Nations Around World Try to Get A Grip on Guns
In once-peaceful parts of the world, gun violence against civilians is forcing governments to put a squeeze on gun owners.Skip to next paragraph
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Both Australia and Britain are moving to tighten their gun laws in the wake of recent massacres by lone gunmen in Tasmania and Dunblane, Scotland. Around the world, gun ownership by citizens and criminals alike is growing. Weapons from countries at war are spilling over borders into quieter countries. In response, many nations are taking steps to control guns, such as requiring permits and limiting ownership to hunters or members of gun clubs.
The United States, with the most guns and the highest rate of gun homicides, has some of the weakest regulations. The Brady law requires a five-day waiting period and background check before a hand gun can be purchased. Some assault weapons are banned. Most states don't require registration of guns.
"This country ... has decided not to go down the American path," said Prime Minister John Howard, announcing a weapons ban in Australia May 10. "This represents an enormous shift in the culture on the use and ownership of guns."
Inside, the Monitor takes a look at how gun-control efforts fare in seven countries.
Australia is moving to ban automatic and semiautomatic rifles and pump-action shotguns as a wave of antigun sentiment continues to sweep the nation in the wake of the April 28 shooting massacre of 35 people in the southern island state of Tasmania.
The bans were agreed to at a special meeting of police ministers from states and territories in the capital, Canberra, on May 10.
Australians will be given a 12-month amnesty to hand in their firearms. Gun groups estimate there are about 3.5 million firearms, in a population of 17.5 million. Gun owners forfeiting their weapons would be compensated, a plan expected to cost in excess of A$100 million (US$80 million).
"This is a historic moment for all Australians still reeling from the fatal shootings at Port Arthur," said Prime Minister John Howard.
Gun control in Australia is the responsibility of the country's six states, not the national government, but Mr. Howard called the police ministers' meeting in the aftermath of the massacre, vowing to toughen gun laws. Some of the ministers were opposed to the bans.
The national crackdown will cover importation, ownership, sale, manufacture, and use of such weapons. Only low-powered semiautomatic rifles will be allowed in rural areas if farmers can prove to police they are necessary to control pests, such as kangaroos.
Australia has previously failed to crack down on automatic firearms following shooting massacres because state governments have been unable to reach consensus.
Even now the police ministers must now get the bans, licensing, and registration passed into law in their own states. But public-opinion polls show overwhelming support for tougher gun laws. The Port Arthur massacre has affected all Australians, with polls showing both city and country residents, who usually disagree, in support of the bans (91 percent and 88 percent). -- Michael Perry
The impetus for Canada's tight gun-control measures flowed initially from the soul-searching that followed the 1989 massacre of 14 college women in Quebec by a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle.
Big-rifle magazines and semiautomatic versions of automatic weapons were banned in 1991.
Public clamor for tougher laws resumed in 1994 following two highly publicized shootings in Toronto and Ottawa. Prime Minister Jean Chrtien pushed ahead, passing the measures last year despite resistance from Canada's formidable gun lobby.
Canada's newest gun laws, which went into effect in January, require gun owners to pass a test, get a license, and register every gun in the country by the year 2003.
It now takes from four to six months to be able to own a handgun. Criminal records are checked. Police interview spouses and neighbors about a prospective owner's mental stability.
Hand-gun registration has long been required here. But Canada's recent crackdown is aimed at the 7 million unregistered rifles and shotguns, most in rural areas. Under the new law, a computerized registry will track ownership of all the nation's guns. Criminal penalties now apply for those who knowingly fail to register.
The reward for having fewer guns overall and tightly restricting them is homicide rates about a third those of the US. Polls have consistently shown that more than 70 percent of the Canadian public supports tougher gun laws.