Gun-totting US citizens, quite literally

Shooting incidents in the USA have become a nightmarish reality thanks to the regularity of their occurrence. Has it anything to do with easy laws of acquisition of fire arms license for individuals?

While the horrendous Wisconsin Gurudwara shooting has sent shock waves across the nation, shooting incidences in the USA is a nightmarish reality that occurs every now and then. In May this year, a mother in Florida shot dead her four children at their home. More chilling is the fact, that at one point, three of the children ran out to the neighbour’s house for help after being wounded by the first round of gunshots. The mother called them back and then fatally shot them, including herself.


This year itself there have been four major shooting incidents:

27th February: A student opened fire in a cafeteria at a school in Ohio, killing three students and injuring two others before being arrested.

2nd April: A gunman killed seven people and injured three at a Christian College in Oakland

20th July: A masked gunman killed 14 people and injured 50 others in Aurora, Colorado, in a multiplex cinema hall where the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” was showing

5th August: A gunman killed six people in a Gurudwara at Wisconsin.


As per official statistics quoted in news reports, 88% of Americans possess firearms. The estimated total number of guns held by civilians in the USA is 270,000,000. In 2010 alone, there were 14,159 deaths due to killing by guns.  Barring a few states, a person is allowed to openly carry loaded guns without a permit in the USA. 


The gun lobby in the USA is very powerful and it has been difficult for politicians to tighten the laws. Journalist Paul Adams of BBC recently wrote: “The gun lobby is too strong and public support for tougher rules has collapsed over the past decade. After the Aurora shootings, the mayor of New York, Michael Bloomberg, demanded that Mr Obama and Mitt Romney address the issue of guns. But as Mr Obama more or less acknowledged in New Orleans, politics and attention spans render immediate change an unlikely prospect.”


The liberty for an individual in the USA to easily possess a gun goes back to the 18th century when the country implemented the “Second Amendment”. This Act states that, “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.” Judgments of two court cases in 2008 and 2010 respectively further clarified that civilian individuals have a right to possess arms and that the law not only applies to federal enclaves like Washington DC but to other states and local self government bodies as well.


I was amazed to stumble upon a women’s magazine while surfing the Internet, called “Women & Guns”—the first firearms magazine for women. The advertisement for subscription reads: “whether your ‘target’ shooting takes the form of plinking at tin cans, taking part in organised bowling pins shoots, or trying out the new zombie targets from a host of manufacturers, there is something for everyone—and everyone’s taste. And besides the fun of target shooting, it can’t help but hone your skills as well.”


The website— has interesting statistics of guns in the USA and other parts of the world. This website is hosted by the Sydney School of Public Health (University of Sydney).  The school supports “global efforts to prevent gun injury and promotes the public health model of firearm injury prevention, as adopted by the United Nations Programme of Action on illicit arm.”


According to, “there are more than 875 million firearms in the world, 75% of them in the hands of civilians. Guns outnumber passenger vehicles by 253 million, or 29%. Each year about eight million new small arms, plus 10 to 15 billion rounds of ammunition are manufactured—enough bullets to shoot every person in the world not once, but twice. The authorised international trade in small arms and ammunition exceeds $7.1 billion each year.”


The website also states that South Asia receives the largest inflow of small arms with India ranking second in the number of guns possessed by individuals (46 million). Pakistan ranks sixth and possesses 18 millions small arms at the individual level.


Despite such gory public massacres due to gun shooting, majority of US citizens believe that gun laws should not be tightened for the sake of personal safety.

Number of privately owned firearms: The estimated total number of guns held by civilians in the United States is 270,000,000

Rate of civilian firearm possession per 100 population: 88.82 firearms per 100 people

Number of military firearms: The defence forces of the United States are reported to have 3,054,5533 firearms

Number of police firearms: Police in the United States are reported to have 897,4004 firearms


Number of deaths in USA due to shooting:

2010: 14,159

2009: 15,241

2008: 16,272

2007: 16,929

2006: 17,030

2005: 16,740

2004: 16,148

2003: 16,528

2002: 16,229

2001: 16,037

2000: 15,586 

1999: 12,658

1998: 14,276

1997: 18,208

1996: 19,645

1995: 21,606


* In the USA, private possession of handguns (pistols and revolvers) is permitted without a licence in some jurisdictions


* The minimum age for gun ownership in the United States is regulated by state or local authorities according to weapon type, but is 18 years to purchase shotguns and rifles and 21 years to purchase all other firearms, according to Federal law


* In the United States, the law does not require that a record of the acquisition, possession and transfer of each privately held firearm be retained in an official register


*The buyer of a firearm in a private sale in the United States is not obliged to pass official background checks before taking possession


*The buyer of a firearm from a licensed gun dealer in the United States is obliged to pass official background checks before taking possession


•           (Source:

(Vinita Deshmukh is the consulting editor of Moneylife, an RTI activist and convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte. She can be reached at [email protected]

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