Update: The following look at gun culture around the world was originally written following the shooting of Gabrielle Giffords in January, 2011. But as U.S. gun culture is once again the subject of national debate following the killing of 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, it is unfortunately relevant once again.
In the wake of last weekend's shooting of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 19 other people in Tucson, Arizona, lawmakers are once again examining the United States' extremely permissive gun laws. With nearly 90 guns per 100 people according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, America has by far the most robust gun culture on the planet and one of the world's highest rates of gun crime to go along with it. Looking at the next nine countries on that list, however, reveals a very mixed bag. How is it that the world's most gun-crazy countries include some of the most dangerous and the safest?
Guns per 100 residents: 54.8 (All figures: Small Arms Survey 2007)
The culture: Despite new laws in 2005 and 2007 that required guns to be registered and banned them from being carried openly in public, firearms remain a way of life in Yemen. Even with the law, it's still not unusual for Yemeni men to tote AK-47s, pistols, and hunting rifles around town. Bursts of celebratory gunfire are de rigueur at weddings and social events.
Kalashnikovs can typically be purchased at open-air markets for between $500 and $1,500 depending on quality; harder stuff, such as rocket-propelled grenades, can be obtained easily with the right connections.
An estimated 2,000 Yemenis lose their lives every year in gun-related incidents, a disturbingly high number for a country its size. The engrained gun culture perpetuates tribal violence that has been a major source of the instability that plagues Yemen. The country ranks 15th on Foreign Policy's Failed States Index and is considered a terrorist safe-haven by the United States. Because of the large number of unregistered weapons in Yemen, Small Arms Survey's numbers are probably on the low end. Some estimates put the number of guns in Yemen at around two to three per person. Unfortunately, U.S. military assistance to the country hasn't exactly helped matters.