This report examines the legal approach to gun control—including ownership and possession, licensing and registration, background checks, training, storage, weapons bans, and related issues—in Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Egypt, Germany, Great Britain, Israel, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway, the Russian Federation, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, and the European Union. A Comparative Analysis and Bibliography of Selected English-Language Materials on the subject are included.
The sale, possession, and use of firearms are regulated by the Australian states and territories, with cross-border trade matters addressed at the federal level. In 1996, following the Port Arthur massacre, the federal government and the states and territories agreed to a uniform approach to firearms regulation, including a ban on certain semiautomatic and self-loading rifles and shotguns, standard licensing and permit criteria, storage requirements and inspections, and greater restrictions on the sale of firearms and ammunition. Firearms license applicants would be required to take a safety course and show a “genuine reason” for owning a firearm, which could not include self-defense. The reasons for refusing a license would include “reliable evidence of a mental or physical condition which would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a firearm.” A waiting period of twenty-eight days would apply to the issuing of both firearms licenses and permits to acquire each weapon.
In Brazil, the federal government has the power to legislate on issues related to firearms. The handling, trading, or possession of materials for the production of weapons without a license is criminalized. It is also a crime to expose a child or adolescent to firearms. In 2003, a more rigid federal law was enacted to regulate the registration, possession, and sale of firearms and ammunition. This law defines crimes involving firearms and fosters the disarmament of the society.
The control of firearms in Canada is predominantly governed by the Firearms Act, the Criminal Code, and their subordinate regulations. The Criminal Code defines the main categories of firearms, which include restricted, prohibited, and non-restricted firearms. The Firearms Act regulates the possession, transport, and storage of firearms.
Firearms have been tightly controlled in China ever since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Currently, the primary statute in regulating firearms is the Firearms-Control Law, which took effect on October 1, 1996. Criminal offenses relating to firearms control are governed by the Criminal Law.
The principle legislation relating to firearms control in Egypt is Law No. 394 of 1954. The Law prohibits the acquisition or possession without a permit of smooth-barrel guns, pistols, and shotguns. It also sets forth exemptions from the need to obtain a permit to acquire or own a firearm for specified categories of persons, and forbids the licensing of firearms in some cases. Furthermore, Law No. 394 prohibits the manufacture, import, trade, and repair of weapons, firearms, and their ammunition without a license. In 2012, article 26 of the Law was amended to enhance the penalties for acquiring and possessing unlicensed firearms and ammunition. In the same year a presidential decree created a temporary amnesty program for individuals in possession of firearms without a permit.
The German system of gun control is among the most stringent in Europe. It restricts the acquisition, possession, and carrying of firearms to those with a creditable need for a weapon. It bans fully automatic weapons and severely restricts the acquisition of other types of weapons. Compulsory liability insurance is required for anyone who is licensed to carry firearms.
Great Britain has some of the most stringent gun control laws in the world. The main law is from the late 1960s, but it was amended to restrict gun ownership further in the latter part of the twentieth century in response to massacres that involved lawfully licensed weapons. Handguns are prohibited weapons and require special permission. Firearms and shotguns require a certificate from the police for ownership, and a number of criteria must be met, including that the applicant has a good reason to possess the requested weapon. Self-defense or a simple wish to possess a weapon is not considered a good reason. The secure storage of weapons is also a factor when licenses are granted.
Israeli law regulates the issuance of firearms to both civilians and soldiers. Israel maintains restrictive policies with regard to issuing and renewing firearms licenses, and restricts their use.
The law designates persons holding certain positions, such as designated ministry employees, authorized community leaders, managers or owners of premises, and licensed guards and escorts, as eligible for firearms licenses based on security needs. Licensed private investigators, providers of guard services, and authorized escorts for field trips or camping trips may similarly be granted a license. The law also authorizes the issuance of firearms licenses to film producers and performers for purposes of gun possession or use during a performance.
Guns have been controlled in Japan since the late sixteenth century. After the Second World War, gun control became very strict. Many civilians have never seen a gun in their lives. In order for a person to own hunting guns and to hunt animals and birds with a gun, he or she must pay a hunting tax and obtain a gun-possession permit, hunting license, and hunting registration. The process for obtaining a gun-possession permit is cumbersome and time-consuming. The number of people who possess guns has been declining as a result of the very strict regulations.
There is no legal right under Lebanese law for anyone on Lebanese territory to bear arms. The government has wide latitude and discretion under the provisions of the Weapons and Ammunition Law to grant or refuse permits for the manufacturing, trading in, possession, and carrying of weapons and ammunition. However, Lebanon is notorious for the existence on its territory of several armed groups operating outside any legal framework.
The right to bear arms in Mexico is granted in the Constitution. This right has been extensively regulated by the Federal Penal Code, the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives (which greatly expands the provisions of the Federal Penal Code), and the Regulations of the Federal Law on Firearms and Explosives. The Federal Penal Code specifies the types of firearms that may be possessed or carried by citizens and restricts others for use by the armed forces.
The New Zealand Police operate a firearms licensing system, but only certain classes of weapons are registered, namely handguns, military style semiautomatics, and restricted weapons. In order to possess these types of weapons license holders must also obtain license endorsements, which can be granted in limited circumstances.
The purchase, possession, and use of firearms are tightly controlled in Norway, whose laws and regulations were made more stringent with amendments to the Firearms Act in 2009 and the adoption of new Firearms Regulations in that year. Permission to acquire a firearm must be obtained from the local police chief and is limited to persons of “sober habits” who have reasonable grounds for having a weapon.
While self-defense and protection of property is a constitutional right guaranteed to Russian citizens, Russian legislation on gun control is relatively strict, limiting the circulation of firearms to Russian citizens older than eighteen years of age with a registered permanent residence, and for the purposes of self-defense, hunting, and sports activities only. The acquisition of guns is based on licenses provided for a five-year period by local police departments at one’s place of residence after a thorough background check, including a review of the petitioner’s ability to store guns safely and an evaluation of his/her medical records. Mentally ill people and those who have been treated for substance abuse are not allowed to possess firearms.
Singapore has one of the toughest gun control laws in the world. According to the Arms Offences Act, unlawful possession or carrying of firearms is punishable with imprisonment and caning. Using or attempting to use arms when committing a scheduled offense is punishable with death. The death penalty may also apply to the offender’s accomplices present at the scene of the offense.
South Africa’s current firearms regulatory framework consists of the Firearms Control Act (FCA) and its subsidiary legislation, which has been in place since 2004. This framework imposes strict substantive and procedural requirements for obtaining a competency certificate, license, permit, or authorization to possess a firearm, to deal in firearms, or to carry out other firearm-related activities, including running a firearms-training enterprise or a hunting business.
The regulation of guns in Spain is highly restrictive. The bearing of arms by civilians is not considered a right but a privilege that may be granted by the government if legal conditions are met. Guns are regulated by the Ministry of the Interior through the General Directorate of the Civil Guard. Different types of licenses are required according to the type of weapon to be used. Firearms licenses for personal security are restricted to those who can prove that a real danger to their security exists. Automatic weapons are strictly forbidden to civilians.
Switzerland has a comprehensive gun-control regime that is governed by federal law and implemented by the cantons. This regime may be somewhat less restrictive than that of other European countries, yet since 2008 it has complied with European Union requirements. The Swiss Weapons Act requires an acquisition license for handguns and a carrying license for the carrying of any permitted firearm for defensive purposes. Exceptions exist for hunters. Automatic weapons are banned.
At the European Union level, acquisition and possession of weapons and related matters are regulated by two Directives: (1) Directive 91/477/EEC and (2) Directive 2008/51/EC. These Directives are designed to ensure control of acquisition and possession of weapons, facilitate the flow of firearms in a single market, and transpose into EU law the United Nations Protocol Against the Illicit Manufacturing and Trafficking of Firearms. Both Directives contain minimum requirements; EU Members are free to impose more stringent rules pertaining to firearms and many have done so.
Last Updated: 07/03/2013