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US gun rights scrutinised after Las Vegas shooting

The latest shooting in Las Vegas, Nevada, which killed at least 59 and injured more than 500 people, has increased pressure on government to review federal and state gun laws.

There are two main federal laws which regulate guns in the US. The National Firearms Act of 1934 prohibits citizens from owning powerful weapons, such as automatic weapons, hand grenades and short-barrelled shotguns, among others. The Gun Control Act of 1968 controls gun commerce.

Stephen Paddock, who has been identified as the gunman, had 17 weapons in his hotel room according to law enforcement officials' statements. He owned another 18 weapons, explosives and large amounts of ammunition in his home in Mesquite, Nevada. A second property of Paddock's is due to be raided by police soon.

At least one of the guns in Paddock's hotel room had been legally modified to allow the shooter to continuously shoot rounds, without it technically being an automatic gun. While automatic guns are illegal, such devices which enable firearms to shoot rounds rapidly, are legal across the US.

In Nevada, a citizen need only present their Nevada ID or other official government-issued identification forms, to be able to purchase a firearm. The firearm also does not need to be registered. It is legal to carry a loaded gun in public as long as it is visible, but one needs a licence to carry a concealed weapon.

To understand just how easy it is to purchase a firearm in the US, compare it with South Africa's gun laws. South Africa has a history of gun-related crime, with authorities trying to curb personal firearm possession.

Applying for a firearm licence in South Africa takes at least three months, and an applicant has to pass a competency test on their knowledge on the Firearms Control Act, 2000, training, practical test, background check and an on-premise inspection by police.

Currently, the US is the leading country in number of firearms per capita, at 112.6 guns per 100 people. Second, at almost half the number of guns per capita of that of the US, is Serbia, at 58.21 guns per 100 hundred people. South Africa comes in at number 48, with 12.7 guns per 100 people.

While Americans reel after the shooting, another country which has come down hard on gun owners is Australia. It's foreign minister has offered to help the US introduce stricter laws after the deadliest mass shooting in American history.

Australia's Julie Bishop spoke overnight to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the issue. There was no comment from Tillerson.

In Australia's case, a mass shooting led directly to the banning of most firearms for personal possession. In an incident known as the Port Arthur massacre, Martin Bryant used a rifle with a 30-shot magazine and a semi-automatic weapon to murder 35 people and wound 23 others.

"What we can offer is our experience," said Bishop.

"Under John Howard, we implemented the national firearms agreement – this prohibited semi-automatic and automatic weapons. We had that national gun buyback scheme. We can share our experience."

The US's attempts at controlling access to firearms has come under pressure from the powerful National Rifle Association of America or NRA. It advocates for gun rights and has been doing so since it was founded in 1871.

Its social media zones were virtually shut down after the Las Vegas shooting, with no updates despite usually tweeting a number of times a day and updating its Facebook page at least twice daily. The NRA has not publicly commented since the Vegas shooting.

The NRA calls itself the "oldest civil rights organisation in America" and opposes any attempts at gun control. It's also regarded as one of the most influential lobby groups in Washington and has stymied all attempts at a Federal response to gun proliferation in the US.

The NRA has opposed a slew of planned legislation after years of serial murders committed with firearms.

For example, in 2004, the NRA opposed renewal of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. This ban expired on September 13 2004 and means that the Las Vegas shooter was actually using a firearm that is used in war, against his fellow citizens.

Reports say Paddock was using an AK-47 which had been altered to allow it to fire in fully automatic mode.

In 2005, then president George W Bush signed into law the NRA-backed Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prevents firearms manufacturers and dealers from being held liable for negligence when crimes have been committed with their products.

Then in 2006 the Disaster Recovery Personal Protection Act prohibited the confiscation of legal firearms from citizens during states of emergency.

In 2014 the NRA in Pennsylvania sued three cities: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, which had banned gun possession for those who were found to be at risk of harming themselves or others.

It also sued the cities for their laws which required that those who owned guns had to report these stolen to the police within 24 hours after the discovery of theft.

Here is a recent list of the US's mass shootings in the last 24 months:

October 1 2017 – 59 killed more than 500 injured. The incident is the worst mass killing in US history.

June 5 2017 – 5 fellow workers killed by John Neumann in Orlando, Florida, who was fired from his job.

Jan 6 2017 – 5 killed, 6 injured when Esteban Santiago, a 26-year-old Iraq war veteran from Anchorage, Alaska, apparently opened fire on people at the baggage claim area after retrieving a gun from his luggage.

Sept 23 2017 – 5 killed when 20-year-old Arcan Cetin opens fire at Macy's shoppers with a .22 Ruger rifle he stole from his stepfather.

June 14 2016 – 3 killed when 38-year-old Jimmy Lam began shooting at an employee meeting and targeted specific co-workers using a stolen assault-style pistol.

June 12 2016 – 49 killed, 58 injured in Orlando, Florida, after a gunman stormed into a packed gay nightclub called the Pulse. He was preliminarily identified as 29-year-old Omar Mateen.

Dec 2 2015 – 14 killed, 22 wounded at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino. by US-born Syed Rizwan Farook and Pakistan national Tashfeen Malik.

As shown by the data above, more guns has not necessarily translated to a safer country. The number of guns in the US has doubled between 1968 and 2011.

Since 2001, America has been ranked in the top 15 countries with the highest violent crimes in the world.

South Africa was ranked in the top 2 in 1995 and it is now lying 7th. During this period of decline in violent crimes, gun regulations had also increased making it more difficult to obtain a firearm.

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