Buying a gun: Laws in New Zealand, Australia, United States, and elsewhere

Police secure the area in front of Al Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. (The New York Times: Cornell Tukiri)

In the wake of the terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said she would soon announce new gun laws. While New Zealand's gun laws are not as restrictive as in, say, Australia, those of countries such as the US are far more relaxed. The New York Times listed what it takes to own a gun in several countries.

New Zealand
* Background check (criminal, medical, mental health, domestic violence records)
* Character references
* Interview in person between authorities and applicant's partner or next of kin
* Inspection for firearm storage facilities at home
* A gun safety course

Reuters quoted Radio New Zealand as reporting that more than 99% of applicants for a firearms licence in 2017 were successful. The country, whose population is 5million, has an estimated 1.5 million firearms. Only owners are licensed, not weapons, so there is no monitoring of how many weapons a person may possess. Buying handguns and certain semiautomatic rifles requires a special permit.

* Must join and regularly attend a hunting or shooting club, or be a collector
* Course on firearm safety and operation, written test and practical assessment
* Storage that meets safety regulations
* A review of criminal history, domestic violence, restraining orders and arrest history, with possible interviews of family and community members
* Specific permits for specific types of weapons; wait is of at least 28 days.

These laws are some of the toughest in the world. Australia introduced them after a lone gunman killed 35 people in Port Arthur in 1996 using a semi-automatic AR-15 (the same weapon that was used in Christchurch), Reuters reported. Australia banned semi-automatics, launched a gun amnesty in which tens of thousands of weapons were handed in, and made it much tougher to own them. Gun owners must provide a valid reason for owning a weapon; gun clubs must inform the authorities of inactive members.

United States
* Background check for criminal convictions, domestic violence and immigration status.

Many US states have additional buying restrictions, including waiting periods and expanded background checks. Where these waiting periods do not apply, an application may be cleared in days. Roughly a third of American gun owners buy guns without a background check, which federal law does not require when buying directly from a private seller.

* A firearms class and a written exam, held up to three times a year
* A doctor's certificate of mental fitness and absence of a history of drug abuse
* Firing training (permission for undertaking this course may take up to a month). One-day training class, with a firing test to be cleared
* Interview with police, whom applicant must convince why he or she needs a gun
* Review of criminal history, gun possession record, employment, even personal debt and relationships with friends, family and neighbours
* Application for gunpowder permit
* Certificate from a dealer describing gun
* Hunting licence (if hunting is purpose)
* Gun safe and ammunition locker that meet regulations, to be inspected by police
* An additional background review

* Hunting licence, or reasons why gun needed for self-defence
* A test of relevant laws, handling, first-aid skills
* A doctor's note certifying absence of mental illness or drug history
* All the above before application. After applying, a background check

Many Russian gun buyers skip this process. Illegal guns in Russia, according to The NYT, are estimated to outnumber legal guns 3 to 1.

* Reasons to possess a firearm
* Storage at a gun range, remote hunting ground or pastoral area
* Demonstration of knowledge of safe gun use and storage
* A background check of mental illness, criminal record, domestic violence

In China, most civilians are prohibited from keeping guns inside their homes.

Edited from reports in The NYT and Reuters