Comparing Gun Control Laws and Their Effects in Different Countries
We have been often asked if other countries have more revealing and restrictive gun laws leading to a lower violent crime rate than the United States of America? We therefore, have compiled the laws, justice, culture and crime rates in foreign countries in order to determine how the trends compare and potentially assess what societal factors affect crime rates.
A recent report for the United States Congress notes, "All countries have some type of firearms regulation, ranging from the extremely strictly regulated countries like Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Singapore, Malaysia and Sweden to the less regulated countries within the jurisdictions of Switzerland and Mexico. In the latter two countries, the right to bear arms remains as a vital part of the national heritage of the country up to the present time." However, "From readily available statistics, of (the 27) countries utilized within this survey, it is extremely difficult to find a direct correlation between a lower incidence of gun related crimes and the existence of strict firearms regulations.
In Canada, for example, when handguns were most strictly regulated the statistics note a dramatic increase in the percentage of handguns used in all homicides. Conversely, in very strict regulated Germany, gun related crime is significantly higher than in countries like Israel and Switzerland that have less restrictive, simpler legislation." (Library of Congress, "Firearms Regulations in Various Foreign Countries, May 1998.")
Lower Crime Rates, Less Restrictive Firearms Laws
Many foreign countries have lower crime rates, and less restrictive firearms laws, than parts of the U.S. that have more restrictions. Many other countries have substantially low crime rates, despite having very different firearms laws.
Japan and Switzerland
Japan and Switzerland "stand out as interesting models. . . . The countries have crime rates that are within the lowest in the industrialized world, despite having completely opposite gun laws and policies.Â (Nicholas D. Kristof, "One Nation Bars, The Other Requires," New York Times, 3/10/96.) The citizens of Switzerland are frequently issued fully-automatic rifles to utilize for home national defense purposes, despite this fact, "abuse of military weapons is rare." The citizens of Switzerland own approximately two million firearms, including semi-automatic rifles and handguns, they shoot approximately 60 million rounds of ammunition per year, and "the rate of violent gun abuse is considerably low." (Stephen P. Halbrook, Target Switzerland; Library of Congress, pp. 183-184.) In Japan, on the other hand, handguns and rifles are expressly prohibited; shotguns are extremely strictly regulated.
Even Japan`s Olympic shooters are required to practice out of the country because of their country`s severe gun laws. Yet, crime in Japan has been steadily rising for about the last 15 years and the number of shooting crimes has more than doubled during select years throughout this period. Organized crime is additionally on the rise. (Kristof, "Family and Peer Pressure Help Keep Crime Levels down in Japan," New York Times, 5/14/95.) Japan's suicide rate is at a record high of nearly 90 per day, though most do not use firearms during the commission of the suicide. (Stephanie Strom, "In Japan, Mired in Recession, Suicides Soar," New York Times, p. 1, 7/15/99.)
Crime Trends in the United States
The crime trends in the United States of America have been significantly better than the trends in countries with more restrictive firearms laws. Since 1991, the number of privately owned firearms has risen sharply by perhaps 50 million. Meanwhile, America`s violent crime rate has decreased every year. In addition to Japan, other countries with severe restrictive laws have experienced increases in crime.
England -- Licenses for handguns and rifles have been required since 1920, and required for shotguns since 1967. A decade ago pump action and semi automatic center-fire rifles, and all handguns with the exception of single- shot .22s, were outlawed. The .22s were eventually banned in 1997. Shotgun registration is mandatory and semi-automatic shotguns must be licensed if they can hold more than two shells. Despite close to a full prohibition on private ownership of guns, "English crime rates as measured in both police statistics and victim surveys have all risen since 1981. . . . The English robbery rate was significantly higher in than the United States at 1.4 times America's. . . . the English assault rate was also significant and more than doubled America`s." All together, "Whether measured by police statistics or surveys of crime victims, serious crime rates are not overall higher in the United States than England." (Bureau of Justice Statistics, "Crime and Justice in the United States and in England and in Wales, 1981-1996," 10/98.)
In a June 2000 CBS report, Dan Rather declared Great Britain as one of the most violent urban countries in the Western civilized world. Rather further stated the `This summer, as most summers, thousands of Americans will vacation to Britain seeking a civilized island free from ugliness and crime. . . But presently, the United Kingdom has a crime problem . . . worse than Americas.`" (David Kopel, Paul Gallant, and Joanne Eisen, "Britain: From Bad to Worse," America`s First Freedom, 3/01, p. 26.)
Australia - In 1973, Australia mandated the licensing of gun owners whereby each handgun required a distinct and separate license. Additionally, Australia did not allow the use of a fire arm for self defense as a legitimate reason to possess a firearm. In 1985, Australia required the registration of firearms. In May 1996, the country outlawed semi-automatic center-fire rifles and many pump action shotguns and other semi-automatic weapons. As of Oct. 2000, the Australian government confiscated and destroyed about 660,000 privately owned firearms. However, viewing the data provided by the Australian Institute of Criminology, between 1996-1998 armed robberies rose 73 percent, assaults rose 16 percent, and unlawful entries rose 8 percent. During this time period murders increased slightly and then decreased slightly. (Jacob Sullum, "Guns down under," Reason, Australia, p. 10, 10/1/00).
Canada Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Canada issued a 1934 law that required registration of all handguns. Then in 1977 Canada law (Bill C-51) mandated a "Firearms Acquisition Certificate" for possessing and acquiring a firearm, the bill also eliminated protection of property as a legitimate reason for acquiring and possessing a handgun, and ultimately required registration of all "restricted weapons," defined to include all forms of semi- automatic rifles. The semi automatic weapon is not fully understood and consistently attacked by the Canadian legislature who refer to it by the term assault weapon. In 1995, the legislature passed the Canadian Firearms Act (C-68) which prohibited all handguns in .32 or .25 caliber and compact handguns roughly accounting for half of the privately owned handguns.
The Act required all gun owners to be licensed by Jan. 1, 2000, and that all rifles and shotguns be registered by Jan. 1, 2003. C-68 expanded the police powers of "search and seizure" under Canadian law and permitted the police to enter homes without the requisite search warrants, to look for unregistered guns and "inspect" gun storage. Canada currently has no law analogous to the American "Fifth Amendment;" C-68 requires suspected gun owners to effectively testify against themselves. In Canada, armed self-defense is considered an illegal and inappropriate use of a weapon by the government, "Prohibited Weapons Orders" have prohibited possession by private citizens and use of Mace and similar, non-firearm harmful means of protection.
From 1978 to 1988, Canada`s burglary rate dramatically increased 25%, surpassing the United States rate during the time period. Half of all burglaries within Canada are of inhabited homes, compared to only 10% in the United States. From 1976 to 1980, economically and ethnically similar areas of the United States. and Canada had virtually identical homicide rates, despite drastically different firearm laws.
Germany - â€œ Frequently described in the Library of Congress reports as "among the most stringent in Europe," Germany`s laws are extremely restrictive. Licenses are required to own or buy a firearm, and to secure a license a German citizen must prove his or her "need" and pass an official government test. Multiple licenses can be issued and distinct licenses are required for recreational shooters, hunters and collectors. As is the case in Washington, D.C., it is outlawed to possess a gun ready for defensive use in your personal home. Prior to being permitted to possess a firearm for protection, a German must always prove "need." Despite some of the most stringent gun laws, the annual number of firearm-related murders throughout Germany rose 76% between 1992-1995. (Library of Congress, p. 69.)
Italy -- There are significant limits on the quantity of ammunition and number of firearms a person may own. In order to receive a permit to carry a firearm, a person must first prove an established and substantial need, such as a dangerous occupation as is common for license registration. Firearms which utilize the precise identical ammunition as firearms used by the Italian military -- in America this would include countless millions of shotguns, rifles and handguns -- and ammunition for the weapons are expressly prohibited. Despite the highly restrictive laws, "Italy`s gun law, `the most restrictive in Europe,` had left Italy's southern provinces alone with a minimum of a thousand firearm murders a year, thirty times Switzerland's total." (Richard A. I. Munday, Most Armed & Most Free?, Brightlingsea, Essex: Piedmont Publishing, 1996.)
As seen by the data, restrictive gun laws do not translate to lower crime and / or homicides. It brings up an interesting question as to whether America's laws are to restrictive or are they not restrictive enough? Are there any other countries that we should model our laws after?