10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate


Are There Countries With as Many Guns as the U.S. but Less Crime?

finland shooting
Candles were lit in the evening by the memorial next to the Kauhajoki vocational school in Kauhajoki, Finland on Sept. 23, 2009 for those killed in the school shooting a year earlier. VESA MOILANEN/AFP/Getty Images

No, because there isn't another country in the world with as many guns as the U.S. The U.S. comprises 5 percent of the world's population, but owns between 35 and 50 percent of the world's civilian firearms. The rate of about 97 guns per 100 people is tops in the world, with only the unstable Persian Gulf nation of Yemen (90 per 100) coming even close [source: Small Arms Survey].

So let's reframe the question. Are there countries with relatively high gun-ownership rates — 50 or more per 100 inhabitants — and low crime rates? Yes. Finland, which has 69 guns per 100 people, and Switzerland, which has 61 per 100 people [source: Small Arms Survey]. Finland had just 14 gun homicides in 2010, a rate of 0.26 per 100,000 people. In Switzerland, with 40 gun killings in 2010, had a slightly higher rate of 0.52 per 100,000 [source: Gunpolicy.org].

But both those countries have stricter gun control laws than the U.S. In Finland, a nation where most use guns for hunting rather than protection, citizens must obtain gun licenses, which must be renewed every five years. They also must state the reason they wish to have a gun — and self-defense is not a valid reason [source: Finnish Police].

Police deny or revoke permission if an applicant is convicted of a crime — or shows any sort of behavior that authorities think might indicate that he or she wouldn't be safe owning a gun. Large-capacity magazines aren't permitted, and weapons must be stored in locked cabinets and unloaded if taken outside the home [source: Ministry of the Interior]. But even so, Finland suffered mass shootings at schools in 2007 and 2008, in which gunmen killed a total of 18 people [source: Associated Press].