National and regional police and security services also conduct their own gun regulations. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATFE) supports the United States' International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) program "to aggressively enforce this mission and reduce the number of weapons that are illegally trafficked worldwide from the United States and used to commit acts of international terrorism, to subvert restrictions imposed by other nations on their residents, and to further organized crime and narcotics-related activities."
In 2003 the Center for Disease Control published a review of studies from several countries. They state that they found "insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the firearms laws reviewed for preventing violence".
Under East Timorese law, only the military and police forces may legally possess, carry and use firearms. However, despite these laws, East Timor has many problems with illegally-armed militias, including widespread violence in 2006 which resulted in over 100,000 people being forced from their homes, as well as two separate assassination attempts on the Prime Minister and President in early 2008.
However, in late June 2008, the Prime Minister, Xanana Gusmao, introduced a proposed gun law to Parliament for "urgent debate", pushing back scheduled budgetary discussions. This has sparked heated scenes in the East Timorese parliament between the parliamentarians who support the new law and those who oppose it. The United Nations, which has a peacekeeping force deployed in the nation, also expressed concern over the new law. However, State Secretary for Defence, Julio Tomas Pinto, defended the proposed law in Parliament on Monday, saying many countries in the world allowed citizens to own guns.
The weapons law begins by stating "No-one shall possess a fire-arm or fire-arms or a sword or swords", and very few exceptions are allowed. The only types of firearms which a Japanese citizen may even contemplate acquiring is a rifle or shotgun. Sportsmen are permitted to possess shotguns or rifles for hunting and for skeet and trap shooting, but only after submitting to a lengthy licensing procedure. Without a license, a person may not even hold a gun in his or her hands.
Recently in Japan the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party, in response to violent crimes by minors and gangsters, has called for rewriting the constitution to include new more stringent firearms control measures. In January 2008 Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in a policy speech called for tighter regulations on firearms.
The American public strongly opposes bans on gun ownership, while strongly supporting limits on handguns and military-type semi-automatic weapons.
There is a sharp divide between gun-rights proponents and gun-control proponents. This leads to intense political debate over the effectiveness of firearm regulation.
On the whole, Republicans are far less likely to support gun control than are Democrats. According to a 2004 Harris Interactive survey:
Republicans and Democrats hold very different views on gun control. A 71% to 11% majority of Democrats favors stricter gun control, whereas Republicans are split 35% to 35%.The division of beliefs may be attributable to the fact that Republicans are more likely to own guns, according to General Social Surveys conducted during the last 35 years. The graphs, below, show that gun ownership has generally declined; however, Republicans - especially men - are far more likely to own "guns or revolvers.
Incidents of gun violence and self-defense have routinely ignited bitter debate. About 10,000 murders are committed using firearms annually, while an estimated 2.5 million crimes may be thwarted through civilian use of firearms annually. The American Journal of Public Health conducted a study that concluded "the United States has higher rates of firearm ownership than do other developed nations, and higher rates of homicide. Of the 233,251 people who were homicide victims in the United States between 1988 and 1997, 68% were killed with guns, of which the large majority were handguns. The ATF estimated in 1995 that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million.
Gun-rights proponents question whether any firearm registration requirement violates the Second Amendment under the individual rights theory. Some perceive that firearms registration — by making it easier for Federal agents to target gun owners for harassment and confiscation — constitutes an easily exploited encroachment upon individual personal privacy and property rights.
In contrast, in a 2008 brief submitted to the United State Supreme Court, the Department of Justice advocated that reasonable regulation of weaponry has always been allowed by the Second Amendment in the interests of public safety. In District of Columbia v. Heller, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the Second Amendment secures an individual right to own and possess handguns in a home for self-defense. See below.
Fully-automatic firearms are legal in most states, but have requirements for registration and restriction under federal law. The National Firearms Act of 1934 required approval of the local police chief and the payment of a $200 tax for initial registration and for each transfer. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited imports of all nonsporting firearms and created several new categories of restricted firearms. The act also prohibited further registry of most automatic firearms. The Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986 imposed restrictions on some semiautomatic weapons and banned private ownership of machine guns manufactured after it took effect.
The result has been a massive rise in the price of machine-guns available for private ownership, as an increased demand chases the fixed, pre-1986 supply. For example, the Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine-gun, which may be sold to law enforcement for about $1,000, costs a private citizen about $20,000. This price difference dwarfs the $200 tax stamp.
Political scientist Earl R. Kruschke states, regarding the fully-automatic firearms owned by private citizens in the United States, that "approximately 175,000 automatic firearms have been licensed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (the federal agency responsible for administration of the law) and evidence suggests that none of these weapons has ever been used to commit a violent crime."
Rich et al., however, found that increased gun restrictions, while reducing suicide-by-gun, resulted in no net decline in suicides, because of substitution of other methods. Japan is often cited as another counter-example to Killias's assertion, as Japan has one of the highest suicide rates in the world while private firearm ownership is almost non-existent.
While many democracies in Western Europe have adopted gun control, there are democratic countries that allow their citizens to own firearms such as the United States, New Zealand and Switzerland. However, other democracies like Japan have very strict laws against citizens owning firearms and don't reveal totalitarian tendencies. The best known example of a country which was democratic prior to becoming totalitarian, the Weimar Republic, had restrictive gun laws, which the Nazis changed with the Reichswaffengesetz in 1938, though they prohibited possession of weapons by Jews shortly thereafter.
Other countries that were briefly democratic before becoming totalitarian are: countries of the former USSR (e.g., Belarus, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, etc.) and many African countries (e.g. Zimbabwe, Angola). All have (and had) restrictive gun laws. In such countries as South Africa and Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), the black majority was prevented from legally owning guns by the white minority, aiding in the establishment of white rule.
Firearms-rights advocates also point to the example of Japan. During the early Middle Ages, there was a high percentage of weapons ownership within the general populace, and this hindered the Japanese Imperial government in establishing totalitarian control within the country. The Japanese populace was eventually disarmed, and weapons ownership was strictly limited to the elite and their Samurai bodyguards. Peasants, without any access to arms, were at the mercy of powerful warlords.
Some also oppose registration of guns or licensing of gun owners because they believe that if captured, the associated records would provide military invaders with the locations and identities of gun owners, simplifying elimination of resistance fighters. Location and capture of such records is a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers; and was widely practiced by German and Soviet troops during World War II. Once the Nazis had taken and consolidated their power, they then proceeded to implement gun control laws to disarm the population and wipe out the opposition. Genocide of disarmed Jews, gypsies, and other undesirables followed. The Battles of Lexington and Concord, sometimes known as the Shot heard 'round the world, in the 1770s, were started in part because General Gage sought to carry out an order by the British government to disarm the populace.
The economist, and opinion editorialist John Lott, in his book More Guns, Less Crime, claims to have identified a positive correlation between gun control legislation and crimes in which criminals confront citizens— that is, an increase in the number or strictness of gun control laws is correlated with an increase in the number or severity of violent crimes. Besides showing a drop in crime correlating with shall issue laws, Lott's results also show that increasing the unemployment rate is statistically associated with a drop in crime and that a small decrease in the population which is black, female, and between 40 and 49 would result in a big decrease in homicide. 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. The possibility of getting shot by an armed victim is a substantial deterrent to crime and prevents not only petty crime but physical confrontation as well from criminals. Lott's data comes from the FBI's crime statistics from all 3,054 US counties.
Criminologist Gary Kleck criticizes Lott's theories as overemphasizing the threat to the average American from armed crime and therefore the need for armed defense. Paradoxically, Kleck's work speaks towards similar support for firearm rights by showing that the number of Americans who report incidents where their guns averted a threat vastly outnumber those who report being the victim of a firearm-related crime..
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. In his paper, Understanding Why Crime Fell in the 1990s: Four Factors that Explain the Decline and Six that Do Not, University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt argues 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.
Thirty-nine 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, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia have explicit legislation restricting personal carry, although gun-control laws in the District of Columbia were ruled unconstitutional by the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on March 9, 2007. Vermont and Alaska place no restrictions on lawful citizens carrying concealed weapons. Alaska retains a shall issue permit process for reciprocity where allowed.
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 and to violate Constitutional guarantees. 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.
Opponents of lawful arming of individuals for self-defense argue that potential victims who present their weapons likely would escalate a confrontation and suffer greater injury than had they been unarmed. However, the opposite has been found to be true: armed potential victims have a significantly greater likelihood over unarmed or totally weapon-less victims of escaping criminal assault uninjured. The United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, found that "A fifth of the victims defending themselves with a firearm suffered an injury, compared to almost half of those who defended themselves with weapons other than a firearm or who had no weapon.
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. Kleck agrees only with Kellermann's finding that contrary to widespread perception, the overall frequency of homicide in the home by an invading stranger is much less than that of domestic violence. Kellerman's work has also being criticized because he ignores factors such as guns being used to protect property, save lives, and deter crime without killing the criminal—which, Kleck and others argue, accounts for the large majority of defensive gun uses.
Switzerland is a noted example of a country in which, due to the country's conscription and militia traditions, firearm ownership 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. Because of this, Switzerland is one of the few nations in the world with a higher rate of firearm ownership than the United States. Also, Switzerland has a relatively low rate of gun crime. The comparatively low level of violent crime, despite the liberal gun laws, is demonstrated by the fact that Swiss politicians rarely have the same level of police protection as their counterparts in the United States and other countries, as was noted following the fatal shooting of several government officials in the Swiss canton of Zug in September 2001. According to many historians, 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. Despite Switzerland being a thorn in Germany's side, it was not invaded because the military cost to the Nazis would have been too high, although this is meanwhile considered a legend regarding the existence of detailed invasion plans, which rated the Swiss defense capacity as overall low.
Likewise, it is very difficult to get a licence for a pistol or revolver in Finland, but relatively easy for a rifle or shotgun. The rationale is that long firearms are awkward to use in robberies and other felonies, but they are almost exclusively used in war; therefore practising or hunting with a long firearm is both relatively safe for the general populace and especially beneficial when the situation of crisis arises.
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. Laws of this type later used racially neutral language to survive legal challenge, but were expected to be enforced against blacks rather than whites.
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.
The NAACP lawsuit was dismissed in 2003. 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. These suits prompted the passage of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act in October, 2005.
Martin Luther King said, "By our readiness to allow arms to be purchased at will and fired at whim... we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes.
In 2002 in the U.S., 1,202 women were killed by their intimate partners, accounting for 30 percent of the 4006 women murdered that year. 700 women were killed by intimate partners using guns. The same year, 175 men were killed by intimate partners.
In a similar fashion, many gun control advocates point to statistics in advertising campaigns purporting that "approximately 9 or so children are killed by people discharging firearms every day across the US, 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, 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. A significant number of gun related deaths occur through suicide.
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. Public Health researchers have concluded that the likelihood of someone dying from suicide or homicide is greater in homes where guns are present.
There has been widespread agreement on both sides that the importance of gun safety education has a mitigating effect on the occurrence of accidental discharges involving children. There is somewhat less agreement about vicarious liability case law assigning strict liability to the gun owner for those firearms casualties occurring when a careless gun owner loses proper custody and control of her or his firearm.
The National Center for Policy Analysis, a conservative think tank, reported the following statistics:
The FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report ranking of cities over 40,000 in population by violent crime rates (per 100,000 population) finds that the ten cities with the highest violent crime rates for 2003 include three cities in the very strict state of New Jersey, one in the fairly restrictive state of Massachusetts, whereas the rest have recently adopted laws that allow for the carrying of a handgun with a permit: