Top 10 Countries To Be A Gun-Owner

With all the controversy surrounding gun ownership, there are plenty of misconceptions and more than enough misinformation being spread through news outlets, social media, and political platforms as to which countries have the loosest and strictest laws regarding civilian ownership of firearms.

Despite what the media and countless uninformed posts on social media might have you believe, the United States is not a lawless Thunderdome on the brink of high-noon shootouts on any given day.

Every country has its own laws and each interprets/enforces their laws in their own ways,which makes it difficult to compare them. Countries that have laws that are not enforced, or just do not have laws altogether will not be included. Laws regarding gun-ownership will be examined at the highest level so state/province laws will not be taken into account. The laws in question will be looked at as how they apply for citizens of the country, even if foreigners are allowed to own weapons under certain conditions. Countries that issue weapons to citizens as part of some form of military conscription can be included and discussed but this will not be taken into account.

Keep in mind that for the majority of the world, gun ownership is almost non-existent. Many of these countries have strict ownership laws by American standards but they could be far worse.

Heavy weapons to include but not limited to mortars, grenades, rockets, and artillery should be considered illegal unless stated otherwise. The legality of fully-automatic weapons varies from country to country so these laws are included.

For the purposes of this article weapon is synonymous with firearm.

10. Netherlands

For civilians, licenses can be issued for hunting and target shooting. Individual seeking gun licenses must pass a drug test and background check. Those seeking firearm license for target shooting must be a member of a gun club for one year. Those seeking a hunting license must also attend a yearlong hunting course.

Concealed carry by civilians is not legal and firearms may not be owned for defense purposes. Individuals are limited to the ownership of five firearms at a time but are generally free to purchase any non-fully automatic weapon, provided it is for hunting. For target shooting, the firearm must be legal for competitive use  There are no limitations on caliber or magazine size.

There are strict laws on the transportation of weapons and owners must go straight from the location they store their weapons and either a police station, competition, or a certified gunsmith. Hunters are allowed to transport their weapons to the area they are planning to hunt in along with the three categories allowed for target shooters.

It should be noted that ranges are common enough and shooting sports are prevalent. Gun ownership is seen as a privilege but a sizable shooting culture exists.

9. Honduras

Children hold rifles at a Honduran Army stand in a low-income neighborhood during an event in Tegucigalpa, on Feb. 22, 2014. Orlando Sierra/AFP

Honduras and Panama are the only two Latin countries with reasonable laws as far as private gun ownership. While many arbitrary and downright odd laws exist, obtaining firearms in Honduras is not terribly difficult and there are few (albeit specific) regulations as to what weapons can be owned.  Honduras would be higher on this list save for a few key restrictions passed in 2003 and more in 2007.

Any adult citizen of Honduras can purchase a firearm, save for those with a criminal record. All weapons must be registered and a new license must be issued for each firearm obtained. Weapons bought through private sale must undergo a ballistic test when registered so it can be determined if the weapon has been used in any known crime.

Rifles .308 and below and pistols .45 and below are permitted with a list of allowed calibers. Shotguns of most standard caliber are also permitted. Fully-automatic weapons as well as suppressors are illegal. While semi-automatic rifles are legal, the 2003 assault weapon ban list specifically forbids ownership of many popular semi-automatic rifles including AK, FAL, AR-15, and G3 variants. Sniper rifles are also illegal but the definition in this context is vague at best (the M14 is legal but the M21 is not).

Following a wave of new gun control laws in 2007, concealed carry and open carry are now illegal in public. Security guards are only allowed to carry their weapons within the vicinity of the property which they are protecting.

Weapons must be transported in some sort of case that prevents their immediate use and the container must be visible in the vehicle.

There is currently only one arms importer which is controlled by the military and is also the only place one can legally purchase ammunition.

8. Finland

Photo courtesy of Forgotten Weapons / Inrange

Legislation was passed in 1998 restricting the ownership of firearms but overall, they are still easily obtained by most citizens. Citizens must go through background checks and mental health checks during the license application process. Individual licenses must be issued for each firearm purchased and a purpose for each must be declared. Firearms must suit the declared purpose and any deemed to not be properly suitable for that purpose will result in the license being declined.

There are 8 classes of firearm ownership to include sporting use, work, hunting, collection, heirloom or memento, and proxy ownership for underage persons. With the exception of work use (requires special training), these are generally shall-issue as long as the individual can pass background checks, police interview, and either a personality test or a medical waiver from a doctor. Of note, in many cases more restrictive weapon licenses will not be given to individuals who have not had any previous weapons licenses. Regardless of which use the individuals may use the firearms for whichever purpose they choose (ex. collector’s pieces may be used for hunting).

Concealed-carry is not legal in Finland without extenuating circumstances such as being an armed guard or police officer. Weapon licenses have not been issued for the purpose of self-defense since 1998 and this cannot be the stated reason for purchasing a firearm.

There are 12 categories for different types of weapons with sub-categories for method of operation but this distinction essentially just breaks down the amount of scrutiny to obtain the respective license. Individuals may only purchase ammunition for weapons currently in their possession.

Firearms must be transported unloaded in some sort of closed case. Storage requirements vary based on the type of weapon and caliber of ammunition and can be subject to inspection but this is rare. Weapons may be lent to friends and family, provided the weapon is of a lesser category than weapons currently owned by the receiving person.

7. Italy


Photo courtesy of Eiliv-Sonas Aceron on Unsplash

Firearm licenses in Italy are issued by the national police. Individuals seeking a license are subject to a background check, drug test, and a minor test to demonstrate competence. Once a permit is obtained and a weapon is purchased, it is required to be self-registered within three days to the local police.

Individuals without special collectors permits in Italy are limited to three non-sporting ‘common’ firearms, 12 separate sporting weapons (rifles or handguns), and eight weapons made before 1890. As with the United States, black powder weapons are not regulated. There is no limit on the number of hunting rifles owned. Ammunition is limited to 200 rounds for handguns and 1600 rounds for rifles.

Semi-automatic firearms are legal, provided they are not in a NATO military caliber (7.62×51 and 5.56×45). Of note, .223 and .308 Winchester chambered firearms are legal. 9×19 is illegal to own for pistol use but it is legal for rifle use, creating a strong market for other 9mm calibers such as 9×21. Fully-automatic firearms and suppressors are illegal.

Concealed-carry permits do exist but are difficult to obtain. Typically, they are only issued to security guards or others who can demonstrate a threat to their life. Open-carry is generally considered illegal.

Weapons must be unloaded and in a case when being transported. Both sporting weapons and hunting weapons must be transported to the location to which they will be used directly from where they are stored.

Italy has a modest gun cultures with about 1/10th of the population owning a firearm, which is rather high for a European-union nation.

6. Panama

Prospective gun-owners in Panama are subjected to a background check and drug tests. Once a license is obtained, firearms of any caliber or barrel length (including short-barreled rifles and shotguns) may be purchased. The main issue is that the permit takes a substantial amount of time to obtain.

Open-carry is forbidden but concealed carry is allowed in most places once an individual obtains a separate permit with the same requirements as a standard firearm license, save for one must be 21 years old to apply.

Concealed-carry is allowed in most areas throughout the country. There are no specific storage requirements or transport requirements in Panama. Fully-automatic weapons and suppressors are illegal.

Gun ownership is not common among the population. Ranges along with places to obtain firearms and ammunition are rare. The length of time required to obtain a permit and the lack of any real gun-culture are what keep Panama lower on the list.

5. Switzerland


Swiss SG 550. Standard rifle of the Swiss armed forces. These are common among the civilian populace who are able to purchase their service rifle following their military service. Courtesy of Rama, from Wikimedia Commons Courtesy of Rama,

Swiss gun laws are commonly cited as examples of how a nation with loose gun control can still have low crime rates. Without going into the politics of it, the laws are more restrictive than often believed. Weapons are issued to members of the Swiss Army but these firearms have strict rules on how they are stored and what they can be used for.

The Swiss government encourages marksmanship training outside the military and many state-sponsored ranges exist. While restrictions exist, there is little stigma seen with firearm ownership in Switzerland and the laws are generally enforced on a shall-issue basis.

Swiss gun owners must apply for a permit to own firearms and as with most other nations, criminal history or diagnosed mental issues result in disqualification. Foreigners living as permanent residents are also allowed to obtain firearms permits.

Weapons transfers must be recorded in writing as part of a signed contract that must be retained by both parties after the sale and then submit to the weapons registration bureau.

Automatic firearms are illegal but members of the Swiss Army may keep their service weapons following their exit from service assuming they obtain the proper permits and the weapon is converted from full to semi-automatic.

Concealed-carry permits are not issued to average citizens and are only given if an individual can state a specific and practical need to carry a weapon on their person (i.e security guards). Individuals seeking these permits must also pass further background checks as well as weapon proficiency tests. These permits are issued for a specific firearm and can be revoked at any time.

Weapons must be transported unloaded using the shortest reasonable route and the individual transporting the weapon cannot stop anywhere along the way. Ammunition cannot be transported inside of a magazine or with a weapon. Of note, members of the Army are allowed to utilize their service rifles on private ranges in their free time.

4. Canada


Individuals seeking to purchase a firearm must pass a safety course with written test, background check, and an interview. Firearms are separated into three categories: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.

Non-restricted firearms include long guns, both semi-automatic and non-semi-automatic, over 26 inches with a minimum 18.5 inch barrel. Restricted firearms include handguns over 4.1 inches and any long-gun that does not meat the non-restricted criteria.Only non-restricted firearms may be used for hunting or at outdoor ranges. Restricted firearms are limited to private ranges and require a special permit to transport.

Prohibited firearms are anything else and other weapons not allowed to be owned by civilians under normal circumstances. These include pistols under 4.1 inches, most Saturday-night-special cartridges,  fully-automatic weapons, rifle magazines over 5 rounds, and pistol magazines over 10 rounds.

While on paper the laws appear to be somewhat restrictive, Canada is by no means a terrible country to be a gun owner.  With a steady supply of Russian surplus and Chinese imports, there is a wide variety of firearms that can’t be obtained in the United States.

The restricted classification is often assigned to various weapons arbitrarily but there is a strong market for loophole weapons that can count as non-restricted while still maintaining the features of a restricted counterpart (the type 81 and the VZ58 as alternatives to the AK, for example).

Storage requirements do exist.  In general, the firearms must be stored in a secure locker or safe with a trigger lock and bolts removed. These requirements are stricter for the rare instance where prohibited firearms are owned by a civilian. Transporting restricted or prohibited arms requires a transportation permit.

There is no concealed carry for personal protection from humans but hunters and outdoorsman can obtain a special permit for the carrying of a firearm for defense from animals.

Of note, there are provisions in place for Americans to bring their firearms into Canada for up to 60 days, provided it does not fall into the prohibited category.

3. Serbia

Yugoslavian PAP M59/66 SKS. Rifles like this are common on the civilian market in Serbia. Courtesy of Shaocaholica, from Wikimedia Commons

Serbian firearm laws are rather relaxed for a European nation. Firearms are available to any adult over the age of 18 with a firearms permit. Applicants must be able to pass a criminal background check and mental examination and any prior history in these areas will result in the denial of their permit.

Pistol permits are more rarely issued and applicants are subject to further investigation.

Once permits are obtained, firearms may be freely purchased and there is not a limit on the number owned. Firearms are not registered in the traditional sense but sales and transfers are tracked by the police. Individuals may only purchase ammunition for weapons they currently own and are restricted to .50 BMG and below.

Firearms must be unloaded and secured in a safe location when not in use. Concealed carry permits are rarely issued unless an individual is able to demonstrate a compelling threat against their life. Firearms must be transported unloaded.

Fully automatic weapons and suppressors are only available by special permit, which are rarely issued. There are not specific limits on barrel length. As with the US, antiques and black powder firearms are able to be purchased freely and are not tracked by the government.

2. Czech Republic

The Czech Republic has some of the loosest restrictions as far as what it’s citizens are allowed to own in the world. Semi-automatic firearms are legal with a class B permit that must be obtained from the police. A use must be declared (such as hunting or collecting). These permits are good for 12 months and are shall-issue if an individual passes the proper background checks.

Fully automatic firearms and suppressors along with armor-piercing, full-metal jacket (FMJ), and hollow point ammunition are considered class A weapons and require special authorization to own, but are technically not illegal. One must demonstrate a valid need (such as a security guard) to obtain the permits to own these. There are no limits on magazine size, caliber, or barrel length.

Concealed carry is legal with a permit on a shall-issue basis. No credible threat to the life has to be demonstrated to obtain the permit. In general, using firearms to defend one’s life is legal if the use is of absolute necessity. Of note, Czechs can carry up to two firearms on their person. The carry of non-firearm weapons is also allowed without a permit but the use of these items in crimes will result in harsher sentences.

The Czech Republic has specific laws as to how firearms must be stored if an individual owns 2 or more with further restrictions implemented at 10, and 20 firearm. There are similar regulations for ammunition.

1. Pakistan

Courtesy of Bezerk86 , from Wikimedia Commons

While often ignored, the gun-laws in Pakistan are rather loose compared to most of the world. Gun laws in the tribal areas are even less restrictive, allowing for heavy weapons to be privately owned. Gun ownership is common and is a strong component of the national identity and culture going back to the founding of the nation. With the exception of the gun licensing and prohibitions on transfers, Pakistan quite possibly has better gun laws than even the United States.

In the majority of Pakistan, there are two main types of gun license that must be obtained prior to the purchase of a firearm. The first is the non-prohibited bore. The non-prohibited bore allows for the purchase most semi-automatic or single shot rifles, shotguns, and pistols. The prohibited bore license is for fully-automatic weapons and other heavy ordnance. There are no restrictions on caliber.

Once a license is obtained, weapons can only be purchased from federally licensed dealers as private sales are prohibited. Weapon transfer records are maintained and reported to the local governments but this practice is inconsistently enforced between provinces. Concealed-carry is legal with a standard gun license. Open-carry is illegal but rarely enforced outside of cities.

In the certain federally-administrated tribal areas of the Khyber Pkhtunkhwa province, already well known for its illicit arms manufacturing by “certain groups,” heavy weapons to include light/heavy machine-guns, anti-tank weapons, grenades, and indirect-fire weapons are permitted to be owned by private citizens and organizations.

You may also like...