- The Washington Times - Friday, June 27, 2008

Few countries go as far as the District of Columbia government did in effectively banning handgun ownership, but gun control abroad tends to be far stricter and more intrusive than in the United States.

In Britain, it is a crime to manufacture or import even realistic-looking imitation guns, while in Canada, handguns must be registered and potential buyers must undergo training, a personal-risk assessment and a criminal background check; supply two references; and have their spouses notified before purchase.

“In recent years, the trend in both developed and developing countries has been in the direction of increasing regulation,” researchers Wendy Cukier and Victor W. Sidel wrote in a 2007 survey.

“Most countries require licensing of all firearm purchases and registration of some or all firearms. Import and export controls are virtually universal,” they noted.

The European Union parliament last fall debated new rules to regulate and restrict gun ownership across the 27-nation bloc, including a computerized database of gun purchases and owners, including the model, caliber and serial number of the weapons.

“All European cows are registered Europe-wide, so why not guns if it can save lives?” Gisela Kallenbach, a member of Germany’s Green Party, told the International Herald Tribune during the debate. “Civil liberties can be sacrificed if we can prevent people from being killed.”

But as in the United States, the effectiveness and fairness of gun control laws have sparked fierce debates abroad, with the data serving up some major surprises.

In France, a strong hunters’ lobby has fought restrictions on hunting rifles. Sweden, with one of the lowest homicide rates in Europe, has the second-highest rate of gun ownership in the EU, at 32 firearms per 100 people, trailing only Cyprus.

A survey by the National Rifle Association found there was little correlation between the strictness of handgun regulations and the level of gun-related crime abroad.

Japan has some of the toughest gun ownership laws in the world, while Switzerland requires all males serving the armed forces to store their rifles and ammunition in their homes in case of attack. Yet both have among the world’s lowest rates of gun-related deaths.

Australia adopted tougher gun laws and offered to buy back private guns in the wake of a 1996 incident in which a lone gunman killed 35 people in the state of Western Australia. But a recent survey by the Perth Today newspaper found that Western Australia today has more guns in private hands than in 1999, when the new restrictions were imposed.

In Yemen, the Middle Eastern country that trails only the United States in global surveys of guns per capita, officials earlier this month announced plans to close 12 weapons markets and nearly 300 guns shops in a bid to curb violence and tribal clashes.

Despite the differing gun regulations, many in Western Europe and Japan see U.S. gun ownership rates and gun violence as a clear mark of difference with other industrial countries.

One contributor on the French newspaper Le Figaro’s Web site said Wednesday that the Supreme Court decision will only make the United States even more “incomprehensible” to Europeans.

The United States “is the only society which will go directly from barbarism to decadence without ever passing through civilization,” the poster wrote.