Can you help a non-American understand what is the deal is with guns in America?

I am a Kiwi (New Zealander) living in Australia. We hear a lot about what happens over there in the US, but not always with the greatest of understanding. (I can say the lack of understanding flows the other way, too! :slight_smile: )

This horrible Texas shooting has brought out all the news and social media commentators again. My understanding of the situation is this:

  • there are a variety of gun restrictions in different places but there are no consistent federal laws.

  • in Texas, a licensed gun dealer must do background checks before selling, but there are loopholes to avoid those checks.

  • some people advocate the banning of guns; other people advocate the relaxing of existing laws.

As you can see, a very sketchy understanding.

Australians are allowed guns (contrary to the opinion of some US commentators) but there are strict laws governing their sale and storage.

If it is not insensitive, what is the situation over there?


This is not correct. There are hosts of federal gun laws: the National Forearms Act of 1934, which strictly regulates full-auto firearms, silencers and short-barreled rifles and shotguns; the Gun Control Act of 1968, which set up the regulatory structure for firearms dealers (Federal Firearms Licensees) and banned interstate private sales of firearms; plus a couple of laws from the 1990s that (among other things) set up a national background check system that all gun dealers must use before selling guns to customers (with a couple of narrow exceptions).

It is relatively easy to come a-cropper of federal gun laws in the US. In fact, I recommended that a member of this very board not pursue a line of action he was discussing as it would have made him a felon under GCA 68.

Various states have stricter regs on owning, possessing and carrying firearms. In fact federal law says very little about carrying firearms, leaving it to the states to regulate the carrying of firearms. The exceptions to this relate to federal property such as military bases and post offices, and (notably, in this case) largely prohibiting firearm possession within 1000 feet of school property.

This is true nationwide. There are exceptions in some states for holders of concealed carry permits since they got the background check already when they got the permit.

Private parties (i.e. non-dealers) who sell/give guns to each other are not required to run a background check, at least under federal law. The loophole the Uvalde killer seems to have used is not having been indicted for/convicted of any crimes that would have made him a prohibited possessor, so he passed his background check at his local gun dealer.

Correct. Many people in America look at yesterday’s events and conclude that guns are too easy to get in America. Others look at yesterday’s events and conclude that we and our children need protection against violent evil men. (America has a great many more violent evil men than New Zealand does.)

I would like to point out that “guns” are the default narrative of our media (perhaps media worldwide given the question), but there is a lot more here at play. America has been swimming in guns since forever, but these types of massacres are relatively new. When my father was 16, he sent away mail-order for a lever-action rifle that had been designed in 1894 and would be a very useful tool for someone plotting a massacre. The US Postal Service dropped it on his doorstep with no questions asked. (Mail order guns were largely banned by GCA 68.) My father also used to regularly bring a gun to school. It was a commonplace activity: How else was one to hunt on the way home from school? Yet these massacres were basically unknown in his day. What changed? It isn’t the evil spirits that inhabit AR-15s, which reached dealer shelves somewhere around 1960.


One of the reasons the issue is so visceral for politically conservative Americans (ie those who oppose most of the current gun-control measures) is that arguments about the 2nd Amendment usually function as a proxy war for the protection or erosion of other constitutional freedoms.

The 2nd Amendment isn’t terribly complicated from either a constitutional or historical point of view. And the process for amending the constitution is clearly laid out in the constitution. If those in government aren’t willing to submit to the law on the issue of the 2nd amendment, why should citizens think they’ll be willing to submit to law on other (more important?) issues?


Hi Alistair, as this board’s other New Zealander, tho’ now in the UK - the Kiwi diaspora goes far and wide - I have the same questions as well!


Interesting information, thanks.

I don’t know whether there are more or less violent, evil men in NZ or Australia (where I actually live) compared to the US. In raw numbers, yes, but in terms of percentage, I don’t know. There is still violence. A huge difference, however, is in the actual experience of guns in Australia and New Zealand. Guns are simply not common, and so violence is carried out in other ways. NZ police do not even routinely carry guns with them (Australian police do), though I have learned they are available in a lockbox in their patrol cars if needed.

Having grown up in that country, I can’t say I’ve suffered. Clearly there is increasing evil in all our cultures, and until that is dealt with, legislation takes the place of internal morality.

You’ve got a tough situation in the US, and we feel and pray for you.


One of the reasons the issue is so visceral for politically conservative Americans (ie those who oppose most of the current gun-control measures) is that arguments about the 2nd Amendment usually function as a proxy war for the protection or erosion of other constitutional freedoms.

Right, that makes a lot of sense. Otherwise, the enthusiasm that Americans have for their guns comes across as verging on the idolatrous.


I mean, there is that too.

But there’s not only that.


Hm. For some reason I’ve never thought of it that way, but once you say it, of course I know it’s true. I think one of the main idolatries is that we Americans think we can save ourselves. We think guns will protect us from the judgement of God.


I think it’s important to keep things in perspective.
In 2020, 446 people were killed in mass shootings. Most of these were gang violence. In the same year 662 people were killed by fists, bare hands.

Both of these numbers combined don’t match the number of babies murdered by abortion in one day.

In 2020, there were 1478 deaths by a gun that was used in self defense. Most gun related deaths were suicide.

In all of 2020, there were 19411 deaths involving a gun. That includes the numbers I mentioned above from mass shooting and self defense. It also includes accidental.

In 2020 nearly 23 million guns were sold in America that went through background checks. It’s hard to get an exact number of total guns in population in 2020 but let’s just take 23 million as a baseline. There would be more guns than that.

This means that .09% of guns bought in America were used in an incident involving death. .002% of guns were used in a mass shouting.

Now there were a total of 329.5 million people in the US in 2020. .005% where killed by a gun. .0001% were killed in a mass shooting.

Deaths by abortion in 2020 630,000 surgical. Unknown how many chemical. Also unknown how many through abortifacients.

Our media focus all our attention on .005% in order to take away a constitutional protected right but ignore the hundreds of thousands if not millions in a year in order to manufacture a nonexistent constitution “right”.


Many of the governmental/public figures who are loudest mourning the lives lost in the Texas shooting were only weeks ago passionately supportive of the Senate voting for abortion up till birth.

Profoundly hypocritical.


Here are the overall stats for homicide in America, along with some comparatives. The metric is homicides/100,000 population (source: List of countries by intentional homicide rate - Wikipedia

USA 6.3

UK 1.2
Canada 2.0
Sweden 1.2

NZ 2.6 [2019 - normally around 1.4]
Australia 0.9

Russia 7.3

At one point in the mid-90s the American rate was running as high as 10 per 100,000. And within the USA, there is of course huge local variation, with some major cities having homicide rates in the order of 100 per 100,000.

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I shared the David French article to give you one American perspective you may not have read.

The other thing to say is that the rural and small town populations of the U.S. are still very significant. Our population is not as concentrated in urban centers or coasts as is Australia’s population (as I understand it).

People in small towns and rural areas, regardless of politics, are accustomed to hunting. They are descended from the Scots Irish rabble who settled the frontier and were overwhelmed with the abundant game. Not just game, but wild animals who would kill your livestock–or you.

In England, hunting was (is?) a sport for nobles and kings. In America, rich men hunt, but it’s more of a redneck thing. Poor men, Trump supporters, Okies–they hunt.

A pound of deer meat acquired through hunting is very valuable compared to a pound of hamburger acquired with rapidly inflating greenbacks.

Bernie Sanders, before 2016, had a long record supporting gun rights. Vermont, the state he represents, is one of the most rural states in the country. It’s also one of the most liberal states in the country. The gun thing cuts across political lines.

In an urban context, guns mean something different. They aren’t as useful. But a country boy can survive.


This is a really important point. “Guns” are most clearly viewed as a culture war proxy. Your typical rural person sees a gun and thinks about heritage, hunting and self-protection. Your typical urban person sees a gun and thinks of crime, victimization and blight. When you throw in the clear text of the Second Amendment which the Left wants to ignore or rationalize, followed by their total devotion to completely invented rights like abortion, well, you have a flash point.

I assure you there are. Ross Clark posted numbers up-thread. Think about what it would be like to live where murder is 6 times as common as it is where you live now, and where memories of murder being 10x as common are still relatively fresh. (I am not an old man and I remember those days.) America has always been more violent than the rest of the developed world/Anglosphere. That fact is clear when you compare murder with knives between countries, or murder with hands and feet (!).

Many people will ask, “Why not just call the police?” I have personally looked a rural Sheriff’s Deputy in the eye and been told, “We typically only have one deputy on shift overnight for [geographic area that takes about 40 minutes to drive across], so if he’s busy, you may have a bit of a wait.” That will change your perspective on “Just call the police.”

Likewise, 2020’s Summer of Love had numerous urban folks calling the police to request protection from unrest, riots or petty crime and being told, “Sorry, the police are all busy now, but if you’d like to leave a message we can have someone get back to you.” Judging by gun sales numbers since 2020, I’m guessing that changed some urban folks’ perspectives on “Just call the police”, too.


In the United States, I think we do have more men predisposed to opportunistic robbery and violence than in other countries. I suspect it’s per capita but we also are such a large country, with so many cars, that people feel like criminals could show up anywhere. There are millions of illegally owned and stolen guns in the country, so people don’t feel protected by gun restrictions for convicted criminals.

We also have an individualistic culture, which expresses itself in unhelpful ways regarding guns. One, most people cannot readily rely on their neighbor to protect them and watch over them. Two, one cannot intrude into lives of suspicious or strangely behaving people, let alone reform them. Three, the police are simply not neighborly outside of tiny towns. So, many think they need to personally defend themselves using the same weapons they expect to be attacked with.

There is a significant hobbyist aspect. The gun is a hunting and sport tool. Quality guns are admired for the materials and craftsmanship and people will spend time deepening their understanding, like a wine hobby, perhaps. :slight_smile:

Of course, they are also a symbol of our revolutionary history and our constitution. The perception that the right to own guns will be rescinded or abrogated contributes to gun and ammunition sales and to conservative politicians posing holding guns.

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There is a huge variation in homicide rate by race. The U.S. is not so different from other Anglo nations if only whites go into the average.

One thing to keep in mind is that the U.S. is a very large and diverse place. I’ve never owned a gun or felt the need to own a gun, and neither am I bothered that other law-abiding people own guns or carry them openly or concealed. I’ve never worried about mass shootings because, on a per capita basis, they are very rare. Neither have I ever worried about gun crime. So it is quite possible to go through life every day as if one were an Australian, if one lives in the right neighborhood.

Of course, if there is a right neighborhood, then there is a wrong neighborhood. This has been an intractable problem in the U.S. in large part because the presence of wrong neighborhoods, or more specifically, many of the people who live in them, serves as a means for one political faction to beat on another political faction. Also, identifying the fundamental cause of problems in wrong neighborhoods is a very deep ideological conflict.

Much of gun culture and gun debate in the U.S. is downstream of issues that can’t be openly and reasonably discussed.


There is a huge variation in homicide rate by race. The U.S. is not so different from other Anglo nations if only whites go into the average.

Not quite. The rate for the UK I quoted is for the population as a whole; and Britain now has plenty of people of colour living there, and within that a fair number of people of African or Afro-Caribbean heritage as well. The variation in homicide rates by race is a function of poverty, not ethnicity - why blacks in the USA are much more likely to be poor is a very good question!

I haven’t looked at Australia’s numbers in detail, but there are a lot of other ethnicities, also.

In NZ, at least when I was living there, the indigenous Maori made up a disproportionate number of inmates.

There’s obviously more work to do on that question.

In NZ, at least when I was living there, the indigenous Maori made up a disproportionate number of inmates.

Still the case. Why our native/indigenous people are so much more likely to be poor, is the question.

I see that I wrote too allusively for the non-Americans among us to follow.

The same is true for the U.S. – African and Afro-Caribbean immigrants and their children are much more successful than the native-born blacks. Elite institutions often use them to fill out their informal diversity quotas (e.g., former President Obama, current VP Harris).

Have you considered that one answer might be that American black subculture has been shaped by several centuries of race-based slavery and legal discrimination? Of course, it is one matter to recognize the historical injustice and quite another matter to remedy it, especially since changing culture requires the cooperation of people within that culture. And it doesn’t help that the current elite preoccupation with Antiracism is much more concerned with virtue-signalling and promoting the fortunes of professional-class blacks than enacting policies that actually help working-class blacks.

In the U.S. at least, studies repeatedly show that growing up without a father in the home, not poverty, is the biggest predictor of criminality or any other metric for lack of success in life. Unlike the case for other races, a large majority of black children grow up without a father in the home. Discussion of these facts, or any policy that might ameliorate these conditions, is entirely absent from elite political discourse in the U.S.

I might also add that exporting factory jobs to China and importing low-skill immigrants certainly hasn’t helped blacks economically.