03:52 GMT25 February 2020
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    Wednesday's mass shooting at a Florida high school will be certain to enliven the seemingly endless debate between proponents of gun control and those emphasizing Americans' right to bear arms. Sputnik has rounded up the important facts and figures about US gun control policy, America's gun culture, and what makes it unique in the world.

    At least 17 people were killed and another 14 injured in a school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida on Wednesday after a 19-year-old former student broke into the school with a semiautomatic rifle and opened fire.

    Wednesday's carnage was the eighteenth mass shooting to hit the US in 2018, and has led to renewed debate among lawmakers and political activists over restrictions on firearms. So far, Congress has firmly opposed any new gun control regulations, and on the contrary, has been working on a new bill which would allow concealed carry permit holders to carry their weapons across state lines.

    Fact #1: US One of Handful of Countries Enshrining Guns in Constitution

    Together with the US, where gun rights are protected under the Second Amendment of the US Constitution, the citizens of only a handful of other countries, including Mexico, Haiti and Guatemala have similar protections in their constitutions. America's founders approved the Second Amendment in 1791 in a bid to ensure the country's security against foreign invaders, but also to provide a form of insurance against the government turning against its own people.

    Fact #2: Americans Love Their Guns

    According to the 2011 Small Arms Survey, which estimates the total number of civilian-owned firearms, the US is in first place by a long shot, with an average of 88 privately-owned guns for every 100 Americans. Other assessments go even higher, estimating that there are up to 101 guns per 100 Americans, that is, a gun for literally every man, woman and child in the country. Americans are estimated to own some 42% of the world's total of civilian-held guns.

    Handguns in a display case at Metro Shooting Supplies, in Bridgeton, Mo.
    © AP Photo / Jeff Roberson
    Handguns in a display case at Metro Shooting Supplies, in Bridgeton, Mo.

    Setting international comparisons aside, it's important to note that the guns owned by Americans are not distributed evenly. A 2015 survey found that upwards of half of guns in civilians' possession are held by just 3% of the population, with these 7.7 million Americans owning anywhere from eight to 140 guns. Furthermore, according to a 2017 survey by Pew, 57% of Americans live in households with no guns.

    This skewed concentration notwithstanding, America is ahead of any other country in the world on private gun ownership, with Serbia, Yemen, Cyprus, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Uruguay, Norway, France and Canada rounding out the top ten at between 30.8 and 58.21 guns per 100 residents. Russia, incidentally, is far on down the list, and has an estimated 8.9 guns per 100 people.

    Fact #3: Guns Kill People

    According to Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization tracking gun-related deaths and injuries, there were some 345 mass shootings in America in 2017 as of early December, making it the deadliest year since measurement began. Since the grisly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, there have been over 1,606 mass shootings in the US, according to the archive.

    According to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control, an average of 96 Americans are shot and killed by a gun each day, with some 34,141 killed in 2016. Of these deaths, 21,637 were suicides, 12,726 homicides, 500 unintentional, and 279 undetermined.

    Police officers stand along the Las Vegas Strip near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino during a shooting at a country music festival, in Las Vegas. (File)
    © AP Photo / John Locher
    Police officers stand along the Las Vegas Strip near the Mandalay Bay resort and casino during a shooting at a country music festival, in Las Vegas. (File)

    Fact #4: Guns Aren't Just Sold Over the Counter (Although They Basically Can Be)

    The federal government's Gun Control Act of 1968 restricts the purchase of shotguns, hunting rifles and ammunition to Americans aged 18 or over. The purchase of other weapons, including handguns, requires that the buyer be at least 21 years old.

    Illegals, people declared insane and committed to mental institutions, and criminals with felony or misdemeanor convictions of a year or two years plus are prohibited from purchasing guns. Those convicted of possessing and/or using illegal drugs are also restricted for a one year period. Dishonorably discharged members of the military, and those with court-issued restraining orders also have their gun ownership rights restricted.

    Individuals interested in becoming weapons salesmen must obtain a Federal Firearms License, which requires that they be at least 21 years of age, have a premises for doing business, and inform local police of their intention to set up shop. License holders are responsible for carrying out background checks. The check can include running an applicant's information through the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or using that system together with additional information in state-level databases.

    A member of the media takes video footage of the front of the Guns & Guitars store in Mesquite, Nev., Monday, Oct. 2, 2017
    © AP Photo / Chris Carlson
    A member of the media takes video footage of the front of the Guns & Guitars store in Mesquite, Nev., Monday, Oct. 2, 2017

    One issue often raised by gun control advocates is that of the so-called 'gunshow loophole', under which Americans selling weapons from their homes, online, or at gun shows can do so without a Federal Firearms License. This, the practice's opponents say, effectively forfeits the need to undergo a background check, and thus allows people that are unfit to purchase guns to buy them anyway. According to a 2017 survey by Harvard and Northeastern University, sales under this loophole account for some 22% of all guns sold.

    Fact #5: Americans Want Stricter Gun Control, But Adamantly Oppose Bans

    According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 60% of Americans would like to see the laws covering the sale of firearms to be tightened up. 

    At the same time, when asked whether handguns should be banned, except for use by law enforcement, 71% of Americans answered 'No, they should not be'. According to Pew, for most gun owners, gun ownership is tied to owners' desire to feel protected, but also to their desire to feel a sense of personal freedom.


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