"The man who knows what freedom means will find a way to be free."
-F.A. "Baldy" Harper
Update 5/5/14: We are pleased to announce that the 2014 Gun Freedom Index data has been released!
Welcome to the Free Existence Gun Rights Index. This index represents gun rights (that is, the legality of purchase and possession of pistols, rifles, shotguns, fully-automatic weapons, and suppressors, the legality of accessible home storage of at least one firearm for self-defense, and the legality of open and concealed carry of firearms) worldwide, scored by individual country (although see the comment on federalist systems, below; each US state has also been scored). This index is a rough guide to gun rights and gun laws around the world, and was first compiled in 2009 for inclusion in the Free Existence Freedom Index, a freedom meta-index which was limited by the lack of a comprehensive resource for the quantification of worldwide gun-related freedoms.
Scale used by the Free Existence Gun Rights Index:
Each score is comprised of three separate scores. The base score pertains to basic legality of the most freely-available class of firearm, along with any associated licensing, registration, and storage requirements. More specifically, the base score measures whether there is a class of gun which may be legally purchased and possessed free of registration, licensing, or secure storage requirements which may render the firearm inaccessible for self-defense. The Carry sub-scale pertains to the legality of open carry and concealed carry of a loaded firearm for defensive purposes. The final sub-scale pertains to the legality of fully-automatic weapons (a.k.a. machine guns), sawed-off rifles and shotguns, and suppressors (a.k.a. "silencers").
Explanation of base scale:Criteria:
4.0 Some types of firearms are legal to possess with no license/registration required, and no locked storage requirement.
3.0 Some types of firearms are legal to possess, but subject to licensing/registration or guns must be kept locked up.
2.0 Some types of firearms are legal to possess, but subject to licensing/registration and guns must be kept locked up.
0.0 All firearm possession is illegal.
(Add 0.5, or .3 in the case of the 'carry' sub-score, if enforcement is lax)
Explanation of Carry sub-scale:Criteria:Concealed Carry component
+1.8 points Unrestricted right to carry a loaded, concealed firearm (no permit is required)
+1.2 points Restricted, but generally possible to legally carry a loaded, concealed firearm (e.g., a permit/license is required in a "shall issue" jurisdiction)
+0.6 points Restricted, but potentially possible to legally carry a loaded, concealed firearm (e.g., a permit/license is required in a "may issue" jurisdiction, or in a "shall issue" jurisdiction with unduly burdensome permit requirements)
(But +0.25 if concealed carry in vehicle is allowed without a permit)
Open Carry component
+1.2 points Unrestricted right to openly carry a loaded firearm (no permit/license is required)
+0.6 points Restricted, but generally possible to legally, openly carry a loaded firearm (e.g., a permit/license is required)
Explanation of Full Auto sub-scale:Criteria:
+3 points Unrestricted purchase and ownership of fully automatic weapons, suppressors, and short-barreled rifles and shotguns, no registration required
+2 points Unrestricted purchase and ownership of fully automatic weapons, suppressors, or short-barreled rifles or shotguns, with a national registry of owners
+1 point Restricted, but generally possible to purchase and own fully automatic weapons, suppressors (a.k.a. silencers), or short-barreled rifles or shotguns
Margin of error: +/- 1.5 index points due to some reliance on anecdotal references (due to lack of availability of complete, primary English language legal sources for some countries)
FAQ Question: Is there a way to view and/or sort the Gun Rights Index data without downloading the spreadsheet?
Answer: Due to budget constraints, the Gun Freedom Index only undergoes a major update every two to three years. However, legislative changes that have occurred since the Gun Freedom Index was created in 2009 have a year associated with them in the spreadsheet, e.g., "As of October 2010...", and thus interested parties could reconstruct intermediate year data using the two adjacent years' indices.
Question: How does the Gun Rights Index handle countries with a restrictive law governing issue X, but with very low or non-existent enforcement of that law?
Answer: We rank countries with restrictive, but ignored, laws on the books significantly lower than countries without such laws. However, such disparities do bring up a difficult question, and one which we frequently grapple with. In a world of perfect data availability, we would be able to take day-to-day enforcement trends into account and factor them perfectly into the index score for a given country. However, this presents a variety of real-world challenges.
First, it is arguable that a jurisdiction that is free only because of lack of enforcement of a certain set of laws does not have stable, enduring freedom. In many such cases, it may be unwise to count on the executive branch continuing to overlook scofflaws. Tomorrow, that same circumstance may be used to selectively prosecute political enemies of the state. (This is why we never add more than 0.5 points for a nation with lax enforcement of a given law, no matter how lax that enforcement is.) Further, such a condition may be a sign of arbitrary and capricious enforcement or excessive discretionary power in the hands of law enforcement officials, which in any case is not an equitably distributed form of freedom. Naturally, the degree of corruption in the country's law enforcement also comes into play when trying to predict how free the citizen is to act.
Secondly, it is extremely difficult to quantify enforcement in a given country at any given time. We operate with limited financial resources, and even if it were possible for us to come up with a reliable and objective inter-country measure of something as subjective (and culturally-dependent) as a perception of frequency of enforcement of a law, it would probably require travel to many far-flung countries to conduct first-hand interviews of statistically significant samples of the population to create this type of perception-based index.
The 2014 Gun Rights Index is, to a limited extent, based on news story citations and anecdotal data because of the limited availability of complete, English-language, primary legal references. All citations are provided, in the case of non-primary sources, and the reader is invited to make his or her own judgements about the validity of the sources.
Question: How do the Gun Rights Index assess countries operating under federalist systems (e.g., the EU, the USA, etc.)
Answer: Coming up with an accurate quantitative value in any federalist system presents a slight challenge. For example, imagine that a fictitious country is comprised of 50 states operating semi-autonomously under a single federal government. Further, imagine that this country has no restrictions on gun ownership at the federal level, but gun ownership is heavily regulated by each and every one of the state governments.
One possible approach might be to quantify only the laws of the federal government. However, the resulting index score would be misleading; the country's index would indicate that it was one of the most free countries in the world with regard to gun ownership rights, and yet a person who moved there would be unable to realize anything close to this chimeric freedom score.
Another approach might be to simply compute each rating based on the most free state within the country. This is also problematic; one state may allow machine guns and concealed carry without licensing, and yet that same state could have a 50% income tax rate on top of a federal income tax. Once we try to combine scores for the two issues into an average, we again have a chimeric basket of liberties that would be impossible to realize for someone seeking to live there.
The ideal approach would be to individually analyze each state's laws, and then compute indices for the nationally binding laws of the federal government plus the laws of the state government. This is a very labor-intensive approach, and data relating to the laws of the various states, territories, and municipalities around the world would be difficult to come by, let alone analyze and score. (Note, however, that we have endeavored to do this for the United States gun laws due to the relative ease with which the relevant state legal data can be accessed.)
Since the research team at Free Existence has limited financial and human resources at present, we plan to selectively break out exemplary states with particularly high or low degrees of each type of freedom (e.g., British Columbia in our Drug Freedom Index), and then only when we have convenient access to relevant legal texts. Yes, this is a bit of a cop out, and we apologize for that.
Reminder: All contents of this site, including translations, are automatically copyrighted by virtue of the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works. Fair use exceptions do apply to the Freedom Index, and scholastic dissemination is encouraged!