Three Countries That Handle Guns Differently Than America

August 27th 2015

The United States is unique in its relationship to guns. According to data compiled by the Guardian, the U.S. has less than 5 percent of the world's population, but nearly half of the world's civilian-owned guns. That's led to other troubling statistics: among developed nations, the U.S. has more gun-related violence than any other nation—29.7 homicides by firearm per 1 million people. Gun murders stand at 3.7 per 100,000 residents—far more than other developed countries, which don't even reach 1 per 100,000, according to the watchdog group Everytown for Gun Safety.  


It's unclear when or if substantial gun law reform will come about, but it bears mentioning that other countries have taken vastly different approaches to regulating firearms with some notable results. Here are three examples of countries who deal with gun control differently than the U.S. 


Sydney Opera HouseRtype909 / Wikimedia Commons - wikipedia.org

Following a mass shooting in April 1996 that left 35 people dead and another 28 wounded, Australia passed sweeping gun reform legislation that restricted legal ownership, establishing an extensive registry of guns owned in the country, banning certain types of guns outright, and creating a permit system for the purchase of all new firearms. It also championed one of the largest and most successful mandatory buyback programs to date, bringing in and destroying around 650,000 privately owned guns outlawed under the new legislation.

By many measures, the program worked. Estimates peg the number of guns brought in during the buyback to represent about 20 percent of privately owned guns in the country, and later research points to significant statistical correlations in reduced gun violence. One 2011 Harvard study found that in the seven years after the buyback, average firearm suicides fell by 57 percent compared to the previous seven years, and average firearm homicides fell by around 42 percent. As Vox noted, the country's homicide rate was already on the decline, but declines in firearm deaths involving the guns targeted by the program were most significant, and deaths in Australian states with higher buyback rates per capita fell accordingly compared to states with lower rates, the Harvard report found. Moreover, in the two years during which the legislation was implemented, the country saw the largest percentage drops in homicide rates for any two-year period in nearly a century. 


TokyoCors / Wikimedia Commons - wikipedia.org

The island nation is famously strict when it comes to gun laws and is a frequent gold-standard reference point for gun control activists thanks to both low ownership rates and low gun-homicide rates. In fact, according to Guardian data, Japan's homicide by firearm rate per 100,000 people is the lowest in the world. By U.S. standards, Japan's laws are almost comically strict. For starters, many guns are banned outright for private citizens, including handguns. The Council on Foreign Relations notes that under the country's sword and firearm law, shotguns, air guns, and firearms with research, industrial, or sporting purposes are allowed only after rigorous application and vetting processes. 

As the Washington Post outlined last month, permits are issued following the completion of gun laws and safety classes, which include written tests. Additionally, personal details including family, work, and educational background, as well as a medical certificate clearing the applicant of anything from depression to alcoholism (among other things), must be submitted to police, who conduct their own background checks to clear criminal history and domestic or neighborhood disputes. Police also visit the applicant's home to asses the location for intended storage. If the permit is approved, regulations delegate how and where to store—seperately, of course—the gun and ammunition (and it's recommended you store the bolt separately, too.) Before that process, though, applicants are made to attend full-day training sessions on target shooting, shooting range etiquette, and handling. Once those courses are passed, guns may be purchased and inspected by police. Permits last three years and must be renewed with more tests. 

The United Kingdom

London busChris Sampson / Wikimedia Commons - wikipedia.org

The U.K., while not necessarily as strict or thorough as Japan, also uses a combination of restricted gun models and a certificate process to help achieve low rates of gun violence. Legal, "Section 1" firearms are shotguns, black powder weapons, manually-loaded cartridge pistols and manually-loaded center-fire rifles, Business Insider reports. All automatic weapons and nearly all handguns are banned for private ownership. Like in Australia, tougher legislation was the result of a shooting that left 16 schoolchildren and their teacher dead in Scotland

According to United Nations data from 2011, for every 100,000 people in the U.K., there were 0.07 gun homicides, compared to 3 in the U.S. That is likely in part because of the U.K.'s rigorous application process for certificates, which includes demonstrating security precautions and legitimate reasons for owning a gun, providing references, and declaring all criminal convictions. Previous criminal offenders are barred from handling a gun for five years, and if the sentence exceeded three years, that ban is life-long.

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