The United States is not the only nation that allows civilian gun ownership, but it does happen to be the country with the highest civilian gun ownership in the world. In fact, research found that there are more firearms in the U.S. than there are people who live there.
Gun violence does affect countries across the globe, but the issue is more serious in the U.S. than most other developed nations -- and the violence has sharply increased in recent years in terms of inter-personal violence, suicides and mass shootings.
When trying to understand the cause of the massive gun violence issue in the U.S., no one single answer has been offered; several factors are considered to contribute to the problem. But some experts say that one factor stands out among the rest: Easy access to guns in the U.S.
It probably comes as no surprise that the nation with the highest civilian gun ownership has some of the most lax rules when it comes to purchasing a firearm.
National regulations dictate that a person in the U.S. who wishes to buy a gun must only pass an immediate background check that considers things like criminal convictions, domestic violence and immigration status. Many states have added restrictions and regulations that may require additional background checks or waiting periods. But, for the most part, Americans can typically purchase a gun within hours.
Under federal law, Americans are not required to undergo a background check when purchasing a firearm from a private seller. Researchers previously found that about 40% of gun owners purchased their firearm without going through a background check.
In most other countries, the process of purchasing a firearm is more involved and takes much longer than it does in the U.S.
Here’s how some nations regulate the purchasing of firearms.
In order to buy a handgun, Canadians are required to prove that they practiced at an approved shooting club or range, or show that they are a gun collector. Those looking to purchase any type of gun must complete a safety course, then pass a written test and a practical test.
Canadians must obtain two character references, list the names of the partners they’ve lived with within the last two years -- who must also sign the application -- and then apply for a permit and wait a month for processing to start. Then, purchasers have to pass a background check that considers their criminal record, mental health and history of domestic violence and assault.
Once approved, a gun can be purchased. If it is a handgun, Canadians must register it with the police before they can take it home.
In Britain, people who want to buy a gun must first join a shooting club or show they have made hunting arrangements. Individuals are then required to obtain a character reference and arrange for proper firearm storage.
Consumers then have to pass a background check, which includes an interview with police officers at their home. Police may inspect the individual’s storage arrangements, though officials say this procedure varies by police force.
Once approved, a gun can be purchased.
Individuals who want to purchase a gun in Australia must show a valid reason for owning a weapon, as they’ve made gun ownership a privilege and not a right.
Australians must first join and regularly attend a hunting or shooting club, and clubs are supposed to inform authorities of any inactive members. If not part of a club, Australians have to document that they’re a gun collector.
Then, consumers are required to complete a course on firearm safety and operation, pass a written test and pass a practical test. Australians have to make arrangements to properly store the firearms, and then pass a review that looks at their criminal, domestic violence, restraining orders and arrest histories. Family and peers may be interviewed by authorities, as well.
If approved, the person can apply for a permit for a specific type of weapon, and then wait at least 28 days. A firearm can be purchased after that waiting period.
In Germany, those interested in purchasing a gun must first join a shooting club, obtain a hunting license, prove that they are a collector or prove that their life is in danger. To be considered, Germans must then prove their knowledge of firearms, which could include a written test and/or a practical test.
Individuals under the age of 25 must submit a certificate of mental fitness from a health professional. All individuals are required to make arrangements to properly store their firearms. Officials say that German residents who keep firearms in their homes consent to let police conduct unannounced home inspections to review the firearms’ storage arrangement.
Germans must then pass a background check that reviews their criminal history, as well as their mental health and drug addiction history. Individuals can then apply for a permit to purchase a specific gun, and then purchase the firearm if approved.
Japan has some of the most involved regulations when it comes to purchasing a firearm.
In Japan, individuals are required to take a firearm class and pass a written test. They are also required to get a note from their physician saying they are mentally fit to own a firearm, and do not have a history of drug abuse.
Then, individuals apply for a permit to take firing training, which officials say could take up to a month. Japanese must interview with the police and explain why they need a firearm, and then pass a review of their criminal history, gun possession record, employment, involvement with organized crime groups, personal debt and their relationships with friends, family and neighbors.
An individual must then apply for a gunpowder permit, and then take a one-day training class in which they must pass a firing test.
A certificate must then be obtained from a gun dealer that describes the desired gun. Those who wish to buy a firearm to hunt must apply for a hunting license.
An individual must then buy a gun safe and an ammunition locker that meets the country’s regulations, which must be inspected and approved by police.
If a person passes an additional background review, they can then buy a firearm.
Individuals in China must first have a specific reason to own a firearm, like for hunting or sports shooting. Those who wish to purchase a gun have to make arrangements to store the firearm at a gun range, remote hunting ground or pastoral area, as most civilians are not allowed to store guns in their homes.
Once an individual demonstrates knowledge of safe gun use and store, and passes a criminal and mental illness background check, they can purchase a firearm.
Brazilians who want to purchase a firearm need to first provide a statement about why they need a gun for self-defense. Then, an individual must complete a handling course, in which they have to demonstrate that they can hit a target from a certain distance with at least 60% accuracy.
Then, an individual must provide a statement from a psychologist proving they are mentally fit to own a gun. A certificate must also be obtained proving that the individual doesn’t have a criminal record and is not under investigation for anything.
If approved, a weapon can then be purchased -- but not taken home. The firearm has to first be registered with federal police. Then, an individual must fill out an online form to transport the firearm, as authorities must authorize every time a gun is transported in Brazil, including when it is first taken home.
The purchaser can then go to the firearm dealer and take their new gun home.
Here’s gun ownership in other countries compared to the U.S.
In the United States, there are 120.5 firearms in civilian possession per every 100 residents, according to data from Small Arms Survey.
Here are the numbers for the nations listed above, in the same order:
- Canada: 34.7 firearms per every 100 residents
- Britain: 4.6 firearms per every 100 residents
- Australia: 14.5 firearms per every 100 residents
- Germany: 19.6 firearms per every 100 residents
- Japan: 0.3 firearms per every 100 residents
- China: 3.6 firearms per every 100 residents
- Brazil: 8.3 firearms per every 100 residents