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The ‘Gun Debate’ has engaged many parts of the world for decades and both public opinion and lawmakers in different countries differ considerably on this question. Interestingly, 74% of all firearms globally are owned by civilians.

The right to own a firearm is a major issue in US politics and many Americans consider the possession of firearms a time-honoured custom. Strong gun-supporting lobbies like the National Rifle Association spend millions of dollars to fight attempts at stricter gun laws. For this and other reasons, the US has among the least strict laws on civilian possession of guns, though laws vary from state to state.

As a result, it also has the world’s highest civilian firearm penetration rates. According to a 2007 study of the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA), American civilians had 90 firearms per 100 persons. This is much higher even than in Yemen, a country known for its violent past and warring tribal factions. The 1991 gun law of that West Asian country only requires arms traders to give the government a list of buyers and their purchases.

Among the members of the European Union, Finland and Switzerland have the least stringent gun control laws and hence the highest figures for guns per 100 civilians.

Finland’s firearms act of 1998 puts no limit on the number of gun licences an individual can hold and the country has 58 firearms per hundred civilians. There are restrictions on carrying and firing rifles in public, but individuals can carry unloaded pistols if they are over 20 years old.

Switzerland is perhaps the only country that allows citizens to keep automatic weapons at home. Every male between the age of 20 and 34 years who is eligible for conscription in the military can keep a government-issued weapon at home. In most countries, even semi-automatic variants of assault rifles are banned for civilian possession.

Source: Atul Thakur for The Times of India.

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