There's nearly one gun in the U.S. for every American, a figure that makes the country by far the most heavily armed nation in the world. (No. 2 is Yemen, an impoverished Middle Eastern country perpetually on the brink of civil war.) U.S. gun laws are relatively relaxed, and perhaps not incidentally, America has the highest homicide rate by gun among developed nations. In the wake of mass killings, other countries have adopted a range of new gun restrictions.
Counting Up the World's Guns--and Its Gun Laws
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FIREARMS OWNED PER 100 PEOPLE
GUN HOMICIDE RATE PER 100,000 PEOPLE
Americans own 35% to 50% of the world's civilian guns, and the nation's gun laws are among the most lax in the developed world. There are no federal regulations banning the semiautomatic assault weapons or large-capacity ammo magazines often used in mass shootings.
All gun owners must undergo a background check and take a safety course. Handguns, semiautomatic weapons and most nonhunting guns are heavily restricted; would-be owners need to obtain a federal registration certificate.
Applicants for gun ownership need to be at least 18, specify a "valid reason" for buying a gun and obtain a government license. Norwegian police officers rarely carry guns. The country has considered strengthening gun laws in the wake of a 2011 mass shooting.
Firearms are essentially banned in Japan; the only guns permitted are shotguns, air guns and guns used in competition or for research. Even owning those requires a rigorous background check, a battery of mental and physical tests and annual government inspections.
After the Port Arthur rampage in 1996, the government tightened gun control. Automatic and semiautomatic weapons are virtually prohibited, and licensing and ownership rules are stiff. Gun owners are required to demonstrate a "genuine need" for weapons.
GUNS PER 100 PEOPLE
SOURCES: SMALL ARMS SURVEY, 2007; UNITED NATIONS OFFICE ON DRUGS AND CRIME
The Uniquely American Response to Mass Shootings
On March 13, 1996, Thomas Hamilton walked into an elementary school in the Scottish village of Dunblane and began firing. By the time the rampage was over, Hamilton had killed 16 children and a teacher before turning his gun on himself. Dunblane was the worst school shooting in British history, and the public response was swift. The British government pushed through legislation that banned all handguns with few exceptions--Hamilton had been armed with four handguns--and instituted a gun-buyback program that took tens of thousands of weapons off the streets.