Gun control generally refers to laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification, or use of firearms. They vary greatly around the world. Some countries, such as the United Kingdom, have very strict limits on gun possession while others, like the United States, have, compared to most industrial democracies, relatively few and weak restrictions (although policies vary from state to state).
Proponents of gun control generally argue that widespread gun ownership increases the danger of homicide and suicide. Opponents argue that gun control does not reduce gun-related injuries, murder, or suicide, and some argue that certain regulations may violate individual liberties.
Terminology and context
In the context of this article, the concept of gun control is in reference to various means of a firearm restriction, use, transport, and possession. Specifically with regard to the class of weapons referred to as small arms. On a global scale this context is sometimes expanded to include light weapons; also known in the arms trade as SALW.
From the perspective of military small arms, this encompasses: revolvers, pistols, submachine guns, carbines, assault rifles, battle rifles, multiple barrel firearms, sniper rifles, squad automatic weapons, light machine guns, and sometimes hand grenades, general-purpose machine guns, medium machine guns, and grenade launchers may be considered small arms or as support weapons, depending on the particular armed forces. Other groups utilizing these types of arms may also include non-military personnel such as law enforcement agencies.
From a civilian (meaning via private, individual ownership) perspective and varying via legislation from country to country this encompasses a subset of the above list. Usually limited to: revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, sub-machine guns and light machine guns.
Global distribution of small arms
It is estimated that there are in total 875 million small arms distributed amongst civilians, law enforcement agencies and armed forces, globally.[a] Of these firearms 650 million, or 75 per cent, are held by civilians worldwide. U.S. civilians alone account for 270 million of this total. A further 200 million are controlled by state military forces. Law enforcement agencies have some 26 million small arms. Non-state armed groups[b] have about 1.4 million firearms.[c] Finally, gang members hold between 2 and 10 million small arms. Together, the small arms arsenals of non-state armed groups and gangs account for, at most, 1.4 per cent of the global total.
Regulation of civilian firearms
Barring a few exceptions,[d] most countries in the world allow civilians to purchase firearms subject to certain restrictions. A 2011 survey of 28 countries over five continents[e] found that a major distinction between different national regimes of firearm regulation is whether civilian gun ownership is seen as a right or a privilege. The study concluded that both the United States and Yemen were distinct from the other countries surveyed in viewing firearm ownership as a basic right of civilians and in having more permissive regimes of civilian gun ownership. In the remaining countries included in the sample, civilian firearm ownership is considered a privilege and the legislation governing possession of firearms is correspondingly more restrictive.
International and regional civilian firearm regulation
At the international and regional level, diplomatic attention has tended to focus on the cross-border illegal trade in small arms as an area of particular concern rather than the regulation of civilian-held firearms. During the mid-1990s, however, the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a series of resolutions relating to the civilian ownership of small arms. These called for an exchange of data on national systems of firearm regulation and for the initiation of an international study of the issue. In July 1997, ECOSOC issued a resolution that underlined the responsibility of UN member states to competently regulate civilian ownership of small arms and which urged them to ensure that their regulatory frameworks encompassed the following aspects: firearm safety and storage; penalties for the unlawful possession and misuse of firearms; a licensing system to prevent undesirable persons from owning firearms; exemption from criminal liability to promote the surrender by citizens of illegal, unsafe or unwanted guns; and, a record-keeping system to track civilian firearms. In 1997, the UN published a study based on member state survey data titled the United Nations International Study on Firearm Regulation which was updated in 1999.[f] This study was meant to initiate the establishment of a database on civilian firearm regulations which would be run by the Centre for International Crime Prevention, located in Vienna. who were to report on national systems of civilian firearm regulation every two years. These plans never reached fruition and further UN-led efforts to establish international norms for the regulation of civilian-held firearms were stymied. Responding to pressure from the U.S. government,[g] any mention of the regulation of civilian ownership of small arms was removed from the draft proposals for the 2001 UN Programme of Action on Small Arms.
Although the issue is no longer part of the UN policy debate, since 1991 there have been eight regional agreements involving 110 countries concerning aspects of civilian firearm possession. The Bamako Declaration,[h] was adopted in Bamako, Mali, on 1 December 2000 by the representatives of the member states of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU). The provisions of this declaration recommend that the signatories would establish the illegal possession of small arms and light weapons as a criminal offence under national law in their respective countries.
Studies, debate, and opinions
High rates of gun mortality and injury are often cited as a primary impetus for gun control policies.[page needed] The question of whether gun control policies increase, decrease or have no effect on rates of gun violence turns out to be a difficult question. While a variety of disparate data sources on rates of firearm-related injuries and deaths, firearms markets, and the relationships between rates of gun ownership and violence exist, research into the efficacy of various gun controls has been largely inadequate. A 2004 National Research Council critical review found that while some strong conclusions are warranted from current research, the state of our knowledge is generally poor. Despite the potential for improved research design, the National Research Council review concludes that the gaps in our knowledge on the efficacy of gun control policies are due primarily to inadequate data and not to weak research methods. The result of the scarcity of relevant data is that gun control is one of the most fraught topics in American politics and scholars remain deadlocked on a variety of issues.
The first cross-national overall comparison of deaths caused by guns was published in 1998, and found substantial variation. The possible factors leading to variation in gun violence among different countries was not assessed. A 2004 review by the National Research Council concluded that, "higher rates of household firearms ownership are associated with higher rates of gun suicide, that illegal diversions from legitimate commerce are important sources of crime guns and guns used in suicide, that firearms are used defensively many times per day, and that some types of targeted police interventions may effectively lower gun crime and violence."
A number of studies have examined the correlation between rates of gun ownership and gun-related, as well as overall, homicide and suicide rates internationally. 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[i] A later study published by Killias et al. in 2001, based on a larger sample of countries found "very strong correlations between the presence of guns in the home and suicide committed with a gun, rates of gun-related homicide involving female victims, and gun-related assault." The authors suggest that the correlation between the presence of guns in the home and suicide and homicide of females is best explained as causal, i.e. the presence of guns is the cause of the mortality and not the reverse. The study found no correlation for similar crimes against men, total rates of assault or for robbery, however, the authors note that the relationship between availability of guns and male homicide is complex, and the data may be affected by wars, organized crime, street crime and crime rates among various countries. They also note that, "the absence of significant correlations between gun ownership and total homicide, assault, or suicide rates...[leaves] open the question of possible substitution effects." (In other words, other means could have been substituted for firearms used in the commission of homicide or suicide.)
The Harvard Injury Control Research Center, part of the Harvard School of Public Health, found that "The rate of gun homicide, and the total homicide rate was significantly correlated with levels of gun ownership", and that this also held across high-income nations and across states. The study also said that "Cross-sectional studies like ours do not provide information about causality." 
A May 2010 Stanford study which examined US crime data through 2010 saw a correlation between right-to-carry gun laws and increases in crime rates, especially in the rate of aggravated assault. It is estimated that the passage of right-to-carry gun laws is correlated with an eight percent average increase in aggravated assault.
However, a number of scholars have also reported that the rate of gun availability is correlated with a lower murder rate, but not lower gun violence. These include Don Kates, John Lott, Joyce Malcolm, Gary Mauser, David Mustard, and Gary Kleck. For example, a 2002 review of international gun control policies and gun ownership rates as these relate to crime rates by Kates and Mauser, published in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (a student run journal devoted to conservative and libertarian legal scholarship) argues that, "International evidence and comparisons have long been offered as proof of the mantra that more guns mean more deaths and that fewer guns, therefore, mean fewer deaths. Unfortunately, such discussions are all too often been [sic] afflicted by misconceptions and factual error and focus on comparisons that are unrepresentative." Kates and Mauser say that in Europe there is no correlation whatsoever between gun ownership rates and homicide rates (see table "European Gun Ownership and Murder Rates"). Joyce Malcolm reviewed the subject of crime rates and homicides in England and found that, "data on firearms ownership by constabulary area" show "a negative correlation...[that is], where firearms are most dense violent crime rates are lowest, and where guns are least dense violent crime rates are highest."
Economist John Lott, in his 1998 book More Guns, Less Crime, provides data showing that laws allowing law-abiding citizens to carry a gun legally in public may cause reductions in crime because potential criminals do not know who might be carrying a firearm. The data for Lott's analysis came from the FBI's crime statistics for all 3,054 U.S. counties. Some have argued that gun ownership has no effect on violent crime. Kleck analyzed the impact of 18 major types of gun control laws on 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. Studies by Arthur Kellermann and Matthew Miller found that keeping a gun in the home was associated with an increased risk of suicide.
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 statistically significant effect resulting from such laws, although the authors suggest that further study may provide more conclusive information. In 2010, Lott provides a comprehensive survey of research on concealed carry laws in the 3rd edition of More Guns, Less Crime. According to Lott, about 2/3rds of the peer-reviewed studies by economists and criminologists find that concealed handgun laws reduce violent crime and 1/3rd show no effect. An updated review was published in the University of Maryland Law Review and it showed similar results.
- Concealed carry
- Gun violence
- Overview of gun laws by nation
- Right to keep and bear arms
- Federal Assault Weapons Ban
- Assault weapons legislation in the United States
- Gun show loophole controversy
- This figure excludes older, pre-automatic small arms from military and law enforcement stockpiles or 'craft-produced' civilian firearms.
- Composed of 'insurgents and militias, including dormant and state-related groups'.
- However, as of 2009, active non-state armed groups, numbering about 285,000 combatants, control only about 350,000 small arms.
- Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, and Taiwan (Republic of China) prohibit civilian ownership of firearms in almost all instances. Eritrea and Somalia also prohibit civilian possession of firearms as part of their implementation of the UN Programme of Action on Small Arms. In the Solomon Islands civilian firearm ownership is restricted to members of the Regional Assistance Mission.
- The survey, carried out by the Small Arms Survey included 28 countries (42 jurisdictions in total). The countries included in the sample were:
- Africa: Egypt, Kenya, South Africa, Uganda;
- Americas: Belize, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Dominican Republic, United States, Venezuela;
- Asia: India, Israel, Japan, Kazakhstan, Singapore, Turkey, Yemen;
- Europe: Croatia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania, Russian Federation, Switzerland, United Kingdom;
- Oceania: Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea.
The study states that 'while the sample is diverse and balanced, it may not be representative of the systems in place in countries outside the sample'.
- The impetus behind this study was twofold: firstly, there were concerns over the incidence of firearm-related crimes, accidents and suicides; secondly, there was the apprehension that existing regulatory instruments administering the ownership, storage and training in the use of firearms held by civilians might be inadequate.
- The US government was opposed to a section of the draft proposal calling on countries 'to seriously consider the prohibition of unrestricted trade and private ownership of small arms and light weapons'.
- The full title is 'The Bamako Declaration on an African Common Position on the Illicit Proliferation, Circulation and Trafficking of Small Arms and Light Weapons (2000)'.
- The present study, based on a sample of eighteen countries, confirms the results of previous work based on the 14 countries surveyed during the first International Crime Survey. Substantial correlations were found between gun ownership and gun-related as well as total suicide 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, but more guns usually means more victims of suicide and homicide.
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- National groups