Gun violence, by the numbers

Do strict gun laws keep Indians safer?

The mass shooting in Orlando shows that lax gun laws can be fatal. In India, where mass shootings are rare, gun ownership laws are much stricter than in the United Sates.

An American man murdered at least 50 people at a club in Orlando, Florida, early Sunday. Mass shootings are common in the U.S. compared with other countries. (AP Photo)

The massacre of at least 50 people in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub on Sunday was only the latest — and deadliest — in a long string of mass shootings in the United States. In America, such mass shootings are as horrific as they are common.

Over the last 50 years, incidents in which gunmen have murdered four or more people have happened more than twice per year, on average. There have been 12 such shootings in 2016 alone.

Despite repeated demands that lawmakers limit access to the deadliest guns, American gun laws remain uncommonly permissive.

Omar Mateen, the shooter in Orlando, legally purchased the assault rifle he used to commit mass murder, according to early reports. Florida allows its citizens to carry concealed weapons after taking a 28-hour gun training course. Mateen possessed such a license.

In India, by contrast, gun laws are strict and gun ownership is rare. India ranks 110th in the world in civilian firearm ownership, with an estimated 4.2 guns per 100 people. America, by contrast, ranks first, with 88.8 guns per 100 people, according to the Small Arms Survey.

In countries where civilian gun ownership is rare, civilian gun deaths are also rare. Conversely, gun deaths are generally more common among armed populations.

Indian law permits citizens to obtain gun licenses, though deadlier weapons like automatic rifles are prohibited. Obtaining a gun license is far more difficult in India than in the United States, where the right to possess guns is protected by the country's constitution and citizens can buy guns without background checks.

Yet gun control advocates say India's strict licensing requirements are undermined by easy access to guns smuggled into the country through porous border areas in the north.

“You don’t have to buy with a license, because guns are so easily available from illegal sources,” said Binalakshmi Nepram, secretary general of the Control Arms Foundation of India. “We feel saddened about what happened in America, but we are also aware that a similar situation can happen in India” unless the government cracks down on weapons smuggling.

Of the 17,488 gun murders that occurred in India from 2010 through 2014, 89 percent were committed with unlicensed guns, according to the National Crime Records Bureau.

Pointing to the low number of murders committed with licensed guns, some say such licenses should be easier to obtain. Recent years have seen the emergence of a number of pro-gun groups who say allowing civilians to legally arm themselves will make them safer.

But Nepram disagrees. “If guns make us safe, America should have been safest nation in world. Yet Orlando has happened, and Sandy Hook, where school children were shot dead, has happened,” she said. “What kind of safety is that?”