Explained | Gun laws in countries outside the U.S.

Acquiring a license in Japan requires the applicants to undergo an almost month-long training in handling and storage of the firearm, followed by an examination. Countries as U.K., Canada and Australia ask applicants to undergo mandatory training and conduct a thorough background check before according a license.

Acquiring a license in Japan requires the applicants to undergo an almost month-long training in handling and storage of the firearm, followed by an examination. Countries as U.K., Canada and Australia ask applicants to undergo mandatory training and conduct a thorough background check before according a license.

The story so far: The United States recently witnessed two episodes of mass shootings in a span of 11 days that killed more than 30 people including elementary school children. According to Education Week, which has been tracking school shootings since 2018, there have been a total of 27 instances of shooting inside a school premises this year alone—putting the question back on the table: How are guns so easily accessible? 

President Joe Biden echoed this in his address to the nation, asking why these kinds of mass shooting happen rarely elsewhere in the world. “Why are we willing to live with this carnage? Why do we keep letting this happen? Where in God’s name is our backbone to have the courage to deal with it?” he said. 

Several public policy experts point to the Second Amendment of the U.S. constitution, which states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”, as the root cause of all firearm-related violence. Regulation of firearms in the U.S. is convened through the shared authority between the federal, State and local governments. The U.S. Supreme Court previously held that the amendment protects the right to “keep and bear arms” for self-defence, whilst federal courts argue about a potential infringement if federal, state and local firearm regulations circumvent this right. 

U.S. recorded a total of 24,576 homicides in 2020, of which approximately 79%, or 19,384 incidents, involved the use of a firearm.  

Public policy think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) mentioned in an assessment in July 2021 that many gun control advocates have suggested that U.S. “should look to the experiences of its wealthy democratic peers that have instituted tighter restrictions to curb gun violence.” Gun laws in countries as the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada are stringent and require applicants to meet a host of criterions for acquiring a firearms licence with Japan having the most cumbersome process laden with complex documentations and training.  

Countries like Uruguay, on the other hand, are more open in according licenses.  

United Kingdom 

The British House of Commons Library’s report on firearms licensing and safety states that legislative framework for acquiring a gun license has been criticized for being incoherent and difficult to find. License applications are processed by the police in compliance with 35 pieces of primary legislation and numerous pieces of secondary legislation. 

Firearms are segmented into four broad categories: one that requires a license, prohibited weapons (pump-action rifles, rocket launchers and disguised weapons), air weapons (such as air rifles and pistols) and antique firearms. 

The laws stipulate that the police must be satisfied that individual can be entrusted with a firearm, has ‘good reason’ to own them and would not cause danger to public safety. Decisions are made on a case-by-case basis. Applicants are also required to produce a medical proforma from a General Medical Council-doctor attesting that they are not experiencing acute stress, suicidal thoughts, anxiety, depression, are not dependent or alcohol or drugs, and not suffering from a neurological condition. Individuals below 18 years, possessing a history of hateful or criminal activity, or failing to provide necessary medical information are denied the license.  

Processing, purchasing or acquiring a firearm or ammunition without a license can lead to imprisonment of up to five years, and seven years if the firearm has been converted. 

Even on acquiring a license, it is an offense to carry the firearm in public, trespass a property using a firearm or possessing them when drunk. 

As of March 2021, United Kingdom had issued a total of 156,000 firearms and 549,000 shot gun licenses in England and Wales. It experienced 30 homicides from firearms in the year ending March 31, 2020 — 4% of all homicides during the period. 


Canada recently amended the Firearms Act changing certain regulations pertaining to background checks, record-keeping, classification of firearms and their transportation.  

There are three categorisations for firearms in Canada, namely, non-restricted weapons (ordinary rifles and shotguns), restricted weapons (including semi-automatic rifles) and prohibited weapons (including automatic guns). The legislation holds that it is illegal to possess a fully-automatic weapon unless registered before 1978. The latest amendment repealed the Government’s ability to override the classification, returning full responsibility to technical experts to determine the same.  

The applicant has to be 18 years or older to acquire a gun license.  

The license is issued for a period of five years and can be extended upon expiry. The applicant must not have a history of violence or any other crime during their entire lifetime, should not be suffering from mental illnesses or have been previously barred from the process.  

More importantly, applicants are also required to complete the Canadian Firearms Safety Course to put their applications to process.  

The legislation now requires individuals and business to update records before transferring ownership of non-restricted items. In addition, restricted and prohibited items can be transported only after prior authorisation.  

In 2020, firearm-related homicides constituted 39% of the overall homicides in the country. 


Acquiring a gun in Japan is particularly difficult—one has to present a series of documents, convince authorities about their ‘need’, undertake an approximately month-long training on handling and safety, pass a scrutiny of criminal records and medical health, and then take an exam to prove eligibility. Further, in order to acquire a weapon from a dealer, the buyer is required to obtain a certificate (from the dealer) mentioning the desired model. 

Applicants must be 18 years or above, not suffering from mental illnesses, not having a license revoked less than five years ago, not dependent on alcohol or narcotic substances, and having a fixed residence. The regulator, Prefectural Public Safety Commission can also deny individuals, who they believe may potentially engage in organised or habitual violent activities. Further, individuals at least 20 years of age, or 18 years with a Cabinet Order, are eligible to apply for a hunter’s license. Applicants would have to undergo relevant training from the regulator and pass examinations to be accorded a certificate proof – making them eligible for the license. 

All licenses are valid until the third birthday of the holder from the date of receipt. It does not endow an individual to discharge the gun at public places or transport.  

Any violation is publishable with an imprisonment for a period up to three years, which could extend up to five years or more along with a fine of 10 million yen if done for “purpose of profit”. 

Apart from guns, Japanese law prohibits individuals carrying bladed objects of more than six centimetres in public, except for scissors, folding knives, among others. “Some analysts link Japan’s aversion to firearms with its demilitarization in the aftermath of World War II. Others say that because the overall crime rate in the country is so low, most Japanese see no need for firearms,” CFR states.  


Australia disallows the sale, resale, transfer, possession, manufacture and use of semi-automatic long arms and pump action shotguns, except for military and police personnel and collectors. Import, possession and use of handguns is restricted to sportspeople meeting the recognised criterions enlisted for Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The legislations ban all competitive events that ask for the use of long arms.  

The uniform screening process in the island nation takes 28 days to undertake appropriate checks. It involves ascertaining the applicant is 18 years of age with no history of violence, domestic violence or a restraining order in the last five years, in addition to being a ‘good character’, and physically and mentally fit. First time applicants would have to compulsorily undertake an accredited course in safety training for firearms.  

Licenses are issued for a period of five years and require the holder to comply with all storage requirements such as keeping the firearm in a locked receptable made of wood or steel with a thickness to ensure that it is not easily penetrable. All jurisdictions are required to undertake strategic inspections and audit programmes to ensure adherence.  

In 2020, there were 232 victims of homicide involving the use of a weapon, of which 116 were killed using a weapon other than a knife.  


The South American country has perhaps the most relaxed norms in the lot for civilians to acquire firearms. Its legislation permits importation and commercialisation of firearms as semi-automatic pistol of less than 9mm calibre, revolvers of all brand and calibres and long rimfire weapons of a certain calibre and type. Use of automatic weapons, shotguns with a barrel and magazine as well as ammunitions of any other kind are restricted to the army and police. 

Gun licenses in Uruguay are issued at the police headquarters of the applicant’s domicile. They are valid for a period of five years and to individuals above 18 years of age.  

The applicant is required to produce identity card, address proof, proof of income, psychological fitness certificate from a competent professional and a certificate of suitability to determine successful completion of the mandatory course to acquaint the individual with current legal framework about possessing a weapon, basic handling skills (with a minimum time given for shooting practice) and storage. The license could be rejected incase the applicant has been previously convicted of intentional crimes, has a history of violent behaviour or is disabled.  

Uruguay’s laws stipulate that license holders must take permission from the police to carry a gun in public spaces. Only handguns are allowed in public. Carrying guns under the influence of alcohol or drugs and at demonstrations, assemblies, electoral avenues, clubs, public offices and educational establishments is prohibited.

New Zealand 

The turnaround in gun-law legislation came in 2019 following the mass shootings that took place at two mosques in Christchurch. The laws improve the regulatory oversight of dealer activities, enhance the vetting process and describe rules for storing and carriage of firearms and ammunition. Firearms dealers are now required to provide name of firearms licence numbers of all its employees at each facility, including those not directly involved in handling any arms but having access to the premises. They would be further required to record the name, make, model, calibre, gauge and the identification number of each item they receive for sale, modification or repair. The latest amendments stipulate that, on a seven-day notice, the dealers would have to permit inspection of non-prohibited firearms, non-prohibited magazines, prohibited parts, airguns, and air pistol carbine conversion kits that they hold and the place where the items are kept. 

It is mandatory for all weaponry to have an identification number. Incase a dealer receives an item without the same, they are required to have them stamped or engraved within thirty days of receipt.  

New Zealanders at least 16 years of age are eligible to apply for a firearms license. The applicant however must undergo training in handling and storing firearms, and pass an exam. The vetting process involves a criminal background check wherein the applicant is required to put forth contact details of people who can ascertain him/her being a ‘fit and proper person’ in an inquiry. 

The new laws seek further information about the countries that the applicant has travelled to in the last five years involving stays of 14 days or more and the total time stayed in each country. Incase the applicant has resided overseas for six months or more in the past ten years, s/he would have to provision a criminal history check from each country.  


The minimum age requirement for acquiring a gun licence in India is 21 years. The applicant must not have been convicted of any offence involving violence or moral turpitude five years prior to commencing the application, not of an ‘unsound mind’ and not a threat to public safety and peace. Property qualification is not a criterion for acquiring gun license. Upon receiving an application, the licensing authority (I.e., the Home Ministry), asks the officer in-charge of the nearest police station to submit a report about the applicant after thorough vetting within a prescribed time.  

The Arms Act amended in 2019 reduces the number of firearms that an individual can procure from 3 to 2. The validity of the license has been increased from the present 3 years to 5 years.  

Indian laws are particularly elaborate in dealing with sale and unlawful trade of weapons. It also enlists specific provisions on curtailing the use of licensed weapons to ensure social harmony.  

No entity is permitted to sell or transfer any firearm which does not bear the name of the maker, manufacturer’s number or any other visible or stamped identification mark. Any violation may lead to an imprisonment between one to three years. In addition, no entity is permitted to import or export arms and ammunition from one part of India to another—which may or may not be within India—only on having a valid license.  

Any act of conversion (such as shortening the barrel of a firearm or converting an imitation firearm into a firearm) or unlawful import-export is punishable with an imprisonment term for three years, which may extend to seven years and is liable to fine. Unlawful manufacture, sale and transfer are liable for an imprisonment term not less than seven years which could be extended to life, with a fine.  

Indian laws allow the use of smooth bore gun with a barrel of not less than 20 inches for crop protection or sport. It defines ‘prohibited arms’ as those that either discharge any noxious liquid or gas, or weapons that seek pressure to be applied on a trigger for discharge. 

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