The debate over gun control in the United States has waxed and waned over the years, stirred by a series of incidents involving mass killings by gunmen in civilian settings. The killing of twenty schoolchildren in Newtown, Ct. in December 2012 prompted a national discussion over gun laws and initial calls by the Obama administration to limit the availability of military-style assault weapons. Gun ownership in the United States far surpasses other countries, and the recent mass shootings, in particular, have raised comparisons with policies abroad. Democracies that have experienced similar traumatic shooting incidents, for instance, have taken significant steps to regulate gun ownership and restrict assault weapons. They generally experience far fewer incidents of gun violence than the United States.
A number of gun ownership advocates consider it a birthright and an essential part of the nation’s heritage. The United States, with less than 5 percent of the world’s population, has about 35-50 percent of the world’s civilian-owned guns, according to a 2007 report by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey. It ranks number one in firearms per capita.The U.S. also has the highest homicide-by-firearm rate among the world’s most developed nations (OECD), though some analysts say these statistics do not necessarily have a cause-and-effect relationship.