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U.S. guns: A recent history

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With nearly 1 firearm per person existing in the U.S. -- a higher rate than any other country -- guns are a defining, and controversial, component of American culture. The recent killing of 20 children in a Connecticut elementary has re-energized the debate about gun laws in the U.S., raising questions as to what powers the government has to control firearms. Here is a numerical look at guns and views on guns in America since 1999.

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THE DEMAND
A commonly way to measure the demand of guns, trends in the number of criminal background checks can indicate how many Americans are seeking to legally possess firearms. Although the numbers are seasonal, there has been a significant overall increase in background checks in recent years, despite this period being marked by some of the most notorious mass shootings in U.S. history:

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Despite what appears to be a recent increase in the demand for guns, the percentage of Americans who keep guns in their homes has remained relatively the same over this period, according to Gallup polling data:

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THE PROBLEM
The primary opposition to guns is, needless to say, their use in murder. However as the demand for guns has increased, the overall number of murders in the U.S., including those involving handguns, has gradually declined:

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This trend has corresponded with an increase in the number of Americans who, according to Gallup, believe that handguns -- which make up the biggest percentage of all murder weapons -- should not be banned:

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However, the most recent Gallup poll involving Americans' views on gun laws, taken after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting, shows a dramatic uptick in the percentage of people who want gun laws to be more strict. This recent shift could potentially affect lawmakers' decision to support or oppose new gun control legislation:

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