How hard is it to legally buy a gun in cities around the world?
America’s gun laws have once again come under scrutiny, following the latest mass shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon where nine were killed. The shooter, in this case, had 14 guns in his home. After a tragedy, often the same question comes to mind: How did he acquire so many weapons? And, how hard is it to legally purchase a weapon? Is it really that much easier in the U.S. than abroad?
We researched the specific steps to acquiring a gun in three U.S. cities and in six cities around the world, some of which are in countries whose gun policies are lauded by those who support gun control in the U.S.
When paired with the number of gun deaths per year per state in the U.S.—per country elsewhere—the big picture is more complicated than we usually imagine. The steps listed below are obviously not the only ways to acquire a gun in these cities. (In Chicago alone, police confiscate an illegal gun approximately every 75 minutes.) But the controversy over gun legislation largely regards the legal means for acquiring firearms.
The steps below are simplified and don't include every method of obtaining a gun, just the easiest. We didn’t include every single detail of each application, but rather wanted to convey a sense of the number of hoops needed to jump through to purchase a firearm legally in these cities. Our sources are cited at the end.
The laws in New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles are not necessarily representative of the laws in the rest of the United States. In many places, no permit or background check is required to purchase a gun, and the waiting period is short or nonexistent. We have not included the process for acquiring a gun online.
New York City
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are under 18; you have a history of domestic abuse, substance abuse (like DUIs), or a history of mental illness.
Within New York City, you need a permit to buy a shotgun, rifle or handgun. Outside of the city, shotguns and rifles do not require a permit. Fill out a permit application. You are required to report your employment history for the prior five years for a background check.
Obtain a "Letter of Necessity" detailing the reasons for carrying a gun. Also required: four passport-style photographs, birth certificate, proof of residence, any arrests or summons for infractions more serious than a parking ticket, and any restraining orders.
Notarize the application.
Pay fees of $340 for the application and $94.25 for fingerprinting.
Submit reference letters from three people you have known for at least two years stating that you are "of good moral character."
Complete an interview with a licensing officer.
After one to three months, you will receive an acceptance or denial letter. If approved, you have one month to pick up your Purchase Authorization from 1 Police Plaza. You can buy one handgun, pistol or revolver every 90 days, provided you send a Purchase Authorization Request Form to the NYPD and receive an authorization in return.
Buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer.
Take your gun for inspection at 1 Police Plaza. There, they will record the gun's serial number and fill out your license.
Gun deaths per year in new york state (rate per 100,000): 4.39
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are younger than 18 (rifle/shotgun), younger than 21 (handgun), a felon, a sex offender, or are judged mentally unfit to stand trial, "addicted to the use of narcotics," or if you are currently in a psychiatric facility.
To own a gun in California, you must be an American citizen who possesses a state ID, driver's license or other proof of residence. You must be 18 or older to buy a rifle or shotgun, and 21 or older to buy a handgun.
Acquire a Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC). Take a test on gun laws and safety at your local federally licensed gun store by paying a $25 fee. If you score 75% or higher, you are eligible for an FSC. If you fail, you may take the test once more from the same instructor without paying again. The FSC is a fairly new requirement, and there are exceptions, such as a pawned gun being returned to its original owner.
Buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer and get a Dealer Record of Sale (DROS). First-time gun buyers must wait ten days before receiving their weapon.
After buying the gun but before it arrives, perform a safe handling demonstration in front of a Department of Justice Certified Instructor. An affidavit saying the test was completed must be signed by the purchaser, instructor, and firearms dealer.
Buy a firearm safety device approved by the Department of Justice.
Now, you can buy a gun every thirty days.
GUN DEATHS PER YEAR IN california (RATE PER 100,000): 7.89
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are a felon, you have been in a psychiatric facility in the last five years, have been ruled mentally disabled or "defective," have restraining orders against you, have been convicted of a violent crime in the last five years, have failed a drug test in the last year, or are not an American citizen.
Apply for a Firearm Owners Identification Card (FOID). To apply, you must provide a driver's license or ID, a passport-style photo, and must pay a fee of $10. A background check will be performed.
After obtaining a FOID card, you can purchase a firearm (though you'll have to leave the city itself—there's nowhere to buy a gun in Chicago proper.) There is a 24 hour waiting period to purchase a long-barrel gun or rifle, and a three-day waiting period to purchase a hand gun.
That's all you need to do in order to purchase a gun, but if you want a concealed carry permit, a safety class and enhanced background check are also required.
GUN DEATHS PER YEAR IN illinois (RATE PER 100,000): 8.67
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are under 18 years old, you have been incarcerated for more than three years, or for between three months and three years in the last five years, you have "evidence of alcoholism, drug abuse or signs of personality disorder."
People wishing to possess firearms must apply for a certification with the chief of police in their local area and prove they have a "good reason" to possess a firearm. This requirement is strict, and police are required to verify the claims, for example, the presence of a certain species on the land where someone wants to hunt and the suitability of their desired firearm for that purpose. If the reason is target practice, the applicant must be a member of a shooting club. Self-defense is not a sufficient reason. The application also requires four passport style photos and the names of two "referees" who can vouch for the applicant.
A reference letter must be provided from another UK citizen, a "referee" who has known the applicant personally for more than two years and must be a "member of Parliament, justice of the peace, minister of religion, doctor, lawyer, established civil servant, bank officer or person of similar standing." A referee must also sign one of the applicant's photos confirming that the photo is an accurate depiction.
The applicant must have their medical history made available to the police, so they can check that the applicant does not have "evidence of alcoholism, drug abuse or signs of personality disorder." This medical background check is not done for every application.
Guns must be kept in secure storage, meaning a government approved cabinet where they cannot be accessed by an unauthorized person. This requirement is very strict. "Unauthorized persons" can include anyone who may have access to keys for the storage cabinet.
When all the requirements are met, the certificate lasts for five years.
GUN DEATHS PER YEAR IN THE UK (RATE PER 100,000): 0.23
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you're under 18 (although this age can be decreased by up to two years with government permission), you have outstanding criminal convictions or are currently being punished for crimes, you are not a citizen, you have a psychiatric illness, or you are a drug addict.
Pass a training course.
Obtain a gun license. The license application must describe the type of firearm to be purchased and demonstrate that the weapon will be kept safely. Proof of citizenship and other federal identification materials must be provided. Medical releases confirming an applicant is not blind, does not have psychiatric illnesses, and is not addicted to alcohol or drugs are also required. This license lasts for five years, after which the gun owner must retake their tests to prove they are still knowledgeable in the safe handling of firearms.
The weapon must be registered in the subsequent two weeks after its purchase.
gun deaths per year in russia (rate per 100,000): 2.3 (homicides only)
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are under 18 (shotgun), you have a criminal record.
Potential firearm owners need a license. To get a license, you must provide a "genuine reason" to possess a gun. Reasons include target shooting, hunting, and personal security. You must also pass a background check including mental health, domestic violence, criminal and substance abuse history. The license must be renewed with a new background check every five years.
Gun deaths per year in Turkey (rate per 100,000): 1.61
YOU CAN'T BUY A GUN IF: you are under 18 years old, have not fulfilled any obligation to military service, are not "physically and mentally capable" of using a gun, are a drug consumer, do not make an "honest living".
Join a shooting club. You must be part of a shooting club to get a gun permit.
Obtain a permit. To get a permit, go to the nearest military base (the military regulates guns in Mexico).
Buy a gun. There is one legal firearms store in Mexico, conveniently located in Mexico City. The store is operated by the military. Guns can also be purchased in private sales from individuals, as long as they are then registered with the government.
Register your gun with the Ministry of National Defense within 30 days of purchase.
Gun deaths per year in mexico (rate per 100,000): 13.41 (homicides only)
Fill out a Permit to Acquire application form ($30) and provide a genuine reason to have a gun license. Self-defense is not a genuine reason. A two-year license costs $100 and a five-year license costs $200.
Take a safety training course.
After submitting your form, there is a 28-day mandatory waiting period. When your Permit to Acquire arrives, it is valid for 90 days.
Buy a gun from a licensed firearms dealer, or bring the person you’re buying the gun from to the firearms dealer in order for them to approve the transfer. Your firearm will be automatically registered.
Gun deaths per year in australia (rate per 100,000): 1.03
YOU CAN’T BUY A GUN IF: you are under 18, have a criminal record, are psychiatrically disqualified, or are from Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Algeria and Albania.
Some guns do not require a permit. These include hunting rifles and hand bolt-action rifles. Other firearms require a permit. Able-bodied Swiss men between 20 and 30 are trained as part of the Swiss militia and issued a weapon. If militia members wish to keep their weapon after their service has ended, they will need a permit.
Gun deaths per year in switzerland (rate per 100,000): 3.04
Sources: New York: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Los Angeles: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 Chicago: 1, 2, 3 London: 1, 2 Moscow: 1, 2, 3 Istanbul: 1, 2, 3, 4 Mexico City: 1, 2, 3 Sydney: 1, 2, 3, 4 Genva: 1, 2 All gun deaths per year rates: GunPolicy.org
Cover image: Pistols displayed at Defense Security Equipment International, the largest annual arms fair in the world, at ExCeL London, Sept. 15, 2015. Photograph by Eugenio Grosso/Redux.