In 2007, the Small Arms Survey estimated that there were 650 million civilian-held guns in the world. Unless we all fell asleep and somehow missed a coordinated global melting down of guns, that number has certainly risen. Yep, our planet is awash in guns for all uses: from sport, to hunting, to recreation, to personal safety.
But that distribution is far from even. In Japan, for example, owning a gun is about as rare as owning a dog with a decent grasp of Latin. And having a lot of guns doesn’t necessarily mean the country’s government is happy about that: Uruguay ranks 8th for per capita gun ownership, but still has restrictive firearms controls. So where in the world are people buying, owning, selling, and carrying guns with ease? Luckily for the curious, in 2014 Guns and Ammo magazine ranked global countries by gun laws. Trust us, #1 will not surprise you…
A small Central American state, Honduras has essentially been a basket case since a 2009 coup ousted the civilian government. To this day, the US State Department routinely responds to the question “is it safe to go to Honduras?” with the official equivalent of a hollow laugh. Crime is rampant, freedoms are restricted, and civil rights often trampled. But there is one surprising area where Honduras remains permissive. They have one of the least-restrictive sets of gun laws on Earth.
This may come as a surprise if you remember that viral meme in 2015 that linked Honduras’s high murder rate to excessive gun control. Well, you’re about to learn an important lesson in not believing random memes, because Honduras is only anti-gun when it comes to carrying firearms in public. In 2007, both concealed and open carry were outright banned. On the other hand, statute law guarantees the right to own guns, and you can purchase shotguns, rifles and handguns for purposes as nebulous as self-defense or recreation.
Still, gun ownership in Honduras is highly regulated. Only five firearms are allowed per person, they must be registered, and you can only buy them in government-run stores.
From one of the most dangerous states in the world to literally the very safest. As of 2017, the Nordic state of Finland is considered so safe that even Icelanders probably go there to escape the violence of the modern world. It’s also a country with a strong hunting tradition. In Finland, the idea of not breaking out the rifle for a bit of sport is about as alien as not taking a sauna, or finding the taste of rotting fish less than appetizing.
Still, Finland isn’t what you’d call an ultra-permissive gun society. In fact, the regulations on certain types of guns are so stringent a visiting gun owner from the US would probably be left spitting bile in disgust. Semi-automatic weapons are effectively banned by Helsinki, except in very special circumstances, and each and every single gun you buy requires a separate license. And you better make sure those guns stay in the home. Not only are open and concealed carry banned, but self-defense is not a legit reason for owning a gun.
Serbia has the second highest rate of gun ownership in the world (no prizes for guessing number one). However, this is less due to permissive gun policies, and more to do with the catastrophic collapse of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Following Serbia’s involvement in four wars (with Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo), the country was completely awash with firearms. Massive gun buyback drives and tightening of regulations seem to have done little to curb those numbers.
Even keeping all this in mind, Serbia is still a fairly pro-gun place. It’s technically possible to get a license for any class of firearm – though getting a handgun license is apparently as complicated as playing chess while attempting to decipher a Rubik’s Cube and recite pi to 20,000 decimal places – and concealed and open carry are legal for those who have good reason to think they’re in danger. There’s also a strong hunting culture in the countryside, comparable even to Finland.
On the other hand, Serbs are big on ammunition control. Gun owners are restricted to buying 60 rounds a year, which at least ensures you’ll wait till you have a clear shot before opening fire on that deer.
You’ve probably realized by now that Europe is gonna feature prominently in this list. The reason for this is that an insane number of EU and EU-associate countries have strong hunting cultures, and Sweden is no exception. That’s right, the same country that’s a couple of light years to the left of Bernie Sanders on immigration, refugees, women’s rights, and LGBT representation is also significantly to the right of the American center on guns. Wow, it’s almost as if it’s possible to run a successful country with a combination of political ideas.
Nearly a third of Sweden’s population are gun owners, and most of those have the right to own semi-automatic weapons. It’s also surprisingly difficult to get yourself banned from owning guns. Only about 1,000 permits are denied each year, and these bans can be easily overturned on appeal.
But Sweden is still a country that loves itself some regulation. If you want a gun, you’re gonna have to pass a written test, a shooting test, join a gun club, and prove you’ve never been convicted of drunk driving. But hey, at least most companies will let you store your guns in the safe at work.
If you’re reading this in the near-future, this listing may no longer be accurate. The government of Justin Trudeau has been slowly following a legislative program of gun restriction (though CBC reports it may not be working). For the time being, though, Canada remains a country that may not love guns as much as its southern neighbor, but sure as heck isn’t going to be joining the NRA’s anti-gun hit list anytime soon.
One reason for this may be the unique gun culture that thrives in Canada’s indigenous communities. Because rifles and long guns are often passed around between friends, families, and within the wider community, creating databases and registries can turn into a cross-cultural nightmare where everyone winds up very angry with everyone else. On top of that, hunting and sport shooting are as prevalent in North America’s answer to Sweden as they are in actual Sweden. Perhaps it’s no surprise previous gun control drives have fizzled.
Yet Canada isn’t exactly a gun-lover’s paradise. Small pistols are completely banned, and semi-auto weapons are so hard to get hold of they might as well be.
…Annnnd we’re back in Europe. For one of two countries on a peninsula shaped suspiciously like a dude’s genitalia, Norway is almost uniquely un-macho (in the most positive way). Violence is low, aggression is rare, it’s the third most gender-equal country in the world, and launching Viking raids on Britain is thankfully a thing of the past. But there’s one traditionally male-dominated activity Norwegians of all genders like to indulge in. Gun ownership is as Norwegian as bright blond hair or being freezing cold in winter.
For the first time on our list, that also applies to semi-automatic weapons. Provided you can get a regular permit, you’re free to own, say, an AR-15. Nor is Norwegian law open to change. After far-right terrorist Anders Breivik gunned down 69 people in 2011 and killed another 8 with a car bomb, there was a big push to tighten gun laws. Yet, in the end, it fizzled out. Norwegians decided their gun rights should stand, even in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
But don’t expect Norway to be anything like the US. Norwegians generally get out their guns during hunting season… and that’s it. Gun violence is so rare that even the cops aren’t armed.
Readers! Do you like the idea of living in a tropical country as warm and as gun-friendly as Honduras, but without the horrific violence of Honduras? Well then, you might be interested in a little country known as Panama. Home to the world’s most famous canal, Panama has long had a reputation as one of the safest countries in Central America (although that’s a little like having a reputation as the shortest giant). Know what else it should have a reputation for? Sporting gun laws that could almost have been written by the NRA.
Panama will essentially let you buy whatever non-fully-auto gun you like, including sawn-off shotguns. Once you legally own a gun, there are absolutely no restrictions on carrying it around with you, provided it’s concealed. As some gun blogs have noted, this is less restrictive than in some parts of the USA. That might not be true where getting your initial permit is concerned. You’ve gotta be a resident to buy weaponry in Panama, and getting a license can take months and months and months.
Interestingly, Panama gun culture is pretty close to non-existent. Only around 3% of Panamanians own guns, fewer than even in gun-restrictive Britain.
No other country in the EFTA (the group of states including the EU and countries that aren’t in the EU but are part of the Single Market) has as many guns as Switzerland. The country has the 4th highest ownership rate on Earth, and a gun culture that goes back decades. Until 2010, it was required for able-bodied males to own at least one gun. In 1997, gun ownership became a legally-recognized right. And you better believe the Swiss exercise that right. Just shy of 30 percent of the population are gun owners, 10-times the rate in Panama.
The Swiss love of guns sometimes borders on the bizarre. At one point, some cantons made it a legal requirement for the groom to be in possession of a firearm before he could marry (to be fair, this law was repealed over a century ago). This love affair also has its downsides. Gun suicides in Switzerland far outstrip those of anywhere else in Europe.
Swiss law has some interesting shades. While you can buy single shot guns without a permit, you are also legally responsible for any crimes committed with that gun. That means if someone steals your gun and shoots someone else, you’re facing jail time.
2. Czech Republic
Czech Republic (no, we’re not calling it Czechia) may be the only country on Earth where citizens have the constitutional right to shoot terrorists. The government pushed the amendment through in 2017, despite the country having one of the lowest likelihoods of terror attacks in the entire world. The law may be less a testament to fear of attack, though, than it is to Czech gun culture. Along with Switzerland, Czech Republic is about the most pro-gun country in the whole of Europe.
Before we go on, it’s worth pointing out that permissive Czech gun laws don’t apply to those in the country as tourists or on a temporary basis. But if you’re a resident or citizen… well, you’re laughing all the way to the local gun shop. Czechs can own semi-auto weapons, can get a permit to carry up to two concealed handguns without giving a reason, can use guns in self-defense, and can enjoy a crazy amount of hunting. But don’t be fooled into thinking Czech gun culture is like American gun culture. Every single gun owned in the Czech Republic has to be registered, and the sort of overt, yee-haw! gun love you get in places like Texas simply doesn’t exist.
1. United States of America
Oohhh, gee. Hmm. Gosh, what country could possibly be left for us to cover now? Wow, that’s a toughie…
Yep, you guessed it, the number one country where it’s easiest to own guns is, of course, the United States of America. While the Constitution may not specifically protect your right to shoot terrorists, it does protect your right to bear arms. Exactly what that means is a super-controversial issue that has caused more nuclear-level arguments than even abortion or immigration, but as it is currently interpreted, it means you can effectively own whatever gun you like. Provided you don’t live in a state with stringent gun laws, you can likely haul your semi-auto rifle into a cafe and still not be breaking the law. In some states you may soon even be able to concealed carry in schools.
But you don’t need us to tell you this. The US has the most permissive gun culture, and everyone knows it. There are more civilian guns in the US than anywhere on Earth; nearly more than in the rest of the world combined. Over a third of the population are gun owners. Whether you think this is a good thing or a bad thing, there’s no doubt that guns in America are here to stay.