REDDING, Calif. -

On a warm winter day, class is in session in Redding, Calif.  A small group of Americans set their sights on earning a concealed weapons permit.

It’s a class that would never happen in a place like England, where carrying a concealed weapon is illegal.

The United States has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world. According to a Gallup poll, 30 percent of Americans own a gun. This adds up to an estimated 88 guns for every 100 Americans.

The right to own a gun is in the Second Amendment, something that sets the United States apart from most other industrialized countries.

Assistant Political Science Professor Cherry McCabe lectures about gun rights as part of constitutional law studies at Simpson University.  She said the U.S. has a strong tradition of individual liberty and that the U.S. constitution was drafted to limit the federal government’s powers on many issues, including gun laws.

"In other countries, many of their gun control restrictions reflect an entirely different ideology,” said McCabe.  “If you want to buy a gun as a citizen in Germany, France or Spain, you have to prove affirmatively why you need a gun."

The United States

Within the United States, gun laws in each individual state vary widely.  The least restrictive laws are in areas like the South and Midwest.  The strictest laws are in the Northeast and California.

Generally all 50 states follow a basic set of federal gun laws.  You must fill out federal form 4473 and pass a background check to buy firearms from federally-licensed dealers.

Background checks are not required for private transactions, such as for sales at gun shows.


There are no current federal laws banning assault weapons, handguns or large capacity magazines.

"It's easier to compare California gun laws with Great Britain or Canada than to compare the U.S. in general,” said McCabe.  “California has laws that are fairly restrictive.   In Idaho, Wyoming and Texas, they're not."

According to, American federal gun laws are permissive.  The other industrialized nations we studied were described as restrictive.

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, a school shooting in 1996 killed 16 children in Scotland who were between five and six years old. It prompted some of the toughest anti-gun legislation in the world. 

The U.K. passed a ban on the private ownership of all handguns in England, Scotland and Wales.  Even most police officers don't carry guns.

To buy a shotgun or rifle, you must prove why you need it, such as for hunting. You must also pass background checks and provide character references before receiving a gun permit.


In Australia, stricter gun laws were passed after the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996 left 35 people dead at a former prison and tourist site.

Gun owners were forced to surrender certain firearms to be destroyed by the government.  Automatic and semi-automatic assault rifles are prohibited in most cases.

Handguns are strictly regulated, and there are limits on how much ammunition can be purchased.

Rich Howell has been in the gun business in the U.S. for 30 years and he said he watches closely what's happening in other countries.

 "The U.K. doesn't have a 2nd Amendment,” said Howell.   Australia doesn't have a second amendment.  They saw gun confiscation and had to turn in their firearms."


In Canada, possession of semi-automatic assault weapons is prohibited with narrow exemptions.  Applicants for a firearm license must pass background checks which consider criminal, mental, addiction and domestic violence records.

The minimum waiting period is 28 days on the first application and you must have two people vouch for you.


Germany tightened gun laws after a school shooting left 18 people dead in 2002.

Possession of handguns and semi-automatic assault rifles are allowed only with special authorization.  People wanting to buy a hunting rifle must undergo background checks that can last up to a year.

U.S. laws reflect Americans' unique attitudes about guns. They are part of the country’s constitution, and part of its culture.


 "You get your kid’s first rifle and go hunting together,” said Howell.  “It's a totally different culture – a culture that's lasted 200 years."