Debates about firearms policy (or gun politics) center on the role of privately owned firearms in crime and crime prevention, as well as on the role of these firearms in the balance of power between governments and the people.

Table of contents
1 Summary
2 General discussion of arguments
3 Gun Politics in the United States
4 Gun Politics in Canada
5 Gun Politics in the UK
6 Gun Politics in Australia


In summary, those who support gun control claim

  • that there is no fundamental right to own weapons
  • that gun control legislation helps to cut down on violent crime
    • that gun control legislation reduces the availability of weapons
    • that potential criminals are less likely to actually commit crimes if the availability of weapons is reduced
    • that guns are more dangerous to the owners than intended targets because most gun related deaths are a result of domestic violence, accidents and suicides
    • that guns are often of little use as self defense for the typical owner because in the incidents where a hostile encounter with an armed criminal occurs, the criminal is usually more experienced and skilled with his/her weapon
    • that even against unarmed criminals, the presence of a gun serves most often simply to escalate the likelihood and/or severity of violence
  • that citizens have no need to own guns to protect themselves against crime, since this is the task of the government
  • that citizens of First World countries today have no need to protect themselves against their governments, or that even if such a need should arise, it would be hopeless anyway to take up individual small arms against the sort of modern military technology that a government could bring to bear

Those who support gun rights claim
  • that owning weapons is a fundamental right
    • that the government has no right to interfere with an individual's right to own guns or any other inanimate objects of private property as long as the individual is not harming or intimidating fellow citizens (often considered a private-property libertarian perspective)
  • that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens decrease crime
    • that law-abiding citizens have a right to self-protection
    • that weapons carried by some citizens (some gun-rights advocates would have the government choose these citizens, others would not) decrease the risk of violent crime for all citizens, especially when carried concealed, because they provide a deterrent effect for criminals who cannot know whether their next prospective victim, or someone nearby, will turn out to be armed
    • that law-abiding citizens have a responsibility to provide their own protection because governments cannot be held civilly or criminally responsible for not providing protection
  • that gun ownership protects citizens from the excesses of government, and provides the possibility of revoloution, if necessary

General discussion of arguments

Balance of power

Advocates for citizens having the right to bear arms often point to
totalitarian regimes that passed gun control legislation as a first step of their reign of terror. The sequence is said to be gun registration, followed some time later by confiscation. Nazi legislation is the most famous example of this sequence, but it also occurred in Marxist regimes.

This does not indicate that gun control laws will always lead to totalitarianism. Many places, such as the United Kingdom have had such laws for many years without becoming totalitarian. However, it should be noted that registration of firearms in many democracies has led to confiscations of formerly legal firearms and the outlawing of the ownership of firearms to various degrees.

Some persons oppose registration of guns or licensing of gun owners because if captured, the associated records would provide military invaders with a means for locating and eliminating law-abiding (i.e. patriotic) resistance fighters. Location and capture of such records is a standard doctrine taught to military intelligence officers.

Weapon ownership is classically a right of a sovereign. In the U.S., citizens theoretically are sovereign, though their sovereignty is expressed collectively. Most countries which successfully pass gun control laws do not consider their citizens sovereign. This may be a root in the different attitudes of European and U.S. citizens on gun-control.


main article at guns and crime

Both sides actively debate the relevance of self-defense in modern society. Some scholars, notably John Lott, claim to have discovered a positive correlation between gun control legislation and crimes in which criminals confront citizens - that is, increases in the number or strictness of gun control laws are correlated with increases in the number or severity of violent crimes. These findings are hotly disputed.

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.

Gun Politics in the United States

Constitutional Issues

The private ownership of guns is an especially contentious political topic in the United States, where the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

The meaning of this text remains fiercely debated, with some saying that the amendment only refers to official bodies under government control (such as the National Guard) and others saying that the amendment always guaranteed the right of independent individuals to possess and carry firearms. The first side argues that only "well regulated militia" have the right to keep and bear Arms. Others say the phrase "the people" uncontroversially applies to individuals rather than an organized collective everywhere else in the Bill of Rights. They point out that in the following statement books could not be restricted to University graduates only: "A well graduated Academia, being necessary to the prosperity of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Books, shall not be infringed."

Earlier drafts of the United States Bill of Rights had much lengthier text that was trimmed as part of an overall effort by the Framers to shorten a document that was then perceived to be too wordy. Some constitutional scholars ascribe significance to these drafts, which tend to support a broader application of the Second Amendment. The constitutions of over 40 states provide more clearly written protection for the individual right to firearms ownership.

Gun rights advocates point to the writings of the Founders to indicate that the intent of the Second Amendment was to assure that the ordinary individual citizens of America would have the freedom of choice to own whatever sorts of weapons they wished.

The US Supreme Court has never directly ruled on the actual meaning of the Second Amendment despite having had a variety of opportunities to do so. Gun rights advocates point out that the court has made statements that refer to this right as an individual right. These statements are found in cases unrelated to the Second Amendment. Gun control advocates point out that the US Supreme Court has never taken a Second Amendment case and used it to strike down any gun control law. The de facto position of the Executive Branch from 1934 until 2002 was that the Second Amendment protects a collective right. In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Solicitor General Theodore Olson announced their interpretation that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.

For some of the opinions from the US Supreme Court which mention the right to keep and bear arms as an individual right of citizens, see cases: Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857, U.S. v. Cruikshank, Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), Johnson v. Eisentrager, Poe v. Ullman, Konigsberg v. State Bar, Duncan v. Louisiana, Laird v. Tatum, Spencer v. Kemna (1998), Albright v. Oliver and U.S. v. Verdugo-Urquidez.

Other Issues

Certain local jurisdictions, such as New York, had begun trying to restrict firearms ownership from minorities with registration schemes as early as 1911 and the former slave states had tried to prohibit black Americans from owning any sort of firearms starting shortly after the 13th Amendment was enacted officially freeing all slaves in 1865.

Some gun control advocates claim that only those types of weapons available to the public at the time the Second Amendment was ratified are protected by the Second Amendment; thus, they claim, Americans should only be allowed flint-lock muskets.

While the technology of firearm known to the Framers was primitive by comparison to today's weapons, individuals at that time were free to own a greater amount of destructive force than today. At the time of the nation's founding, individuals were free to own any weapon known, including cannons, field pieces and even fully-armed warships of the day. In fact, up until the National Firearms Act of 1934, ordinary Americans could lawfully own any weapons available anywhere, including anything the US military used, such as tanks, artillery, bombs and even high-explosives. No licenses and no registration were required.

Most people on both sides agree that so-called "Weapons of Mass Destruction" (i.e., biological, chemical and nuclear weapons) cannot have any legitimate purpose in the hands of individual and that even in non-hostile hands these weapons pose a serious threat due to the risk of even simple accidents during storage or transport. As such, most agree that even the broad protections of the Second Amendment for the right to keep and bear arms do not apply to "WMD's".

However, a few on the gun-rights side (notably Vin Suprynowicz) point out that all American government powers originate with the people. Therefore, they argue, if the American government has the power to own WMDs, the people must have the same power or else they wouldn't have been able to give it to the government.

There are many positions held on this debate, including the belief that gun ownership is currently overregulated, the desire to further regulate guns without banning them, and the wish to ban ownership outright. Gun rights and gun control advocates disagree upon many issues. Key disagreements include:

  • Did the Framers intend for the Second Amendment to apply to individuals or only to government bodies such as States?
  • What does the word "militia" refer to—state forces such as the National Guard, or the entire able-bodied citizenry?
  • Should the Second Amendment enjoy Fourteenth Amendment incorporation?
  • Does existing gun control legislation infringe upon the Second Amendment?
  • How many crimes are prevented and lives are saved due to the availability of firearms?
  • How many crimes are caused and lives are lost due to the availability of firearms?
  • Should the government have the right to restrict or regulate gun ownership?

People on both sides claim that the gun rights lobby is among the most effective and organized single-issue political groups in the United States. However, in-spite of that common perception and the best efforts of the gun rights lobby, the gun control/gun ban lobby has still managed to enact many gun control laws.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) is the largest and best-known gun rights and gun sports advocacy group. Originally formed in 1871, after the American Civil War, to promote marksmanship skills among the general population, the NRA was mainly a shooting-sports association made up of small, local clubs. It became a powerful lobbying force after the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, which made gun control a national issue. Virtually all pro-gun control groups see the NRA's positions as extremist, especially since Wayne La Pierre became the de facto policy maker at the NRA, bringing with him a more hard-line stance towards gun rights than the NRA held in the past.

In contrast, the other national gun rights groups generally take a much harder line than the NRA. These groups criticize the NRA's history of support for various gun control legislation such as: the Gun Control Act of 1968, the ban on armor-piercing projectiles and the point-of-purchase background checks (NICS), to name a few. The Second Amendment Sisters, Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership, and Gun Owners of America are among the groups in this category.

While gun control is not strictly a partisan issue, there is more support for gun control in the Democratic Party than the Republican Party. Traditionally, regional differences are greater than partisan ones on this issue. Southern and Western states are predominantly pro-gun while coastal states like California, Massachusetts, and New York favor gun control. Other areas, including the Midwest, are mixed.

Some questions of regulatory policy include:

  • Types of firearm –Should some types of firearms be regulated differently than others?
  • Criteria of eligibility – Are there criteria that disqualify a person from owning firearms? (Possible criteria include age, mental competence, firearm training, and felony conviction)
  • Background checks – Should there be background checks made to verify eligibility to own a firearm? Who should make them, and should there be a waiting period before a firearm can be sold?
  • Registration – Should all firearms and firearm owners be registered? If so, how may the registration information be used, and who should have access to it?
  • Concealed weapons – Should carry of a concealed weapon be regulated? If so, should concealed carry be regulated separately from ownership, and if so, how?
  • Enforcement –Once firearms policy is decided, will it be official policy to enforce these laws and how can they be enforced? (refer to Janet Reno's published statements regarding the near zero enforcement of firearms laws against known criminals as not being a priority)

The field of political research regarding firearms suffers from the same contention as the issue of firearms itself. Almost every prominent researcher has seen their works attacked by those uncomfortable with their conclusions, and some have had their work investigated as academic fraud. Nonetheless, some influential individuals include:
Gary Kleck
Arthur Kellermann
John Lott
David Mustard
Michael Bellesiles
Clayton Cramer

Some prominent advocacy organizations in this field:
National Rifle Association
Second Amendment Sisters
Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership
Gun Owners of America
Pink Pistols - A gay gun rights advocacy group
Handgun Control
Gun Control Network

Gun Politics in Canada

Canada, gun control is a controversial issue, though less contentious than in the United States. Handguns have been controlled in Canada by statute since Confederation in 1867. The Criminal Code of Canada enacted in 1892, required individuals to have a permit to carry a pistol unless the owner had cause to fear assault or injury. It was an offence to sell a pistol to anyone under 16. Vendors who sold handguns had to keep records, including purchaser’s name, the date of sale and a description of the gun.

Canadian Criminal Code amendments between the 1890s and 1990s steadily increased the restrictions on firearms. These included the following:

  • In the 1920s permits became necessary for all firearms newly acquired by foreigners.
  • In 1947 the offense of “constructive murder” was added to the Criminal Code for offences resulting in death, when the offender carried a firearm.
  • Automatic weapons were added to the category of firearms that had to be registered in 1951. The registry system was centralized under the Commissioner of the RCMP.
  • The categories of “firearm,” “restricted weapon” and “prohibited weapon” were created in 1968-69. Police were given preventive powers of search and seizure by judicial warrant if they had grounds to believe that weapons endangered the safety of an individual.
  • Legislative provisions between 1977-79 required Firearms Acquisition Certificates for all weapons and provided controls on the selling of ammunition. Fully automatic weapons were prohibited. Applicants for Firearms Acquisition Certificates were required to take a safety course.
  • Between 1991-94, legislation tightened up restrictions and established controls on military, paramilitary and high-firepower weapons.
  • In 1995, new, and much stricter, gun control legislation was passed. The current legislation provides harsher penalties for crimes involving firearm use, licences to possess and acquire firearms, and registration of all firearms, including shotguns and rifles.

There are groups who oppose this legislation, arguing that guns are necessary for hunting and farm use, and should not be restricted. The pressure that led to the current law began with the École Polytechnique Massacre in Montreal on December 6, 1989. The present law requires all firearms to be registered. In December 2002, Auditor-General Sheila Fraser revealed that the project, originally budgeted to cost $2 million, is now expected to cost taxpayers $1 billion by 2005. This proved embarrassing for the Chretien Government and has led to increased calls for the registry's dismantlement. It has been estimated that as many as 900,000 gun-owning Canadians have not registered their firearms. However, as of June 2003, 6.4 million firearms had been registered. Currently, eight provinces oppose the registry. Supporters of the firearms registry state that it makes no sense to abandon the project midsteam. In February, 2003 the Government announced plans to strengthen the administration of the gun control program.

Whatever the outcome of the 1995 legislation, Canada has a long tradition of gun control. The rates of violent crime have been stable (e.g., the homicide rate) or declining (in several other categories of violent crime). There is no consensus as to whether the relatively low rate of violent crime in comparison to the U.S. is due to the nature of Canadian society, or to specific measures of gun control.

Gun Politics in the UK

In the United Kingdom all guns except low-powered airguns and shotguns (which have a less strict control system), can only be obtained if a person holds a "firearms certificate" (gun licence) which can be obtained from the local police, which is renewable every three years.

To obtain a firearms certificate, the police must be convinced that a person has "good reason" to own a gun, and that they can be trusted with it "without danger to the public safety or to the peace". Generally speaking, gun licences are only issued if a person has legitimate sporting or work related reasons for owning a gun. Since 1946, self defence has not been considered a viable reason to own a gun.

Any person who has spent more than three years in prison is automatically banned for life from attaining a gun license. A separate firearms certificate is required for each individual firearm.

Any person holding a gun licence must comply with strict conditions, such as conditions on the strorage of firearms in a secure place. And also the recording of any firearm related purchases (such as bullets etc) which must be logged.

Failure to comply with any of these conditions can mean the forfeiture of the gun licence, which would mean that any firearms held must be handed in to the police.

The penalty for owning a gun illegally without a certificate, can be either three years imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both.

Restrictions on gun ownership began in 1903 and a licensing system was introduced in 1920, spurred on partly due to fears that the large number of guns available following World War I might be used by communists in the UK to spread USSR-style revolution into the UK by violent overthrow of the crown. Gun laws have steadily been tightened ever since.

Automatic weapons have been completely banned from private ownership since 1937. In 1988 semi-automatic guns were completely banned for private ownership following the Hungerford Massacre the previous year.

Since 1996, handguns have been completely banned for private ownership following legislation passed shortly after the Dunblane massacre in 1996 (exceptions to the ban include pistols of antique and historical interest, starting pistols and shot pistols for pest control). Even Britain's Olympic shooters fall under this ban; the British pistol shooting team is thus forced to live and train outside the country. There was relatively little resistance to the legislation, although it had opponents on both sides of the argument (those who felt it was too weak, and those who felt it went too far). According to opinion polls, around 75% of the British public favour even stricter controls on gun ownership.

According to Home Office figures released in January of 2003 [1], gun related crime has increased since the 1996 ban. However, the contribution that the ban may have made to changes in crime rates is open to debate. Figures released by the Home Office in April of 2003 show a marked decrease in overall crime including violent crime [1].

Gun Politics in Australia

Gun control in Australia was, before 1996, largely an issue for state governments. Historically, Australia has always had tough restrictions on handguns (requiring shooters to be members of registered gun clubs, and conducting extensive police checks on pistol shooters), whilst rifles and shotguns were considerably less restricted, with the only real restrictions on fully-automatic rifles.

Two spree killings in Victoria in the 1980s (the "Hoddle Street" and "Queen Street" massacres) saw several states require the registration of all guns, restrict the availability of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns. Gun laws in several states, including Queensland and Tasmania, remained quite relaxed.

Things changed drastically with the Port Arthur massacre in 1996. The killing of 35 people saw an outcry around the country and gun control advocates used the popular support to push for the nationwide banning of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and more stringent requirements to obtain a gun license. Several states, most notably Queensland, objected to the changes, believing them to be too restrictive (for instance, restricting the ownership of semi-automatic small-calibre weapons that represent a relatively low threat to human life) and that gun-control advocates were exaggerating the effectiveness of the changes (because in the hands of a competent shooter a bolt-action rifle can be just as lethal as a semi-automatic). Shooters advocates also opposed the changes on this basis, as well as their belief that owning guns was a fundamental right.

Newly elected Prime Minister John Howard, already known to be an advocate of gun control, sought a national agreement to tighten laws, eventually threatening recalcitrant states with the possibility of a constitutional referendum (which, in the climate, would almost certainly have passed) to transfer power over gun laws to the Commonwealth. The American group, the National Rifle Association endeavoured to intervene in the issue by supporting gun advocates, but their involvement was not well-received by the Australian public. Eventually, agreement was reached between the states and the changes went through. The Howard Government introduced a 1% levy on income tax for a period of one year to finance the buy back semi-automatic weapons from gun owners. This scheme was subject to criticism in its implementation (there were allegations that some of the relinquished weapons ended up on sale in gun shops), but, on the whole, televised images of large numbers of rifles and shotguns being crushed by heavy machinery was well-received by the Australian public.

Laws remained static until 2002, when a pistol-owning student killed two fellow students at a Victorian university, prompting a reexamination of handgun laws (which are already quite strict). Agreement has not yet been reached on such laws.

Whilst a vocal minority has consistently opposed the tightening of gun laws in Australia, a large majority of people have been in favour of consistent tightenings. Shooter advocacy organisations have never approached the strength of the NRA in the United States.

Concern has been raised about the number of smuggled pistols reaching Australia, particularly in New South Wales.