Gun control

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A tower of confiscated smuggled weapons about to be set ablaze in Nairobi, Kenya

Gun control is any law, policy, practice, or proposal designed to restrict or limit the possession, production, importation, shipment, sale, and/or use of guns or other firearms by private citizens. Most commonly the guns in question are personal firearms, typically handguns and long guns.

Gun control laws and policies vary greatly around the world. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have very strict limits on gun possession while others, such as the United States, have relatively modest limits. In some countries, the topic remains a source of intense debate with proponents generally arguing the dangers of widespread gun ownership, and opponents generally arguing individual rights of self-protection as well as individual liberties in general.



Several studies have examined the correlations between rates of gun ownership and gun-related, as well as overall, homicide and suicide rates within various jurisdictions around the world.[1][2] Martin Killias, in a 1993 study covering 21 countries, found that there were significant correlations between gun ownership and gun-related suicide and homicide rates. There was also a significant though lesser correlation between gun ownership and total homicide rates.[3] A later study published by Killias in 2001,based on a larger sample of countries, reported that, while there was a strong correlation between gun-related homicide of women and gun-related assaults against women, this was not the case for similar crimes against men and that "interestingly, no significant correlations with total suicide or homicide rates were found, leaving open the question of possible substitution effects." In short, there was no significant correlation between national gun ownership rates and the total number of people murdered or the total number who killed themselves [4] This study therefore did not even find a simple correlation between gun rates and rates of total homicide or suicide, never mind causality.

A study by Rich et al. on suicide rates in Toronto and Ontario and psychiatric patients from San Diego reached the conclusion that increased gun restrictions, while reducing suicide-by-gun, resulted in no net decline in suicides, because of substitution of another method—namely leaping.[5] Killias argues against the theory of complete substitution, citing a number of studies that have indicated, in his view "rather convincingly", that suicidal candidates far from always turn to another means of suicide if their preferred means is not at hand.[4] More extensive studies, however, covering far more areas and controlling for the effects of many more other gun laws, found that gun control laws generally have no detectable effect on total suicide rates.[6]

Resisting governance

Advocates for gun rights often claim that past totalitarian regimes passed gun control legislation, which was later followed by confiscation, with Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany during World War II, as well as some communist states being cited as examples.[7][8][9] Location and capture of firearms registration records has also long been a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers, and was widely practiced by German and Soviet troops during World War II in the countries they invaded.[10][11]

The Battles of Lexington and Concord, sometimes known as the Shot heard 'round the world, in 1775, were started in part because General Gage sought to carry out an order by the British government to disarm the populace.[12]

Gun control opponents often cite the example of the Nazi regime, claiming that once the Nazis had taken and consolidated their power, they proceeded to implement gun control laws to disarm the population and wipe out the opposition, and the genocide of disarmed Jews, gypsies, and other "undesirables" followed.[10][11][13] Historians have pointed out that the preceding democratic Weimar Republic already had restrictive gun laws, which were actually liberalised by the Nazis when they came to power. According to the Weimar Republic 1928 Law on Firearms & Ammunition, firearms acquisition or carrying permits were “only to be granted to persons of undoubted reliability, and—in the case of a firearms carry permit—only if a demonstration of need is set forth.” The Nazis replaced this law with the Weapons Law of March 18, 1938, which was very similar in structure and wording, but relaxed gun control requirements for the general population. This relaxation included the exemption from regulation of all weapons and ammunition except handguns, the extension of the range of persons exempt from the permit requirement, and the lowering of the age for acquisition of firearms from 20 to 18. It did, however, prohibit manufacturing of firearms and ammunition by Jews.[14] Shortly thereafter, in the additional Regulations Against Jews' Possession of Weapons of November 11, 1938, Jews were forbidden from possession of any weapons at all.[13][14]

Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union did not abolish personal gun ownership during the initial period from 1918 to 1929, and the introduction of gun control in 1929 coincided with the beginning of the repressive Stalinist regime.[15]


In an extensive series of studies of large, nationally representative samples of crime incidents, criminologist Gary Kleck found that crime victims who defend themselves with guns are less likely to be injured or lose property than victims who either did not resist, or resisted without guns. This was so, even though the victims using guns typically faced more dangerous circumstances than other victims. The findings applied to both robberies and assaults.[16] Other research on rape indicated that although victims rarely resisted with guns, those using other weapons were less likely to be raped, and no more likely to suffer other injuries besides rape itself, than victims who did not resist, or resisted without weapons.[17] There is no evidence that victim use of a gun for self-protection provokes offenders into attacking the victim or results in the offender taking the gun away and using it against the victim.[18] A recent study from the University of Philadelphia suggests that victims in possession of firearms is 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed than those unarmed.[19] This finding, however, says nothing about the effectiveness of defensive gun use since the researchers did not actually study any such uses. Their finding apparently only confirmed the well-known fact that people who anticipate that they are likely to become crime victims in the future are more likely to acquire and carry guns for self-protection <Kleck 1997 Targeting Guns, pp. 74–81; Kleck, Kovandzic, Saber, and Hauser, 2011 Journal of Criminal Justice 39(4):312-319>. Thus, it was not necessarily gun possession that caused an increased risk of assault; rather, a pre-existing higher risk of assault increased the likelihood of victim gun possession. Kleck found, in his own national survey, and in other surveys with smaller sample sizes, that the numbers of defensive uses of guns by crime victims each year are substantially larger than the largest estimates of the number of crimes committed of offenders using guns.[20] However, the authors of two surveys that asked about both defensive gun use and criminal gun use claimed that their results indicated that more people report being victims of gun crimes than have used a gun in self-defense.[21] It was later found, however, that the authors used confusing and unorthodox wordings of the key questions, which artificially reduced the number of respondents reporting a defensive gun use [22]

Anti-gun scholar David Hemenway and other researchers at the Harvard Injury Control Research Center (HICRC) have claimed that the frequency of use of guns for self-defense has been vastly overestimated, and is, in fact, much lower than claimed by Kleck and others.[23][24][25] These claims, however, were almost entirely based on one-sided speculations about purported flaws in surveys, addressing only minor sources of over-estimation while systematically ignoring well-documented sources of underestimation</ref> Kleck and Kates, Armed, pp. 229–267</ref> Two national random-digit-dial surveys directed by the HICRC report that most gun use claimed to be self-defensive, in fact, represents likely illegal use of guns in escalating arguments and that guns used in the home are mostly used to intimidate spouses or relatives rather than to respond to crime.[26][27][28] Due to the flaws in question wording and sequencing, however, these findings cannot be given serious weight. The wording of questions made it impossible to distinguish cases of criminals on the receiving end of a legitimate defensive gun from cases of criminal assault with a gun. The results of these two surveys were also directly contradicted by a much larger-scale national survey that did not suffer from these flaws in question wording</ref> Kleck and Kates 2001, pp. 264–267</ref> Several further HICRC studies using data from surveys of detainees in prisons and interviews with prison physicians report that very few criminals are actually shot while committing crimes (confirming the findings of Kleck and Gertz 1995</ref> Journal of Criminal Law & Criminology 86(1):150-187, esp. pp. 173–174</ref> and that those criminals who are shot are typically shot as victims of crime themselves (in incidents unrelated to the crimes that lead to their incarceration) and not by law abiding citizens.[29][30][31]

The economist John Lott, in his book More Guns, Less Crime, states that laws which make it easier for law-abiding citizens to get a permit to carry a gun in public places, cause reductions in crime. Lott's results suggest that allowing law-abiding citizens to carry concealed firearms deters crime because potential criminals do not know who may or may not be carrying a firearm. Lott's data came from the FBI's crime statistics from all 3,054 US counties.[32] Lott's conclusions have been challenged by other researchers.

The efficacy of gun control legislation at reducing the availability of guns has been challenged by, among others, the testimony of criminals that they do not obey gun control laws, and by the lack of evidence of any efficacy of such laws in reducing violent crime. The most thorough analysis of the impact of gun control laws, by Kleck, covered 18 major types of gun control and every major type of violent crime or violence (including suicide), and found that gun laws generally had no significant effect on violent crime rates or suicide rates.[33] Studies by Arthur Kellermann and Matthew Miller found that keeping a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of suicide. [34][35] Other studies, however, found no association between gun ownership and suicide </ref> Miller, Marv. 1978. “Geriatric suicide.” The Gerontologist 18:488-495; Bukstein, O. G., David A. Brent, Joshua A. Perper, Grace Moritz, Marianne Baugher, Joy Schweers, Claudia Roth, and L. Balach. 1993. "Risk factors for completed suicide among adolescents with a lifetime history of substance abuse: a case-control study." Acta Psychiatrica Scandanavia 88:403-408; Beautrais, Annette L., Peter R. Joyce, and Roger T. Mulder. 1996. “Access to firearms and the risk of suicide.” Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry 30:741-748; Conwell, Yeates, Kenneth Connor, and Christopher Cox. 2002. “Access to firearms and risk for suicide in middle-aged and older adults.” American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry 10:407-416 [among females]</ref>.

In other countries, other methods of suicide are used at even higher rates than the U.S., so gun availability may affect the method used but not overall suicide rates.[36][37] However, the higher suicide rates in countries such as Japan may be explained by cultural factors irrelevant to the issue of the relationship between guns and suicide in the US. University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt argues in his paper, Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do not,[38] that available data indicate that neither stricter gun control laws nor more liberal concealed carry laws have had any significant effect on the decline in crime in the 1990s. While the debate remains hotly disputed, it is therefore not surprising that a comprehensive review of published studies of gun control, released in November 2004 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, was unable to determine any reliable statistically significant effect resulting from such laws, although the authors suggest that further study may provide more conclusive information.

Forty-four U.S. states have passed "shall issue" concealed carry legislation of one form or another. In these states, law-abiding citizens (usually after giving evidence of completing a training course) may carry handguns on their person for self-protection. Other states and some cities such as New York may issue permits. Only Illinois, and the District of Columbia have explicit legislation forbidding personal carry. Vermont, Arizona, and Alaska do not require permits to carry concealed weapons, although Alaska retains a shall-issue permit process for reciprocity purposes with other states. Similarly, Arizona retains a shall-issue permit process,[39] both for reciprocity purposes and because permit holders are allowed to carry concealed handguns in certain places (such as bars and restaurants that serve alcohol) that non-permit holders are not.[40]

Many supporters of gun-rights consider self-defense to be a fundamental and inalienable human right and believe that firearms are an important tool in the exercise of this right. They consider the prohibition of an effective means of self-defense to be unethical. For instance, in Thomas Jefferson’s "Commonplace Book," a quote from Cesare Beccaria reads, "laws that forbid the carrying of arms ... disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes ... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man."[41][42][43]

Domestic violence

Gun control advocates claim that the strongest evidence linking availability of guns to injury and mortality rates comes in studies of domestic violence, most often referring to the series of studies by Arthur Kellermann. In response to public suggestions by some advocates of firearms for home defense, that homeowners were at high risk of injury from home invasions and would be wise to acquire a firearm for purposes of protection, Kellermann investigated the circumstances surrounding all in-home homicides in three cities of about half a million population each over five years, and found that the risk of a homicide was in fact slightly higher in homes where a handgun was present, rather than lower. From the details of the homicides he concluded that the risk of a crime of passion or other domestic dispute ending in a fatal injury was much higher when a gun was readily available (essentially all the increased risk being in homes where a handgun was kept loaded and unlocked), compared to a lower rate of fatality in domestic violence not involving a firearm. This increase in mortality, he postulated, was large enough to overwhelm any protective effect the presence of a gun might have by deterring or defending against burglaries or home invasions, which occurred much less frequently. The increased risk averaged over all homes containing guns was similar in size to that correlated with an individual with a criminal record living in the home, but substantially less than that associated with demographic factors known to be risks for violence, such as renting a home versus ownership, or living alone versus with others.[44] Other scholars, however, believe that Kellermann misinterpreted his findings. Kleck showed that no more than a handful of the homicides that Kellermann studied were committed with guns belonging to the victim or members of his or her household, and thus it was implausible that victim household gun ownership contributed to their homicide. Instead, the association that Kellermann found between gun ownership and victimization merely reflected the widely accepted notion that people who live in more dangerous circumstances are more likely to be murdered, but also were more likely to have acquired guns for self-protection prior to their death.[45] Other critics of Kellermann's work and its use by advocates of gun control point out that since it deliberately ignores crimes of violence occurring outside the home (Kellermann states at the outset that the characteristics of such homicides are much more complex and ambiguous, and would be virtually impossible to classify rigorously enough), it is more directly a study of domestic violence than of gun ownership. Kellermann does in fact include in the conclusion of his 1993 paper several paragraphs referring to the need for further study of domestic violence and its causes and prevention. Researchers John Lott, Gary Kleck and many others dispute Kellermann's work.[46][47][48][49]

Kleck found that the vast majority of defensive gun uses do not involve the defender killing or even nonfatally wounding the offender.[50]

Armed forces' reserves and reservist training

In several countries, such as in Finland, firearm politics and gun control are directly linked on the armed forces' reserves and reservist training. This is especially true in countries which base their armies on conscription; since every able-bodied citizen is basically a soldier, they are expected to be able to handle the gun reasonably, and be able to practice for the time of need.

Switzerland is a noted example of a country in which, due to the country's conscription and militia traditions, firearm possession is widespread. Owing to Switzerland's history, all able-bodied male Swiss citizens aged between 21 and 50 (55 for officers) are issued assault rifles and ammunition in order to perform their annual military obligations. Some authors argue that Switzerland's militia tradition of "every man a soldier" contributed to the preservation of its neutrality during the Second World War, when it was not invaded by Nazi Germany because the military cost to the Nazis would have been too high.[51][52][53] However, this claim has been disputed by historians who cite the existence of detailed invasion plans, which rated the overall Swiss defense capacity as low.[54][55]

Civil rights

Some see gun ownership as a civil right. This view is common in the United States where the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. The Fourteenth Amendment protects gun owners when it states, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..."[56] This view is less common throughout the rest of the world.

Jeff Snyder is a spokesman for the view that gun possession is a civil right, and that therefore arguments about whether gun restrictions reduce or increase violent crime are beside the point: "I am not here engaged in...recommending...policy prescriptions on the basis of the promised or probable results [on crime]...Thus these essays are not fundamentally about guns at all. They are, foremost, about...the kind of people we intend to be...and the ethical and political consequences of decisions [to control firearms]."[57] He terms the main principle behind gun control "the instrumental theory of salvation:" that, lacking the ability to change the violent intent in criminals, we often shift focus to the instrument in an attempt to "limit our ability to hurt ourselves, and one another."[58] His work discusses the consequences that flow from conditioning the liberties of all citizens upon the behavior of criminals.

Some of the earliest gun-control legislation at the state level were the "black codes" that replaced the "slave codes" after the Civil War, attempting to prevent blacks' having access to the full rights of citizens, including the right to keep and bear arms.[59] Laws of this type later used racially neutral language to survive legal challenge, but were expected to be enforced against blacks rather than whites.[60]

A favorite target of gun control is so-called "junk guns," which are generally cheaper and therefore more accessible to the poor. However, some civil rights organizations favor tighter gun regulations. In 2003, the NAACP filed suit against 45 gun manufacturers for creating what it called a "public nuisance" through the "negligent marketing" of handguns, which included models commonly described as Saturday night specials. The suit alleged that handgun manufacturers and distributors were guilty of marketing guns in a way that encouraged violence in black and Hispanic neighborhoods. "The gun industry has refused to take even basic measures to keep criminals and prohibited persons from obtaining firearms," NAACP President/CEO Kweisi Mfume said. "The industry must be as responsible as any other and it must stop dumping firearms in over-saturated markets. The obvious result of dumping guns is that they will increasingly find their way into the hands of criminals."[61]

The NAACP lawsuit was dismissed in 2003.[62] It, and several similar suits—some brought by municipalities seeking re-imbursement for medical costs associated with criminal shootings—were portrayed by gun-rights groups as "nuisance suits," aimed at driving gun manufacturers (especially smaller firms) out of business through court costs alone, as damage awards were not expected.[63] These suits prompted the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in October, 2005.

Civic duty

Some proponents of private gun ownership argue that an armed citizens' militia can help deter crime and tyranny, as police are primarily a reactive force whose main loyalty is to the government which pays their wages. The Militia Information Service (MIS) contends that gun ownership is a civic duty in the context of membership in the militia, much like voting, neither of which they believe should be restricted to government officials in a true democracy.[64] MIS also states that the people need to maintain the power of the sword so they can fulfil their duty, implicit in the social contract, to protect the rights and liberties of their fellow citizens, much as individual citizens have a legal and ethical duty to protect dependents under their care, such as a child, elderly parent, or disabled spouse.[65]


Private ownership

According to statistics available from the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention, of nearly 31,000 firearm-related deaths in 2005, suicides account for 55 percent of deaths in the United States whereas homicides account for 40 percent of deaths, accidents account for three percent, and the remaining two percent were legal killings.

While many shootings occur in the course of a mutual argument of passion, others occur where a partner or family member of a "romantic" or familial relationship, who is an ongoing victim of domestic physical abuse or sexual abuse, uses the force of a firearm in self-defense action against a perpetrator who also happens to be known to or related to the victim. As a corollary, in such policy advertising campaigns, the comparison of "domestic" gun casualties is usually not accompanied by murder and assault prosecution numbers stemming from the shootings occurring in that context. In many of the latter cases, the victim firing in self-defense is frequently a woman or youth victim of a more physically powerful abuser. In those situations gun rights advocates argue that the firearm arguably becomes an equalizer against the lethal and disabling force frequently exercised by the abusers.[66]

Many gun control opponents point to statistics in advertising campaigns purporting that "approximately 9 or so children are killed by people discharging firearms every day across the US,"[citation needed] and argue that this statistic is seldom accompanied by a differentiation of those children killed by individuals from unintentional discharges and stray bullets, and of those "children," under the age of majority—which is 18-21 in the U.S.—who are killed while acting as aggressors in street gang related mutual combat or while committing crimes,[67][68] many of which are seen as arising from the War on Drugs. There is further controversy regarding courts, trials, and the resulting sentences of these mostly "young men" as adults despite them not having reached the age of consent.

Gun safety and gun laws

In an argument against gun control, the National Center for Policy Analysis, a non-profit conservative think tank, reported the following statistics.[69]


Gun control in the United States

Before the American Civil War ended, state slave codes prohibited slaves from owning guns. After slavery in the U.S. was abolished, states persisted in prohibiting Black people from owning guns under laws renamed Black Codes.

The United States Congress overrode most portions of the Black Codes by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866. The legislative histories of both the Civil Rights Act and the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as The Special Report of the Anti-Slavery Conference of 1867, are replete with denunciations of those particular statutes that denied blacks equal access to firearms.[79]

After the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1878, most states turned to "facially neutral" business or transaction taxes on handgun purchases. However, the intention of these laws was not neutral. An article in Virginia's official university law review called for a "prohibitive tax...on the privilege" of selling handguns as a way of disarming "the son of Ham," whose "cowardly practice of 'toting' guns has been one of the most fruitful sources of crime.... Let a negro board a railroad train with a quart of mean whiskey and a pistol in his grip and the chances are that there will be a murder, or at least a row, before he alights."[80] Thus, many Southern States imposed high taxes or banned inexpensive guns in order to price destitute individuals out of the gun market.

Gun control in Australia

In response to the Port Arthur massacre in 1996, gun law proposals developed from the report of the 1988 National Committee on Violence[81] were adopted under a National Firearms Agreement. This was necessary because the Australian Constitution does not give the Commonwealth power to enact gun laws.

The National Firearms Agreement banned all semi-automatic rifles and all semi-automatic and pump-action shotguns, and created a tightly restrictive system of licensing and ownership controls. Because the Australian Constitution prevents the taking of property without just compensation the Federal Government introduced the Medicare Levy Amendment Act 1996 that provided the revenue for the National Firearms Program through a one-off 0.2% increase in the Medicare levy. Known as the gun buy-back scheme, it started across the country on the 1 October 1996 and concluded on the 30 September 1997[82] to purchase and destroy all semi-automatic rifles including .22 rimfires, semi-automatic shotguns and pump-action shotguns. The buyback was predicted to cost A$500 million and had wide community support.

In 2002, the Monash University shooting led the federal government to urge state governments to again review handgun laws, and, as a result, amended legislation was adopted in all states and territories. Changes included a 10-round magazine capacity limit, a calibre limit of not more than .38 inches (9.65 mm), a barrel length limit of not less than 120 mm (4.72 inches) for semi-automatic pistols and 100 mm (3.94 inches) for revolvers, and even stricter probation and attendance requirements for sporting target shooters.[citation needed] In the state of Victoria A$21 million compensation was paid for confiscating 18,124 target pistols, and 15,184 replacement pistols were imported.[citation needed] .

One government policy was to compensate shooters for giving up the sport. Approximately 25% of pistol shooters took this offer, and relinquished their licences and their right to own pistols for sport for five years.[citation needed]

There is contention over the effects of the gun control laws in Australia, with some researchers reporting significant drops in gun-related crime,[83] and others reporting no significant effect in gun related or overall crime rates.[84][85][86]

See also


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  3. ^ [|Martin Killias] (1993). "Gun Ownership, Suicide and Homicide: An International Perspective" (PDF). Archived from the original on January 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-01-16. "The present study, based on a sample of eighteen countries, confirms the results of previous work is on the 14 countries surveyed during the first International Crime Survey. Strong correlations were found between gun ownership and gun-related as well as total suicide, but that the overall rate of suicide using firearms is low, and homicide rates. Widespread gun ownership has not been found to reduce the likelihood of fatal events committed with other means. Thus, people do not turn to knives and other potentially lethal instruments less often when more guns are available," 
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