Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, 2021 is on track to be the United States’ deadliest year for gun violence in two decades. How do other countries regulate firearms and respond to mass shootings?

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A gun enthusiast looks at a rifle scope during a 2019 National Rifle Association annual convention. Scott Olson/Getty Images
The debate over U.S. gun laws has raged for decades, often reigniting after a high-profile mass shooting. Gun violence has surged in 2020 and 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic.Gun ownership and gun homicide rates are high in the United States in comparison to rates in other advanced democracies.Mass shootings in Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom prompted those governments to tighten gun laws.

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The debate over gun control in the United States has waxed and waned over the years, stirred by frequent mass shootings in civilian settings. In particular, the killing of twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 reignited a national discussion about gun laws. However, legislation that would have banned semiautomatic weapons was defeated in the Senate despite extensive public support.

Recent years have seen some of the worst gun violence in U.S. history. In 2020, nearly twenty thousand Americans lost their lives to guns, the highest toll in more than two decades; and the trend looks likely to continue through 2021. 

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Many gun control advocates say the United States should look to the experiences of its wealthy democratic peers that have instituted tighter restrictions to curb gun violence.

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Gun ownership in the United States is rooted in the Second Amendment of the Constitution: “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.”

The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has 46 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to a 2018 report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita. The United States also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate of the world’s most-developed nations. But many gun rights proponents say these statistics do not indicate a causal relationship.