Gun control (or Regulation of firearms) generally refers to laws or policies that regulate the manufacture, sale, transfer, possession, modification, or use of firearms in order to control crime and reduce the harmful effects of violence. 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 restrictions (although policies vary from state to state).
Proponents of gun control generally argue that widespread gun ownership increases the danger of gun-related crime, homicide, and suicide. Opponents argue that gun control does not reduce gun-related injuries, murder, or suicide, and some argue that certain regulations violate individual liberties.
Some also suggest that demographics in the United States, with one racial group having disproportionately high crime rates, increases the level of the debate on both sides.
- 1 Terminology and context
- 2 Regulation of civilian firearms
- 3 Studies and debates
- 4 See also
- 5 Notes
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
- 8 External links
Terminology and context
Gun control refers to domestic regulation of firearm manufacture, trade, possession, use, and transport, specifically with regard to the class of weapons referred to as small arms (revolvers and self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles, submachine guns and light machine guns).
In 2007, it was estimated that there are, globally, about 875 million small arms distributed amongst civilians, law enforcement agencies, and armed forces.[lower-alpha 1] Of these firearms 650 million, or 75 per cent, are held by civilians. U.S. civilians 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[lower-alpha 2] have about 1.4 million firearms.[lower-alpha 3] 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,[lower-alpha 4] most countries in the world allow civilians to purchase firearms subject to certain restrictions. A 2011 survey of 28 countries over five continents[lower-alpha 5] 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.[lower-alpha 6] 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,[lower-alpha 7] 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,[lower-alpha 8] 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 and debates
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 is a difficult scientific question. While a variety of disparate sources of data 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. Notably, since 1996 the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been prohibited from using its federal funding "to advocate or promote gun control," effectively ending gun violence research at the agency. The funding provision's author has said that this was an over-interpretation.
A 1998 review found that suicide rates generally declined after gun control laws were enacted, and concluded that "The findings support gun control measures as a strategy for reducing suicide rates."
A 2003 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looked at the restrictiveness of gun laws and suicide rates in men and women in all 50 U.S. states and found that states whose gun laws were more restrictive had lower suicide rates among both sexes. The following year, a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association found evidence that child access prevention laws were "associated with a modest reduction in suicide rates among youth aged 14 to 17 years." A 2005 study looked at all 50 states in the U.S. and the District of Columbia, and found that no gun laws were associated with reductions in firearm homicide or suicide, but that a "shall-issue" concealed carry law may be associated with increased firearm homicide rates. A 2011 study found that firearm regulation laws in the United States have "a significant deterrent effect on male suicide". A 2013 study found that in the United States, "A higher number of firearm laws in a state are associated with a lower rate of firearm fatalities in the state."
Other studies comparing gun control laws in different U.S. states include a 2015 study which found that in the United States, "stricter state firearm legislation is associated with lower discharge rates" for nonfatal gun injuries. A 2014 study that also looked at the United States found that children living in states with stricter gun laws were safer. Another study looking specifically at suicide rates in the United States found that the four handgun laws examined (waiting periods, universal background checks, gun locks, and open carrying regulations) were associated with "significantly lower firearm suicide rates and the proportion of suicides resulting from firearms." The study also found that all four of these laws (except the waiting-period one) were associated with reductions in the overall suicide rate. A 2014 study found that states that required licensing and inspections of gun dealers tended to have lower rates of gun homicides.
A review of published studies of gun control released in October 2003 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, and noted that "insufficient evidence to determine effectiveness should not be interpreted as evidence of ineffectiveness".:18
Kleck and Patterson analyzed the impact of 18 major types of gun control laws on every major type of violent crime or violence (including suicide) in 170 U.S. cities, and found that gun laws generally had no significant effect on violent crime rates or suicide rates. Similarly, a 1997 study found that gun control laws had only a small influence on the rate of gun deaths in U.S. states compared to socioeconomic variables.
Other studies have examined trends in firearm-related deaths before and after gun control laws are either enacted or repealed. Two 2015 studies found that the permit-to-purchase law passed in Connecticut in 1995 was associated with a reduction in firearm suicides and homicides. One of these studies also found that the repeal of Missouri's permit-to-purchase law was associated with "a 16.1% increase in firearm suicide rates," and a 2014 study by the same research team found that the repeal of this law was associated with a 16% increase in homicide rates. A 1991 study looked at Washington, D.C.'s Firearms Control Regulations Act of 1975, which banned its residents from owning all guns except certain shotguns and sporting rifles, which were also required to be unloaded, disassembled, or stored with a trigger lock in their owners' homes. The study found that the law's enactment was associated with "a prompt decline in homicides and suicides by firearms in the District of Columbia."
WIth respect to the Criminal Law Amendment Act, a gun control law passed in Canada in 1977, some studies have found that it was ineffective at reducing homicide or robbery rates. One study even found that the law may have actually increased robberies involving firearms. A 1993 study of found that after this law was passed, gun suicides decreased significantly, as did the proportion of suicides committed in the country with guns. A 2003 study found that this law "may have had an impact on suicide rates, even after controls for social variables," while a 2001 study by the same research team concluded that the law "may have had an impact on homicide rates, at least for older victims."
In 1991, Canada implemented the gun control law Bill C-17. According to a 2004 study, after this law was passed, firearm-related suicides and homicides, as well as the percentage of suicides involving firearms, declined significantly in that country. A 2010 study found that after this law was passed, firearm suicides declined in Quebec among men, but acknowledged that this may not represent a causal relationship. In 1992, Canada promulgated the Canadian Firearms Act, which aimed at ensuring that guns were stored safely. A 2004 study found that although firearm suicide rates declined in the Quebec region Abitibi-Témiscamingue after the law was passed, overall suicide rates did not.
A 1990 study compared suicide rates in the Vancouver, Canada metropolitan area (where gun control laws were more restrictive) with those in the Seattle, Washington area in the United States. The overall suicide rate was essentially the same in the two locations, but the suicide rate among 15 to 24 year olds was about 40 percent higher in Seattle than in Vancouver. The authors concluded that "restricting access to handguns might be expected to reduce the suicide rate in persons 15 to 24 years old, but...it probably would not reduce the overall suicide rate."
A 2012 study looked at gun control laws passed in Canada from 1974 to 2008 and found no evidence that these laws had a beneficial effect on firearm homicide rates in that country.
A 2006 study by gun lobby-affiliated researchers Jeanine Baker and Samara McPhedran found that after Australia enacted the National Firearms Agreement (NFA), a gun control law, in 1996, gun-related suicides may have been affected, but no other parameter appeared to have been. Another 2006 study, led by Simon Chapman, found that after this law was enacted in 1996 in Australia, the country went more than a decade without any mass shootings, and gun-related deaths (especially suicides) declined dramatically. The latter of these studies also criticized the former for using a time-series analysis despite the fact that, according to Chapman et al., "calculating mortality rates and then treating them as a number in a time series ignores the natural variability inherent in the counts that make up the numerator of the rate." Chapman et al. also said that Baker and McPhedran used the Box-Jenkins model inappropriately. A 2010 study looking at the effect of the NFA on gun-related deaths found that the law "did not have any large effects on reducing firearm homicide or suicide rates," although Hemenway has criticized this study for using a structural break test despite the fact that such tests can miss the effects of policies in the presence of lags, or when the effect occurs over several years. Another study, published the same year, found that Australia's gun buyback program reduced gun-related suicide rates by almost 80%, while non-gun death rates were not significantly affected. Other research has argued that although gun suicide rates fell after the NFA was enacted, the NFA may not have been responsible for this decrease and "a change in social and cultural attitudes" may have instead been at least partly responsible.
In 1988 and 1996, gun control laws were enacted in the Australian state of Victoria, both times following mass shootings. A 2004 study found that in the context of these laws, overall firearm-related deaths, especially suicides, declined dramatically.
A 2007 study found evidence that gun control laws passed in Austria in 1997 reduced the rates of firearm suicide and homicide in that country. Another study, published the same year, found evidence that firearm-related mortality declined after gun control laws were passed in Brazil in 2003. A 2006 study found that after gun control laws were passed in New Zealand in 1992, homicides committed with guns declined significantly, especially among youth. The same study found a decline in youth suicide after the laws were passed, but also concluded that "it is not possible to determine the extent to which this was accounted for by changes in firearms legislation or other causes."
- 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)'.
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