City IndexHow many gun stores are there in cities around the world?
This week in City Index, we take a look at the availability of firearms.
People the world over are reasonably divided on the topic of guns as the history, culture, legality and impact of guns are not universal among countries and their cities. Governments decide whether ownership of firearms is a protected right, a privilege, or a crime; they likewise enumerate any requirements, restrictions, or bans in relation to trading, possessing, and carrying firearms. According to the Library of Congress, “gun crime rates and mass murders involving firearms have had particular impacts on the legal approaches of some countries,” however, the gun rights vs. gun control debate worldwide remains highly partisan.
Currently, there are more people in favor of gun rights than gun control in the United States, with 52% in favor of gun rights and 46% calling for stricter control. Gun violence is so prevalent in the US that individual cities have firearm homicide rates comparable to those of the deadliest foreign countries. Corey Ray, a public affairs official from Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives explained, “Of the states (with the most gun stores), Texas tops the list with 10,886, (while) California has 8,311 and Florida has 7,498." But does the amount of FFLs ("Federal Firearms Licensees") directly correlate to the amount of gun violence?
In this City Index, we look at the availability of legal gun stores and firearms dealers in various cities around the world. We consider the firearms economy’s relationship to gun laws and policies, safety and crime statistics, illegal trading, and community activism.
We chose 10 CITIES across the globe
to retrieve our data
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 10,923 people
Atlanta has pretty lax gun policies. While Georgia law requires a state license for handgun dealers, it doesn't require a background check or prohibit the transfer or possession of assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large capacity ammunition magazines. There is also no limit to purchases at one time with zero waiting period as well, and no regulation of unsafe handguns or ammunition. Local governments cannot regulate firearms or deny concealed weapons permits, so it's a pretty "for the (trigger happy) people" kind of state.
In 2014, Georgia passed the so-called “Guns Everywhere” bill allowing residents to “carry guns into bars, nightclubs, school classrooms, and certain government buildings that lack security personnel or devices – with a license to carry, of course,” reports Michele Richinick of MSNBC. Supporters say it protects the 2nd Amendment and promotes safety. However, “Guns Everywhere” did not sit well with the Mayor of Atlanta Kasim Reed, who officially responded:
“I have made public safety the top priority of my administration. Accordingly, in response to a new statewide gun law that took effect, the City has taken extra security measures to keep employees and citizens safe at our facilities. City recreation centers with extensive summer programming will be staffed with security officers to screen entrants and prevent firearms from entering the buildings. The proliferation of guns in this country poses a serious threat to public safety. The city is taking common-sense measures to secure our buildings and keep our citizens safe.”
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 345,200 people
The Legal Eagle at the Marple Rifle and Pistol Club spoke on the UK's policies:
“For one to own a gun in the UK one must hold a permit issued by local police and the issue of these is tightly controlled. A person with a clean criminal record can normally get such a permit, but there is a fair amount of hassle and bureaucracy involved. Airguns (unless they are over a certain muzzle energy limit) are exempt from the permit system. Pistols less than 60cm long, full-auto guns and semi-auto centrefires are effectively banned for private ownership.”
Yet, obtaining an illegal firearm in London is not exactly a difficult task. Factories that convert replica weapons into functioning guns are common and illegal guns are frequently purchased by young drug dealers. Handguns are more popular than shotguns for their size, and a new pistol can be ten times the price of a sawn-off shotgun.
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 47,854 people
While only officially having 13 FFLs, there are “42 total [within] Baltimore addresses (on the outskirts of the city but still within the greater Baltimore area): e.g. some in Essex or Dundalk,” explained Dave Cheplack, a Special Agent at the ATF's Baltimore Field Division.
Under Maryland law, transfers are processed through a licensed dealer or law enforcement agency and include a background check and a certified firearms safety training course. Maryland limits handgun or assault weapon purchase to one per 30-day period with a seven-day waiting period before receiving your firearm. Police even get the option whether or not to wear or carry a handgun. All guns in Maryland are designed to safety standards and the state prohibits the transfer of certain weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines. If your gun disappears, the law states that owners must report a loss or theft though local governments cannot regulate firearms.
Baltimore’s gun problem is well documented in the City Paper’s Murder Ink and in the Baltimore Sun’s Crime Blog. Contributing factors to the rampant gun violence are the city’s segregation and systemic inequality, a lack of educational and economic opportunities for the city’s underserved and low-income neighborhoods, and large addicted populations and a competitive drug trade. The unrest from recent negative police interactions with the community, including Freddie Gray’s death, which was ruled a homicide, has come with an uptick in gun violence in the aftermath of demonstrations. Maryland’s gun control does little to keep guns out of the hands of violent offenders.
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 1,483,333 people
Tokyo is reputed as one of the safest cities in the world with a murder rate of 0.5 per 100,000 of its citizens. Part of this has to do with Japan’s constitution which “does not guarantee its citizens the right to bear arms.” No handguns, semi-automatic weapons or automatic rifles can be sold. Your only legal excuses for obtaining and using a gun are for hunting and target practice and the penalty for possessing an illegal firearm is usually "up to 15 years in prison.”
Even if you aim to obtain a gun for hunting, Japanese law requires passing a psychological exam, completing extensive and inconvenient paperwork, and accounting for any ammunition fired at target practice or while hunting. While Tokyo's population exceeds 13.35 million, there are only 59,000 licensed gun owners in the city.
Japan’s murder rate by gun is typically below 20 for the year, some years it is as low as 4, but usually around 10 to 15.
and another 6 to 8 in the greater Zurich area
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 63,147 people
Marc Heim of proTELL explains, “There are about half a dozen gun dealers in the city, and another 6 to 8 in the greater Zurich area. When I was living in the city, its gun policy was all very open and straightforward. As to the amount of guns in Switzerland, the commonly known numbers are way understated, with the real figures being [around] 14 to 18 million, possibly more than that. This makes Switzerland the ‘most armed’ country in the world, with one of the lowest crime rates. All gun shops in Zurich (and Switzerland) are legal.”
There are many notable aspects of Swiss gun culture that promote responsibility and safety. The Law Library of Congress notes that “Conscription begins at nineteen in Switzerland, and generally ends between the ages of thirty-four and fifty in Switzerland, depending on the military or militia rank of conscripts. In Switzerland militiamen are issued personal equipment, including a personal weapon and ammunition, that they are authorized to keep in their homes even after retirement.”
Gun rights advocates respect Switzerland as a successful example of a safe and armed nation. Gun homicides are low and mass shootings rare. Suicides, however, have caused critics to challenge gun ownership, but reforms have been rejected. CS Monitor notes,“Gun enthusiasts — many of whom are members of Switzerland's 3,000 gun clubs — argue that limiting the right to bear arms in the home of William Tell would destroy a cherished tradition and undermine the militia army's preparedness against possible invasion.”
GUN STORES PER CAPITA: 1 gun store per 279,147 people
Helen A. Dunkel, a Special Agent of Public Information Officer for the ATF's San Francisco Field division explained, “there are 3 businesses that possess Federal Firearms Licenses; only one sells firearms over the counter; one is a gunsmith, and one sells via auction. There is one business that possesses an importer license in the city.”
California law requires licensed dealers, background checks and bans most assault weapons and .50 caliber rifles. The law prohibits the sale or transfer of large capacity ammunition magazines, regulates gun shows, limits handgun purchases, prohibits unsafe handguns and requires a Ten-day waiting period and a Firearm Safety Certificate. Meanwhile, California maintains a permanent record of all sales.
Local law enforcement can deny a license to carry a concealed weapon; local governments can regulate firearms, except in certain areas. California was the first state in the nation to require handgun microstamping and enacted a Gun Violence Restraining Order law last year.
The tragic murder of San Francisco’s Kathryn Steinle by an undocumented person, felon Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, launched voices on both sides into another gun debate. The criminal, Mr. Sanchez, had reportedly found or stolen the gun from a federal agent. Gun supporters suggest that if legal firearms carriers had been on the pier they might have played a role in stopping Mr. Sanchez; conversely, gun control veterans such as Nancy Pelosi have used this latest tragedy as a catalyst for increased federal gun control measures.
The Secretary of Defense (SEDENA)
Gun stores per capita: 1 gun store per 8,851,000 people
Deputy Consul General Marcela Celorio explained, “The Mexican government is the only one who can sell guns. The only legal and authorized place to buy guns in Mexico is from the Secretary of Defense (SEDENA), particularly, the Dirección de Comercialización de Armas y Municiones. The SEDENA also is the one who can issue a permit to buy guns. All of this is according to our Constitution, article 10.”
According to Mexican law, “Mexico has an express provision in its Constitution that recognizes the right of inhabitants to bear arms. This right extends to the possession of arms at one’s home for security and legitimate defense, with the exception of weapons that are prohibited by federal law and those reserved for the exclusive use of the Army, Navy, Air Force, and National Guard.”
“Mexico’s federal gun control statute ... is very strict, and enforcement tends to be oppressive and corrupt. Accordingly, many Mexicans obtain firearms outside of [these] very narrow channels,” reports David Kopel at the Washington Post. “Fourteen percent of Mexican households have a firearm, including 50 percent of poor households in high violence areas. In many parts of Mexico, the government does not reliably protect citizens from violence, so citizens must protect themselves.”
A challenge that Mexico faces is that legal guns stolen from the US or those allowed to “walk” during Operation Fast and Furious frequently turn up at crime scenes, negating the effectiveness of Mexico’s gun control measures.
Kopel reports, “18% of Mexican crime guns can be conclusively determined to have come from the United States.” Mexico pushes the US to adopt gun policies similar to its own.
Harvard scholar Viridiana Ríos points out that “illegal drug cartels run their violent operations in less than a third of all Mexican municipal districts.” While many parts of Mexico still suffer from the effects of gun and drug violence, Mexico City is one of the safer cities in the country. The city has hosted gun buyback programs and the sentiment tends to be in favor of promoting an unarmed citizenry, often in opposition to many towns near the U.S. border.
The city is not completely immune to gun violence, however, as drug addiction to once mainly exported substances has recently climbed in certain parts of the city.
Gun stores per capita: 0
Civilian gun ownership is not legal in Beijing. The public's only reported access to guns is the ability to go to a shooting range and try shooting as a sport. Due to increased terrorist threats, however, cops in China now have permission to carry firearms and the underground popularity of gun culture has resulted in increased gun seizures. But although highly policed, violent crime does occur. In 2014, separatists armed with knives killed 33 at a main station in Kunming.
Gun stores per capita: 0
According to Illinois law, one must obtain a ten-year license (Firearm Owner’s Identification, or a FOID card) to purchase or possess firearms and ammunition. Background checks are required, as is a waiting period. There are some design safety standards, a Child Access Prevention clause, and owners must report lost or stolen firearms.
Chicago does not license or regulate dealers or require registration of arms. There are also no restrictions on purchases. Local law enforcement cannot deny concealed weapons permits, nor can local jurisdictions regulate firearms (with certain limited exceptions).
While there are 0 FFLs, Chicago's 2014 reported homicide number was 390 (dropping), while the reported shootings totaled 2,500 (rising). Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy points to gang activity and illegal guns for the noted increase in shootings, the Chicago Tribune reported.
A constant refrain among gun control advocates, when challenged by gun rights activists who point to Chicago’s failings, is that the city’s laws are only as good as those of the neighboring jurisdictions. For example, an ATF Chicago Field Division Special Agent noted that loose, “cash and carry” gun laws in Indiana make it easy for Chicago area criminals to obtain the firearms used in violent crimes. Thus, Chicago politicians call for increased gun control at the federal level, which, they argue, will support municipal efforts.
New to the club
Sierra Leone, AF
as purchasing a gun has only been legal since 2012
GUN STORES PER CAPITA: NA
The National Commission of Small Arms and Light Weapons is responsible for everything from licensing to the manufacture and sale of firearms. As legal sale and ownership rights have only been approved since 2012, after a seventeen year ban, there are not statistics readily available on the number of gun stores in Freetown. The matter is complicated by a large underground market fueled by unlicensed artisan blacksmiths.
The new laws regulate possession and the use of small arms and light weapons in a country recovering from civil war. “The law also seeks to control cross-border arms activities which pose a serious threat.”
Col. Anthony Saa Sinah, Deputy Commissioner of SLeNCSA, informed Hopes&Fears that, "There are no private gun stores in Freetown. All Armouries belong to the primary Forces (State-owned). They have all been assessed by SLeNCSA and we are writing projects to UN Agencies to assist and improve on them or to relocate and renovate if possible."
To qualify for a gun, a person must be above 21 years and be a citizen. The person must not have a conviction, must be mentally fit, and must have a good record, vouched for by someone in the community.
The area is challenged by illegal gun violence by gangs and criminals, as well as threats of terror.