In some countries, it is nearly impossible for private citizens to own a gun. According to the BBC, for instance, “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.
Making guns difficult to purchase doesn’t necessarily mean that a country will have fewer guns, it turns out, just as making them easy to buy doesn’t necessarily mean citizens will rush to arm themselves. Canada, for example, has the sixth largest number of guns per capita of any nation despite its restrictions, while France, where buying guns is far easier, ranks No. 24. The country where people own the most guns, however, is one with comparatively few restrictions on the purchase of firearms: the United States of America.
National gun ownership is usually measured by both total number of guns and guns per 100 residents. The Small Arms Survey, an independent research project based in Switzerland, tracks both of these by country. Its most recent report covers 230 nations and autonomous territories. Aaron Karp, senior consultant at the Small Arms Survey, wrote in the organization’s “Estimated Global Civilian-held Firearms Numbers” that “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 for both total firearms and firearms per resident. In neither case was any other nation even close. Total “civilian held and illicit firearms” in America were estimated at 339,300,000, amounting to 120.5 guns for every 100 residents. In other words, in this country, there are more guns than people. (You may be surprised at how many guns Americans bought this year in every state.)
The next closest country in total gun ownership was India at 71 million, but the population of India is about four times that of America. In terms of guns per 100 residents, the next closest nation to the U.S. is the war-torn Middle Eastern nation of Yemen, at 52.8.
Defenders of extensive and lightly regulated gun ownership in the U.S. cite the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It states that “…the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Gun control advocates argue that a right granted over two centuries ago need not apply to 21st-century America; that gun ownership should be heavily regulated; and that some types of firearms, 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 in the U.S., some 21,912 of which were suicides. The same source reports that there have been 646 mass shootings in America this year. (These are the states with the most gun violence.)
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 likely remain the country where people own the most guns for decades or longer.
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