America's gun laws are notorious - here's what regulations are like around the world

America's gun laws are notorious - here's what regulations are like around the world

Put simply: it's much harder in most of the Western world to own a firearm

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President Trump suggested teachers be armed as a safety measure.
Photo: AFP

The debate in the US over gun control reached a fever pitch following the February shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 dead.

Now with US lawmakers debating how to strengthen existing gun laws and President Donald Trump releasing a plan to increase regulations (though a less intensive plan than he promised at the start), it appears legislative action on firearms could soon be a reality.

Many people fighting for more gun control pointed to other countries around the world as evidence that tighter limits on firearm ownership could reduce gun violence in the US.

It is true that in many countries outside of the US the number of gun deaths per 100,000 people is much lower - though the US is nowhere near the highest rate.

To get a more global perspective on the issue, we asked journalists around the world to answer a few questions about gun laws in their country.


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We asked four questions:

  • What is the process like for getting a gun in your country?
  • What types of guns are legal?
  • What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?
  • Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gun violence?

Here are their responses:


What is the process like for getting a gun in America?

The process of getting a gun varies state-by-state in the US. In general, the process is fairly simple. Licensed gun sellers must run a federal and state background check on the prospective buyer before selling the gun. There are some exemptions to the background check such as private sales and sales at gun shows.

Some states impose other restrictions like a waiting period and limits on how many guns can be bought over a certain time period.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

Again, it varies in different US states. In some states, the instant background check system allows people to buy guns in under an hour.

What types of guns are legal?

A wide array of guns are legal in the US, including many semiautomatic guns. The National Firearms Act states that the ownership of automatic or machine guns made before 1984 is legal but under tight restrictions. The NFA also bans various types of guns such as short-barrel shotguns and rifles.

There was previously a federal ban on certain semiautomatic weapons and high capacity magazines, but it ended in 2004.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

A poll from Quinnipiac University released March 6 found that 58 per cent of those surveyed were against Trump's proposal, while 40 per cent supported the measure, though earlier polls found support to be more split. Additionally a SurveyMonkey poll found that most Americans believe arming teachers would make school "somewhat more dangerous" or "much more dangerous."

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

In a recent CBS News poll, 32 per cent of Americans surveyed said that gun violence in America is a "crisis" while 37 per cent said the issue was "very serious." In a CNN poll after the Parkland shooting, 57 per cent of respondents said they are "very or somewhat worried they or a family member will become a victim of gun violence." 


What is the process like for getting a gun in Britain?

Long and relatively difficult. Police need to give you a license to buy a gun or ammunition.

To get a license, you need to fill out a 15-page form specifying what type of gun you want, and why you want it. Valid reasons include shooting for sport or pest control, as well as gun-collecting and study. Self-defense is explicitly ruled out as a good reason.

You then need to be interviewed by your local police force, and prove to them that you will be a responsible gun owner and have a safe to keep it in. You need two referees, and officers can ask for a medical assessment.

If the police later decide you shouldn't have guns, they can require you to give them back. You also have to tell the police every time you buy, sell, destroy, or lose a gun.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

60 days.


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What types of guns are legal?

There's a ban on pistols, and most semi-automatic rifles are prohibited too. Shotguns, hunting rifles and some other firearms are allowed.

What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

The aim should surely be to stop school shootings from happening at all, rather than ending them faster when they do. The last mass school shooting in the UK was 22 years ago.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gun violence?

No. Gun crime does exist, particularly in parts of London where gangs are active. But most Brits would not rank "getting shot" very highly on the list of things they worry about.

Kieran Corcoran, Business Insider UK


What is the process like for getting a gun in Italy?

In Italy, people can buy and possess a gun for three different reasons: self-defense, hunting and sport shooting.

They have to get a gun license from the police (in Italian: "porto d'armi") and abide by specific physical and psychological requirements, including: no psychiatric problems, no alcohol and drug dependence, and must be over 18 years old.

In particular, people who want a gun for self-defense have to demonstrate a valid reason, which justifies the need to go armed.

In addition the license, the possession of guns and ammunition has to be reported to the central police station.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

The whole bureaucratic process can last 90 days or more.

What types of guns are legal?

In general, people can own up to three guns, six firearms for shooting sports and an unlimited number of hunting rifles, but can't go out bringing these with them if they don't have the authorisation. For instance, citizens with a self-defense licence can go out with a semi-automatic gun with 12-13 bullets or a revolver with 5-6 ammunition rounds.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

Trump's proposal after the Florida school shooting has fueled a huge debate in Italy, covered by national media.

For Giuseppe Soddu, principal of high school "Liceo classico Parini" in Milan, Trump's proposal is "crazy."

"It cannot be the solution and it must be rejected," he said. "Teachers have the duty and job of educating and teaching: they cannot replace police officers or carry out their tasks."

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

It is very hard to measure the fear of being shot but experts have assessed the level of insecurity perceived by Italians. Despite a reduction of murders, thefts and robberies committed in the first seven months of 2017, Italian perception of criminality remains high.

The last report of the Italian institute Osservatorio europeo sulla sicurezza (2017) shows that the level of insecurity linked to criminality has reached 41.4 per cent in 2017 and 41 per cent in 2016, less than the 50.3 per cent registered in December 2012.


What is the process like for getting a gun in Germany?

You have to be at least 18 years old. There are some exceptions, for instance a member of a rifle club can shoot at the age of 13, but only at those clubs.

You have to have a firearms licence, which are rather difficult to get if you are not a hunter or a member of a rifle club. In order to get a license, there are background checks and you can only buy weapons in licensed arms shops.

Because our gun laws are relatively strict, many try to get guns on the dark web or through other illegal channels.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

You have to wait at least four weeks (hunter licence, usually much longer) or one year (shooting licence). Then you can buy a gun relatively quickly. You just have to register with the local authorities.


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What types of guns are legal?

I'll just tell you first which types are NOT legal: fully automatic weapons and bump stocks. Our law says in effect all weapons of war.

Semi-automatic weapons (only for licensed hunters and rifle men/women) and small weapons require a firearm licence.

What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

Crazy. One would never consider such a proposal here in Germany. I suppose our people would be appalled. I think teachers should have other qualities than being able to target and shoot a would-be serial killer.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

No. Not really. Just police carry guns in public - usually just small handguns. It may differ slightly in more obscure places in some districts in Berlin or other larger cities, but my guess is most Germans don't worry about it.

Business Insider Germany


What is the process like for getting a gun in Sweden?

You need to contact and apply for a license from the police authorities. In the application, you will need to fill in a form stating who you are and why you need the gun.

Common purposes for applying for to be able to own a gun are: hunting, target shooting, buying from a private person, and memorial.

The same processes apply for ammunition and there are strict regulations on how you have to store gun and ammunition.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

6 weeks on average to the get the licence from police.

What types of guns are legal?

Guns as gear for something can only be used for the approved activities. Such activities are mentioned above. For example, hunting, and target shooting.

Owning a gun for private use or security is strongly prohibited by Swedish law. It is also illegal and punishable to own a gun if you do not have a licence for it.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

Generally, Sweden is very conservative and restrictive when it comes to guns. Even professionals, such as police, are often criticised for abusing their power to use guns. The proposal by Trump has not been seen as positive and has just been viewed as another act of his erratic behavior.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

I would say no. But there have been more shootings and more shootings are covered by the media. Some areas in Sweden, especially Malmö, have been more hit by criminal gun violence. These shootings exclusively deal with illegal, smuggled weapons, which are becoming an increasing problem in Sweden. But the shootings are almost only between criminals.

Shootings are a suburban problem in the bigger cities and in these areas people are more fearful than the average Swedish person.

Adrian Woloszyk, Business Insider Nordic


What is the process like for getting a gun in Spain?

The first thing is to obtain a gun permit, the document needed to buy, possess and use a gun.

To start you need to be of legal age (18 or older in Spain) and have Spanish or foreign nationality with granted residence. You need a photocopy of ID card, forms, payment of fees, background checks (criminal and gender-based violence) and a theory test of 20 questions (16 right is a pass). Finally you take a practical exam.

With the licence in hand, you can now go to an armoury - or online - and buy a gun. The sale isn't direct, either. First, the gunsmith must check all the buyer's documentation. Once the purchase has been made, the buyer must pick it up at the Arms Intervention of the Guardia Civil.

The permits expire every 3 or 5 years and, depending on the type of weapon, it may be necessary to repeat the whole process.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

At least 6 weeks (the usual time it takes for the authorities to process application) but up to two months while you wait to be assigned a date to take a test, which they do in groups of 20-30 people.

What types of guns are legal?

Guns and revolvers, the most common small arms, are the most controlled (about 8,000, legally in the hands of private individuals). Military and automatic weapons are completely prohibited.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

It is very surprising. Such a proposal would not even come up in a public debate in Spain.

In recent years there has been debate on strengthening the teacher's authority in the classroom, but this has nothing to do with carrying weapons. Of course there are cases of aggression against teachers and students, but they rarely involve any kind of weapon.

Does the average person in your area fear being the victim of gunfire?

In Spain, according to the Guardia Civil, there are today almost 3 million legal weapons (not including the black market), but there is little feeling of insecurity related to that. Many of the cases that come to light have more to do with settling accounts, drugs and macho violence, in addition to hunting accidents.

Jose Carlos Sánchez, Business Insider España


What is the process like for getting a gun in South Africa?

For a large number of the guns used to commit crime in South Africa, the process of getting a gun consists of two steps: identify a representative of a gang or suitable alternative underworld figure, then hand over a relatively small amount of cash.

Many weapons smuggled in and hidden during the armed struggle against Apartheid still exist in the country. 

Gun ownership is not a right in South Africa, and the requirements to obtain a licence are strict. For every gun every owner must undergo competency training with a registered trainer including theory, a practical test, and a section on the law. The trainer must certify the potential owner to be fit and competent to use the weapon - and to fully appreciate the legal rules on use - before anything else can happen.

A doctor must certify that the potential owner does not suffer from depression or any mental illness that can affect emotional state, and two references, typically close friends or family, must be available to confirm that the person is not of a violent disposition.

An on-site safety inspection is also required to ensure that gun safes comply with minimum requirements.


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How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

Legally, a minimum of three months and longer in practice.

What types of guns are legal?

All of them. Semi-automatic rifles and shotguns are limited to registered private security companies or, under strict conditions, to sportspeople. Collectors may buy fully automatic weapons.

What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

Some private schools in South Africa have armed guards at the perimeter, and many more have access to quick-response private armed guards. However, the idea of arming teachers is absurd in the South African context.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

All South Africans fear violent crime, which is pervasive and deadly. Few to none fear random or mass shootings, which are simply unheard of.

Phillip De Wet, Business Insider South Africa


What is the process like for getting a gun in Australia?

In NSW, you must be 18 years or older and apply for a firearms licence from the NSW Firearms Registry, which is managed by the state police. (There are minors permits for children aged 12-18).

You need to have a genuine reason to own a gun, such as targeting shooting, primary production, hunting or collecting, or belong to an approved shooting club (as a club member, you need to comply with attendance requirements).

Personal protection is not a "genuine reason" for a gun.

You need to provide extensive paperwork to back up your application, which is granted at the discretion of police. You need to take part in a firearms safety training course with an accredited trainer before you can apply, and need to be a state resident.

Once you apply, there is a mandatory 28-day waiting period, as well as criminal background checks. You can't get a licence if you've committed a prescribed offense within the last 10 years.

When you want to buy a gun, you'll need to complete a Permit to Acquire (PTA) application and send it to the Firearms Registry to process. There is a mandatory 28 day waiting period to approve the permit, which you then present to a firearms dealer. A permit is needed for each firearm and it expires after 90 days.

When you no longer require your gun, it must be disposed of by handing it in to police or via a registered second-hand dealer.


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How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

At least 28 days.

What types of guns are legal?

Automatic and semiautomatic weapons are banned in Australia (although the latter is available in exceptional circumstances).

What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

Armed response to a critical incident requires high levels of training. It's hard to see how teachers would fit that into their skills base alongside the primary role. Putting aside their willingness to participate and the range of ethical issues, what happens when they accidentally shoots a student? Or, God forbid, an educator deliberately turns their weapon on students?

Most Australians struggle to comprehend the validity of the argument that the best way to deal with guns is more guns. Our country chose the opposite direction.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

No. Gun deaths are overwhelming the result of self-harm, aside from the occasional high-profile gangland shooting and police using lethal force in confrontations - still a rare occurrence in Australia. Long-term crime trends involving firearms are generally falling. For example, assault involving a firearm in NSW is down nearly 19 per cent in the last five years.

Simon Thomsen, Business Insider Australia


What is the process like for getting a gun in the Netherlands?

You can only get a gun if you're a hunter, collector or a sports shooter in the Netherlands. But even then it's not easy. You need to get a permit from your local chief of police and follow the rules of the Arms and Ammunition Act. The police will check if you have a criminal record and if you are psychologically fit. The department also keeps track of which people have permission to have firearms in their house. These permits are renewed annually and checked by the police with house visits.

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

You need to be a member of a sports club for at least a year, and then screening and permits take at least four weeks.

As a hunter, you need to do a training course, which always starts in September and takes half a year. Only 50 per cent of the people pass the exam the first time. After that, there's screening, insurance, and other bureaucratic things.

So on average, it takes a year for hunters before they can have a gun.

What types of guns are legal?

Even a fake gun that looks like the real deal is illegal. You may have one with a CE mark, a certification mark that indicates conformity with European regulations, but you can't take it with you to public spaces.

The Dutch ministry categorises weapons into four groups, each with their own regulation. If you have a permit, you can own things like pistols, revolvers, guns, throwing knives, swords, sabres, pneumatic weapons, harpoons, or crossbows.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

A Dutch TV host made a video about it.

This video is satire, but the fact is: we truly cannot believe that someone thinks arming teachers solves the problem. The possession of weapons increases the chance of accidents and violence.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

No, not at all. Only drugs dealers and other criminals possess illegal guns. With 17 million inhabitants there are only 70,000 weapon permits in our country: 40,000 sports shooters, 30,000 hunters.

Els van Asseldonk, Business Insider Nederland


What is the process like for getting a gun in France?

France is apparently one of the country where people own the most guns per resident in Europe. But guns are illegal unless you have a permit or your an officer of the law.

Since 2013, all guns must be registered at the "prefecture" (administration office).

Lots of people who own guns have a "hunting licence" that allows you to carry a gun if you are registered as "hunter". You can also carry a gun if you have a permit and after 6 months spent practicing within a "club de tir" (an organisation where you can learn to shoot).

How long does it take on average to obtain a gun?

You have to train at a shooting range for 6 months before the club gives you an authorisation.

As for having a "permis de chasse" (hunting permit"), it takes a couple of months. You have to take an exam, and there's one about every two months.

What types of guns are legal?

There are 4 categories of weapons in France (A, B, C, D).

D: Historic guns that don't work (or aren't supposed to)

C: Hunting guns

B: 9mm, semi-automatic rifle - you have to be a registered professional shooter to have one

A: War weapons or weapons of mass destruction - completely forbidden

B, C and D have to be "kept locked" in a safe or be disabled when not used.


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What do you think about President Trump's proposal to arm more teachers and trained professionals in schools?

From our point of view, it's an aberration. Nobody's allowed to carry a gun freely so it's not even a possibility.

For example, a lot of people don't feel at ease when they see military people walking down the street carrying rifles, they are in the military - imagine what it would be for civilians. When I see images of normal American citizens carrying their guns in public it gives me goosebumps. It is so abnormal for us.

Does the average person in your area fear the possibility of being the victim of gunfire?

Not gunfire specifically. But since the 2015 Paris terror attacks, people fear terrorist attacks a lot more than before. But even back in 2015, we didn't have a "great debate" about gun ownership legalisation. The subject has just never reached the national political scene to the extent it has in the US.


This story appeared originally on Busines Insider as "Here's how guns are regulated around the world"

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