The alleged assassination attempt on Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by Jared Lee Loughner in Tucson Arizona on Saturday has reopened debate on U.S. gun laws.
"Everybody takes different lessons from the Arizona shooting tragedy, but I keep coming back in my head to this: The suspect was considered too mentally unstable to attend college, but not to buy a semiautomatic Glock handgun," wrote Nicholas D. Kristof, of the New York Times, on his Facebook page.
Six people died when Loughner allegedly opened fire on a political gathering outside a Tucson shopping mall held by Giffords, including Christina-Taylor Green, 9, who was one of 50 babies born on Sept. 11, 2001, and featured in a 2002 book called "Faces of Hope."
"It's probably about a very sick individual and what should have been done for that person," said Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) weighing in on Saturday's tragic Tucson, Ariz., shooting during a "Fox News Sunday" interview. "But the weapons don't kill people. It's the individual that killed these people."
While opinion — and statistics — vary on gun ownership internationally, FBI figures released in 2009 showed that of 13,636 murders in the U.S., 9,146 were caused by firearms (excluding data from Florida and Illinois, which was unavailable).
The figures show that gun crime in Arizona was not the worst in the United States: Tennessee and the District of Columbia have higher rates.
The figures reveal that gun crime, like all crime across the U.S., is going down. However a decade ago, comparative statistics on gun ownership and gun deaths showed the U.S. leading the world's richest nations in gun deaths — murders, suicides and accidental deaths due to guns.
A study published April 17, 1998, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the International Journal of Epidemiology placed the U.S. first at 14.24 gun deaths per 100,000 people. Two other countries in the Americas came next. Brazil was second with 12.95, followed by Mexico with 12.69.
Japan had the lowest rate, at 0.05 gun deaths per 100,000 (1 per 2 million people). The police in Japan actively raid homes of those suspected of having weapons.
The United States accounted for 45 percent of the 88,649 gun deaths reported in the study, the first comprehensive international scrutiny of gun-related deaths.
While up-to-date studies on the relationship between guns and gun-related deaths are scarce, more recent research suggests the U.S. still leads the world in gun ownership rates.
Worldwide civilians owned about 650 million of the total 875 million combined civilian, law enforcement and military firearms, according to the "Small Arms Survey 2007: Guns and the City," an independent research project by the Graduate Institute of Geneva, funded by numerous governments. U.S. citizens alone owned some 270 million of these, translating into roughly 90 firearms for every 100 people.
An updated report, the "Small Arms Survey 2009: Shadows of War," found that the United States continued to drive the global small arms trade, remaining the largest importer of pistols and revolvers, sporting shotguns and small-caliber ammunition. Greater demand for small arms in the United States was responsible for 48 percent of the worldwide increase in imports from 2000 to 2006.
Top exporters of small arms and light weapons, including their parts, accessories and ammunition (those with annual exports worth at least $100 million) were the United States, Italy, Germany, Brazil, Austria and Belgium (in descending order). "China and the Russian Federation are probably also top exporters, but customs data alone does not support this status," the report read.
However, U.S. gun ownership laws remain far less stringent than that in most other developed nations.
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.
Australia adopted tougher gun laws and ran a gun buy-back scheme in the wake of a 1996 incident in which a lone gunman killed 35 people at Port Arthur in the state of Tasmania.
Japan is still understood to have some of the toughest gun ownership laws in the world.
In the wake of the Arizona shooting, Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat whose husband was killed in the 1993 Long Island railroad shooting, told the Huffington Post she was readying legislation seeking to ban the type of high-capacity weapon clip used by alleged Arizona shooter Jared Loughner.
McCarthy said she was realistic about the chance for new gun laws, however. "If I wanted to get something symbolic ... it won't go anywhere. It won't even get to committee," she said, in an oblique reference to the power of the National Rifle Association (NRA), the largest group lobbying for gun owners.
In the U.S., the NRA has lobbied hard against any restriction on the ownership of guns, including semi- and fully automatic weapons. The NRA and the pro-gun lobby maintain that restricting access to handguns and doing away with concealed weapons do not have a positive effect on gun deaths.