(Insider) – The right to keep and bear arms is a longstanding, often glorified right protected by the US Constitution.
Americans own nearly half of all the civilian-owned guns in the world, and on a per capita basis, the US has far more guns than any other nation.
Many countries are awash with guns. Among the nations with the most firearms are Serbia, Yemen, Switzerland, and Saudi Arabia.
But there are only three countries that have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms: Mexico, Guatemala, and the United States. Here’s why.
The United States’ Second Amendment inspired other countries around the world to provide their citizens with the right to own guns — including Bolivia, Costa Rica, Colombia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Liberia, Guatemala, Mexico, and the US.
All of those countries, excluding Mexico, the US, and Guatemala, have since rescinded the constitutional right to bear arms, The New York Times reported.
Only 15 constitutions (in nine countries) “ever included an explicit right to bear arms,” according to The New York Times.
Just south of the US border, the Mexican government has a strict hold over civilian gun ownership. Although Mexicans have a right to buy a gun, bureaucratic hurdles, long delays, and narrow restrictions make it extremely difficult to do so.
Article 10 of the 1857 Mexican Constitution guaranteed that “every man has the right to keep and to carry arms for his security and legitimate defense.” But 60 years later in 1917, lawmakers amended it following Mexico’s bloody revolution.
During the rewriting of the constitution, the government placed more severe restrictions on the right to buy guns. The law precluded citizens from buying firearms “reserved for use by the military” and forbid them from carrying “arms within inhabited places without complying with police regulations.”
Today, Mexicans still have a right to buy guns, but they must contend with a vague federal law that determines “the cases, conditions, requirements, and places in which the carrying of arms will be authorized.”
In 2012, The New York Times reported that only members of the police or military can buy the largest weapons in Mexico, such as semiautomatic rifles.
“Handgun permits for home protection allow only for the purchase of calibers no greater than .38,” the Times wrote. One man who wanted to buy a pistol had to pay $803.05 for a Smith & Wesson revolver.
Perhaps the biggest hurdle of all is that there is only one shop in the entire country where Mexicans can go to buy guns, and it’s located on a heavily guarded army base in Mexico City. While the store sells 38 guns a day on average, it’s estimated 580 guns are smuggled into the country from the US every day.
Like Mexico, Guatemala permits gun ownership, but with severe restrictions. The right to bear arms is recognized and regulated by article 38 of the current constitution, which was established in 1985.
“The right to own weapons for personal use, not prohibited by the law, in the place of in habitation, is recognized,” the document says. “There will not be an obligation to hand them over, except in cases ordered by a competent judge.”
Although Guatemalans are not allowed to own fully automatic weapons, they are allowed to buy semi-automatic weapons, handguns, rifles, and shotguns if they obtain a permit. Still, that can be difficult.
For example, individuals who want to purchase a gun for private security purposes need approval from the government. They are also limited in how much ammunition they can own, and they must re-apply and re-qualify for their firearm licenses every one to three years, according to GunPolicy.org.
A license also requires proof that the applicant has a clean police record, does not suffer from mental illness, and has not deserted the army or police.
Despite the restrictions, guns are widely available in Guatemala. In fact, it has one of the highest gun ownership rates per capita in Latin America, according to Insight Crime. The same organization also noted that 75% of homicides in Guatemala involve a gun. In 2016, the capital city of Guatemala was ranked the 9th most homicidal in the world.
Although Mexico and Guatemala both have a constitutional right to bear arms, the US is in a league of its own, because it is the only country without any restrictions on gun ownership in its constitution.
The second amendment 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.”
For nearly 200 years, since the words were adopted in 1791, the second amendment was thought to be referring to privileges belonging to the military, according to the The New Yorker. But from the 1970s, the view gradually changed until it solidified in a 2008 Supreme Court decision, which found the second amendment did intend to give individuals the right to bear arms.