What Do You Need to Do to Get a Gun in Other Developed Countries?

A heart-shaped ribbon sign with 26 stars is pictured on a pole in the Sandy Hook section of Newtown, Connecticut, on December 15, 2013. Monday marked three years since 20 first-graders and six educators were fatally shot inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Not much has changed, at the federal level at least, despite President Barack Obama’s public relations campaign for tighter gun laws. Carlo Allegri/Reuters

Safety courses. "Genuine" reason. Shooting-range classes. Background checks.

These are some of the requirements to obtain a gun license in other developed countries.

We've heard it time and time again: The mass gun violence seen in the United States doesn't occur in other advanced countries with the weekly—sometimes daily—frequency Americans have come to witness.

Monday marked three years since 20 first-graders and six educators were fatally shot inside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012. Not much has changed, at the federal level at least, despite President Barack Obama's public relations campaign for tighter gun laws.

"It is shocking and appalling and unacceptable that so many of my colleagues...have blocked us taking even a single vote in those three years," U.S. Representative Elizabeth Esty, of Connecticut, said Friday on a media call ahead of the shooting anniversary. Her district includes Newtown.

Related: Hillary Clinton: 'Gun Violence Is a National Emergency'

Children in the United States are 14 times more likely to die from a gun than children in other developed countries, according to Americans for Responsible Solutions, the group co-founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords after she was critically wounded in a 2011 shooting in Tucson, Arizona.

"We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illnesses or [who] want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months," Obama said on October 1, his 15th appearance addressing the country after a shooting during his administration.

"It cannot be this easy for someone who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun," he added.

Mass-shooting incidents are not unknown to other countries. But in the U.S., a bitter political debate continues in the wake of a series of recent high-profile massacres. The FBI measures a "mass killing" as an incident when three or more people die. A 2013 study found that the U.S. has more private gun ownership than any other developed country in the world; Japan has an extremely low gun ownership rate. The two leading researchers who worked on the report discovered that the U.S. has nearly 89 guns per 100 people and about 10 gun-related deaths per 100,000 people.

In the U.S., where current and former leaders have called the increase in mass shootings and gun violence a "public health tragedy" and a "national emergency," 88 Americans are killed with guns each day, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that seeks the passage of laws at all levels to reduce gun violence. America's gun murder rate is more than 20 times the average of other developed countries', which includes 32 nations with per capita annual income greater than $15,000, according to the group.

In the U.S., there is a constitutional right to bear arms. The Second Amendment of the Constitution states: "A well-regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed." The U.S. Supreme Court in 2008 ruled the Constitution gives Americans the right to possess firearms for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense. Federal gun laws establish the minimum requirements for gun possession and sales nationwide. The Brady Law, which took effect in 1994, requires licensed firearms dealers to perform background checks on prospective purchasers and to maintain records of sales throughout the country. Purchases made at gun shows and on the Internet are not included, thus, critics say, allowing convicted felons and domestic abusers access to firearms.

Related: Brady Campaign Warned Senators of Gun Law Gap Hours Before San Bernardino Shooting

Most individual states also have their own gun laws. Some of those measures provide additional restrictions beyond the federal level, while others are more lenient.

We took a look at what residents in other developed countries have to do to get a gun license. Whether the same policies would prevent tragedies or be adopted in the U.S. is up for debate. Most of the information is from research compiled by the Library of Congress and Gun Policy, a project by Australia's University of Sydney.


The nation's gun laws are said to be stricter than any of those in the U.S., including in California, which most recently ranked No. 1 for enacting gun-control measures by the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Obama and Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton recently have said the Australian approach to guns is worth considering.

Less than two weeks after 35 people were fatally shot by a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle at the seaside tourist destination of Port Arthur in Tasmania in April 1996, the federal government—led by the then–newly elected conservative Prime Minister John Howard—along with states and territories agreed to adopt a tight, uniform approach to guns, including standard licensing. Firearms sales must be conducted through licensed dealers. As part of their action, officials also instituted a temporary buyback program that removed hundreds of thousands of guns in public circulation, according to the Library of Congress.

Gun violence hasn't been eliminated completely. But there haven't been any mass killings in Australia since its leaders tightened its gun-control laws in the wake of the Port Arthur massacre, the country's worst mass shooting. The country defines a mass shooting as when gunmen kill five or more people, not including themselves.

  • Applicants must be 18 years old.
  • A separate permit is required for the acquisition of every firearm.
  • Background checks consider criminal, mental, physical, addiction, domestic violence and residential records, according to Gun Policy.
  • A 28-day waiting period is mandatory for the issuing of both licenses and permits to acquire each weapon.
  • Applicants are required to take a safety and training course and show a "genuine reason" for owning a firearm, including hunting and target shooting but not self-defense.
  • An applicant must be a "fit and proper person," according to the Library of Congress.
  • Applicants must be willing to comply with storage requirements, including allowing licensing authorities to inspect storage facilities.
  • Officials can deny a license if there is evidence of a mental or physical condition that would render the applicant unsuitable for owning, possessing or using a gun.
  • Gun owners must reapply and re-qualify for licenses every one to five years, depending on the license category, according to Gun Policy.


The December 1989 shooting by a disgruntled student who opened fire inside a Montreal engineering school and killed 14 students arguably set the stage for modern gun laws in the country that shares its border with the U.S.

In Canada, the Firearms Act and Criminal Code mainly regulates firearms. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police administer the requirements, which can be supplemented in provinces, territories and municipalities.

  • Applicants must be 18.
  • For restricted firearms or prohibited handguns, applicants must show the need for the use of a gun in connection with a lawful occupation. No such requirement is needed to possess ordinary firearms, such as those used in hunting, according to the Library of Congress.
  • Background checks consider criminal, mental-health and domestic-violence records, and take into account addiction and domestic violence.
  • An understanding of firearms safety and the law is required, depending on the type of weapon.
  • There are transport, storage and display requirements.
  • An owner must reapply and re-qualify for a license every five years.

Related: GunTV, America's First 24-Hour Firearm Shopping Channel, Set for 2016


The country is considered to have tough gun laws, which were strengthened after the 1995 bombings of the Paris Metro and RER rail network, and again in 2012 after a gunman went on a shooting rampage and killed seven people, including three students at a Jewish school. Earlier this year, in January, two brothers entered the offices of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris and fatally shot 11 people. Ten months later, on November 13, a series of deadly coordinated attacks, which included mass shootings, killed 130 people in the French capital.

  • Applicants must be 18.
  • Applicants must establish a genuine reason to own a firearm, such as hunting, target shooting, personal protection or security.
  • Background checks consider criminal, mental and health records, according to Gun Policy.
  • An understanding of firearms safety and the law is required only for people exposed to serious risks due to their professional activity.
  • An owner must reapply and re-qualify for a license every five years.


The country has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe. In 2002, a student opened fire at a school in the city of Erfurt, killing 16 people. A new Weapons Act strengthening the requirement for the safe storage of firearms was put into place. Seven years later, after a teenager fatally shot 15 people at a school in Winnenden, additional reform was enacted.

  • Most applicants must be 18.
  • Applicants are required to establish a genuine reason to possess a firearm. Personal protection is accepted in exceptional circumstances, according to Gun Policy.
  • Background checks consider criminal and mental records. Certain criminal records disqualify an applicant, as does membership in a criminal or terrorist organization.
  • An understanding of firearms safety and weapons technology is required.
  • There are storage requirements, depending on the potency of the weapon.
  • Liability insurance coverage of as much as the equivalent of slightly more than $1 million is compulsory, according to the Library of Congress.
  • A psychiatric evaluation is required if the applicant is younger than 25, according to the Library of Congress.
  • Authorities can review licenses at short intervals if there appears to be a reason for scrutiny.


Almost no one in Japan owns a gun; most kinds are illegal. Residents who want to undertake a rigorous licensing process can only buy shotguns and air rifles legally. Without a license, a person must not hold a gun, according to a study on Japanese gun control.

Since 1971, small-caliber rifles have been illegal to buy, sell or trade in Japan. Residents who owned one before that time are allowed to keep it, but their relatives are required to turn it over to police once the owner dies.

  • Applicants must be 18.
  • Applicants must have a "specific need" for a firearm.
  • Background checks consider any criminal record or association with criminal groups.
  • Applicants must attend an all-day class and pass a written test.
  • Applicants must pass a shooting-range class and shooting test.
  • Applicants must pass a "mental test" at a local hospital, according to the study.
  • Applicants must provide police with documentation on the specific location of the gun in a home, as well as the ammunition, both of which must be locked and stored.