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The U.S Gun Control Law Debate: Looking To Other Countries for Guidance

Updated on June 18, 2013

The argument over whether to increase gun control or not in the U.S is a contentious one to say the least. Pundits and politicians vie for the spotlight, as they try to defend their special interests (the gun industry, in particular). But, what these people don't seem to do is let the facts speak for themselves. In this article, I will lay out some facts revolving around gun violence and how it differs in a handful of developed, industrial nations, such as the U.S, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Australia, and even China. Some will not be included in every chart because the data was not available.

I will also add a little analysis to each statistic to help frame it.

The Number of Privately Owned Firearms

First, we will look at the total number of guns (both illicit and licit) estimated to be in private possession.

United States: 270,000,000

China: 40,000,000

Germany: 25,000,000

France: 19,000,000

Canada: 9,950,000

United Kingdom: 4,060,000

Australia: 3,050,000

Alpers, Philip and Marcus Wilson. 2013. Guns in the United States: Facts, Figures and Firearm Law.Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 13 January.Accessed 20 January 2013.

Analysis: This statistic clearly disproves the thought that if there were more guns in America, the safer Americans would be. If that were true, the U.S would be the safest country on earth.


Total Number of Gun Deaths

Secondly, we must look at how many people die from guns (suicide and homicide) in various countries in one year. In parentheses, I will put what it is as a percentage of their population.

United States: 32,163 (0.010%)

France: 1,864 (0.003%)

Germany: 903 (0.001%)

Australia: 236 (0.001%)

United Kingdom: 155 (0.0003%)

Alpers, Philip and Marcus Wilson. 2013. Guns in the United States: Facts, Figures and Firearm Law.Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 13 January.Accessed 20 January 2013. at: http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/compare/194/total_number_of_gun_deaths/10,66,192,69

Analysis: The percentages are included because they negate the advantage the other, smaller nations would have, which is their smaller population compared to the United States. This shows that once you throw that out, the U.S still has much higher gun violence as a percentage of its population.

Number of Gun Homicides

Now, we will look at gun homicides, specifically.

United States: 11,101

Canada: 173

Germany: 158

France: 142

Australia: 30

United Kingdom: 18

Alpers, Philip and Marcus Wilson. 2013. Guns in the United States: Facts, Figures and Firearm Law.Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 13 January.Accessed 20 January 2013. at: http://www.gunpolicy.org/firearms/compare/194/number_of_gun_homicides/10,31,66,69,192

Analysis: This statistic clearly shows that the gun control laws present in the other countries has certainly reduced the amount of people who die from gun per year. The country to really look at here is Canada. They are a very pro-gun culture, just like the U.S. But, they have common-sense restrictions, like banning assault weapons, limiting the amount of rounds per clip, and requiring background checks for every purchase. These are all steps the U.S can take, while also preserving the Second Amendment.

Strength of Regulation: Permissive or Restrictive

Out of all the nations I have listed in this article, the U.S is the only one who's gun regulation policy that has a Newton & Zimring categorization of "permissive," rather than "restrictive."

Restrictive means that the citizen who applies for a firearm license must prove why he needs said firearm. Permissive is the opposite, where the government actively looks for reasons why the citizen shouldn't have the gun.

Alpers, Philip and Marcus Wilson. 2013. Guns in the United States: Facts, Figures and Firearm Law.Sydney School of Public Health, The University of Sydney. GunPolicy.org, 13 January.Accessed 20 January 2013.

Analysis: This shows that the playing field is completely different in other countries. The citizen has to prove why they need the gun, rather than just prove that they are mentally capable. Changing the U.S gun laws to "restrictive" wouldn't be feasible because of the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms.

A Final Analysis

With this knowledge in hand, I find it impossible to not at least look at the other industrial countries of the world and research further why their gun violence is so much lower. I think what I have laid out here provides a good base for further discussion on the topic. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all solution to this problem. It is bigger than just gun control, as improving mental health facilities in the U.S is vital to preventing further massacres like the one in Newtown, CT. But, I think further gun control should absolutely be looked at as part of the solution.

The main point of this article is to hopefully start a meaningful discussion around the issue. I welcome your comments.

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    • LauraGT profile image

      LauraGT 4 years ago from MA

      Thanks for this breakdown. It's clear that gun availability and access contribute to decreased safety. Seeing the numbers broken down makes this quite clear. Many will argue that there are factors unique to the US that lead to increased violence (true or not), but certainly decreased availability and access to one of the most lethal types of weapons out there would improve the numbers.

    • Alberic O profile image

      Alberic O 4 years ago from Any Clime, Any Place

      The problem is in the US, each state and even city has different gun laws. You do not see this in other countries as much where major laws such as gun laws (at least most of the laws ) are legislated through the central government. You look at California as oppose to Nevada (both are next to each other)- both are in the US but the gun laws are very different.

      The vast differences in laws make it close to impossible to determine the effect of stricter gun control. You look at Washington D.C which has the strictest gun control but one of the highest crime rates. Pro gun folks will argue gun control doesn't work and anti-gun folks will argue other states near Washington DC such as Virginia has lax gun laws and people can bring guns in (both can be legit but it's hard to tell).

      I'm curious to how Canada classifies a weapon as an 'assault weapon.'

    • Steven Dison profile image
      Author

      Steven Dison 4 years ago from O'Fallon, Illinois

      I totally agree. We certainly can't do everything the other nations have enacted because, as you stated, the nations are quite different for many reasons. But, I do believe we can try to look at what they have done right and maybe enact a U.S specific version of it. Obviously, the banning of assault weapons, the limiting of rounds per clip, and universal background checks are all common sense things we should do, as almost all other nations have these in place. Canada is a great example of that. They have a gun-loving culture like ours, but they have all those things I just listed. Seems like those should be done at minimum. But, to your main point, I agree. The demographic and geographic differences are large, but I still believe there are things to be learned by looking at their gun control policies.

    • profile image

      il Scettico 4 years ago

      I used to look at gun control in the exact same way. But the U.S. is completely different from any other industrialized country. We're surrounded by Canada and Mexico on our borders, meaning it's a lot easier to smuggle guns in illegally; while Australia and Great Britain are both islands, making it much easier to control importation.

      Actually taking the guns away would be impossible in this economy. Australia did a buy-back program, where they reimbursed all citizens for retaking the guns. It would be impossible for the U.S. Federal Government to attempt to pay for something like this.

      Deterring gun owners by posting their addresses online like some sort of scarlet letter (as did in New York) will also have heavy repercussions. Guns are extremely popular to steal because they are easy to launder. OR if a criminal is worried about getting shot when trying to rob a house they can search for the houses in a neighborhood where they cannot get shot.

      While I am in favor of certain policies such as decreased magazine capacity and no assault rifles, we should be weary in comparisons with other countries because we are so economically, geographically, and ideologically unique.