Is It Harder to Get Guns in Other Countries?

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The United States has the highest rate of gun-related deaths among affluent nations. At the same time, the United States is by no means the only country that allows its citizens the right to own firearms.

Given the notoriously lax gun control policies within the United States, restrictions on firearms ownership in other wealthy nations explain the discrepancy between their rates of gun deaths and our own.

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In 2010, more than 31,000 Americans died as a result of firearms, around a third of which that were homicides. In three years, gun deaths will outpace motor vehicular fatalities.

In addition to having the highest incidents of gun violence among affluent nations, the United States also has more guns than any other country and the most guns per capita, with 88.8 guns per 100 people.

As reported by Bloomberg-BusinessWeek, a survey of studies conducted by Harvard University researchers found that high-income countries with more firearms have more homicides. Furthermore:

“U.S. homicide rates were 6.9 times higher than rates in the other high-income countries, driven by firearm homicide rates that were 19.5 times higher. In addition, unintentional firearm deaths in the U.S. were more than five times higher than in the other countries.”

So what are other countries doing differently to mitigate the possibility of gun violence, while at the same time permitting their citizens to lawfully own and operate firearms?

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Let’s start with the country with both the most strict limitations on gun ownership and the lowest rate of gun-related homicides among developed nation: Japan.

In 2008, the island nation saw only 11 firearm-related deaths. The main reason why this figure is so low is because the process to become a gun owner in Japan would deter everyone except the most enthusiastic firearms owners. As the Atlantic’s Max Fisher details:

“To get a gun in Japan, first, you have to attend an all-day class and pass a written test, which are held only once per month. You also must take and pass a shooting range class. Then, head over to a hospital for a mental test and drug test (Japan is unusual in that potential gun owners must affirmatively prove their mental fitness), which you’ll file with the police. Finally, pass a rigorous background check for any criminal record or association with criminal or extremist groups, and you will be the proud new owner of your shotgun or air rifle.”

Those are the steps necessary to own a gun. Keeping it requires continued efforts, including registering the gun and any ammo with police and annual firearms inspections.

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Japan, however, is a country with a gun culture that is the polar opposite of what exists in the United States. What about another country with a history of viewing firearms as a tool of self-reliance and self-determination? Let’s take Switzerland.

Switzerland is a small, landlocked country with a history of staying neutral in conflict, but being ready for whomever may come knocking on their doorstep uninvited (despite the fact that they haven’t been directly involved in a war in over 160 years). The Swiss believe not only in their right to bear arms, but to tote them in public, as TIME’s Helena Bachmann reports.

Despite the high number of guns per capita in Switzerland, with around one gun for every two people in the tiny nation of 8 million people, there were only 40 gun-related homicides, or 0.5 firearm murders per 100,000 Swiss citizens, or one-tenth the rate in the United States.

Although they have a gun culture arguably as strong as the one that exists in the United States, Switzerland does put some restrictions on ownership. Bachmann elaborates:

The law allows citizens or legal residents over the age of 18, who have obtained a permit from the government and who have no criminal record or history of mental illness, to buy up to three weapons from an authorized dealer, with the exception of automatic firearms and selective fire weapons, which are banned. Semiautomatics, which have caused havoc in the U.S., can be legally purchased.

Both firearms advocates and gun control supporters also credit the small nation’s culture of gun safety, patriotism and responsibility with the low rate of gun-related homicides.

But what about a larger, more diverse country that had a similar history with mass shootings? There, we find Australia as an example.

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In 1996, Australia, which had in the previous two decades experienced 13 mass shootings, passed a law banning the sale and ownership of semi-automatic weapons. Given that Australia hasn’t experienced a single mass shooting since, the Australian example has been hailed as a “road map” for the United States.

Given the evolving debate over gun control takes shape in state houses and in Washington, D.C., could the United States import ideas from other industrialized nations to bring down gun violence in this country? Tell us what you think in the comments below.

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