were 11 gun homicides. For perspective, there are 122,800,000 people in Japan. That year is not an anomaly. In 2006 there were 2 gun homicides and in 2007 there were 22, a national scandal.
What is legal are hunting rifles and shotguns, but those can only be obtained after an exhaustive application process. An aspiring gun-toucher must first take an all-day class and pass both written and practical exams. Then, applicants are required to go to the hospital for a mental health test, and provide police with a medical certificate attesting their mental health and drug-free status.
The police then investigate the applicants ;background, relatives and group affiliations. Involvement in some political or activist organisations is grounds for categorical denial of licence application.
Only after all that can a Japanese citizen buy a gun. Even then, gun-owners are required to store the gun in a locker, store ammunition in a separate locked safe, and provide for the police a map of the location of the locker,
Gun owners must then submit to annual inspections of the rifle or shotguns and retake the shooting range class and written exam every three years.
Australia had 30 gun homicides in 2010, which amounted to 0.13 gun deaths for each 100,000 people. Australians hold 3-3.5 million guns, a rate of 15 guns for every 100 people.
Australia is a rare nation that has had a significant shift toward additional gun control in recent years. Following a 1996 shooting spree that left 35 Australians dead at the Port Arthur tourist location in Tasmania, the government launched a major overhaul of gun laws.
In the decade before Port Arthur, Australia saw 11 mass shootings; since then, there has not been a single mass shooting and the gun murder rate has continued its steady decline.
Here’s what they did: Pro-gun Conservative John Howard pushed through an ambitious gun control program. The laws banned all automatic and semi-automatic weapons and instituted strict licensing rules involving background checks and waiting periods for purchases.
The conservative government also instituted a buyback program, where people were paid for turning in newly illegal automatic and semi-automatic rifles; 650,000 weapons were voluntarily handed in and destroyed at a cost of roughly $359.6 million.
Today, Australians must demonstrate a justifiable need to have a gun, such as being a farmer or sport shooter. Australia doesn’t have a full semi-automatic handgun ban and doesn’t have any laws designed to keep guns away from the mentally ill.
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