In some countries, it is nearly impossible for private citizens to own a gun. According to the BBC, “Gun laws in the UK are among the toughest in the world.” People have to apply for a license through the police. Canada has similarly tough restrictions. A gun license for a private individual has to be issued by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.
At the other end of the spectrum, guns are easy to own in some countries. In France, people have to take simple tests and show that they are physically and mentally fit. Panama has similarly lax laws, and so does Switzerland.
National gun ownership is usually measured by total guns and guns per 100 residents. The Small Arms Survey tracks both of these by country. Its most recent survey covers “230 states and autonomous territories.” Aaron Karp, senior consultant at the Small Arms Survey, wrote in the “Estimated Global Civilian-held Firearms Numbers” report: “There were approximately 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world at the end of 2017. Roughly 100 million civilian firearms were reported as registered, accounting for some 12 percent of the global total.”
The U.S. topped the list of both total firearms and firearms per resident. In both cases, no other nation is even close. Total “civilian held and illicit firearms” in America were estimated at 339,300,000. The next closest country was India at 71,100,000. The population of India is about four times the size of the U.S.
America’s guns per 100 residents based on the same database are 120.5. The next closest nation is Yemen at 52.8.
The primary defense of gun ownership in the U.S. is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It states that “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Opponents of this interpretation have made a number of points. One is that a right granted over two centuries ago need not apply to 21st Century America. Another is that gun ownership, while it should exist, needs to be heavily regulated. Another is that some types of guns, like assault rifles” could not have been covered by the Amendment when it was written.
Certainly, some of the consequences of gun ownership in America have been terrible. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 40,681 gun deaths this year. A total of 21,912 of these have been suicides. There have, based on the same source, 646 “mass shootings” in America this year.
Based on recent battles over gun laws in the U.S, the ability to obtain guns is not likely to be curtailed. That means the U.S. will top the list of guns by country for decades, or longer.