What’s more important – individual liberty or the common good? When it comes to gun ownership, a look at gun laws around the world makes it clear that the answer to that question depends on where you live. Most Americans put a high value on individual liberties. Countries in the European Union, however, tend to have more of a communal outlook, and that difference is reflected in gun laws.
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The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1791, reads: “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.” More than 200 years later, legal scholars still debate the intended meaning of the phrase “the right of the people to bear ams.” It could mean the right of people to defend their self-determined state (a vivid need to Colonial-era Americans) or it could mean the right for any individual person to have a gun. The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently upheld an individual right to own guns. In 2008, for example, the Court overturned a Washington, D.C., ban on handguns. In 2010, another Supreme Court ruling overturned a Chicago gun ban that had been in place for 30 years.
In no European country, on the other hand, is there a constitutionally guaranteed right to gun ownership.
While every mass shooting seems to provoke a new wave of enthusiasm for gun control, many Americans strongly oppose any effort to regulate guns, much less ban them completely.
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2 Citizens of the European Union, for example, are more likely to see gun ownership as a privilege rather than a fundamental right. This perspective greatly reduces opposition to gun control laws. People just don’t question the government’s right to restrict gun ownership.
From a global perspective, the U.S. does very little to restrict gun ownership. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibits gun ownership by certain groups of people, such as children, criminals, and the mentally disabled. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 requires background checks from anyone buying a gun from a licensed dealer. There have also been attempts to restrict access to certain types of guns and ammunition. For instance, Congress passed an assault weapons ban in 1994, but the law expired in 2004 and wasn’t renewed. Believing that federal action on gun control is unlikely, several states have tightened their gun laws recently by restricting gun ownership for people accused or convicted of domestic violence. It’s a constant balancing act for states that want to regulate guns without violating the constitution.
The situation is very different in the European Union. The European Council Directive of 1991 bans all fully automatic weapons and regulates semi-automatic guns and handguns. While the laws vary somewhat by country, in general, you can only own a gun if you have a license, and licenses are approved sparingly. One of the primary hurdles for would-be gun owners is that they’re required to prove they have a legitimate need for a gun. They must also undergo a background check, which often includes meetings with friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Officials may ask about things like the applicant’s family life, alcohol usage, and even temper. If a license is granted, it’s usually for a set period of time, after which the gun owner must re-apply.
This article does not constitute legal advice. Check the current gun laws before purchasing or traveling with a firearm.
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