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.
The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states: "A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." Supreme Court rulings, citing this amendment, have upheld the right of states to regulate firearms. However, in a 2008 decision confirming an individual right to keep and bear arms, the court struck down Washington DC laws that banned handguns and required those in the home to be locked or disassembled.
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.
Federal law sets the minimum standards for firearm regulation in the United States; however individual states have their own laws,