In the previous case, U.S. v. Miller (1939), the Court noted: “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a [sawed-off shotgun] at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly, it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment or that its use could contribute to the common defense.” This reaffirmed the "collective right" interpretation of the Amendment that federal courts had taken since 1791.
In fact, no federal appellate court had adopted an "individual right" interpretation of the Amendment until the 2003 case of U.S. v. Emerson. Yet in the Heller case a 5-4 majority of the Supreme Court ruled that, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home." The ruling overturned a long-standing ban on handguns in the District of Columbia. It was the first time in history that a gun control law had been struck down on Second Amendment grounds.
Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, made an important qualification, however. "Like most rights, the Second Amendment right is not unlimited," he stated. "The Court’s opinion should not be taken to cast doubt on long standing prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." My italics.
In one of his first acts as leader, Prime Minister John Howard announced major reforms to Australia's gun control laws just 12 days after 35 people died at the hands of a lone gunman wielding a military-style semi-automatic rifle at a popular tourist spot in Tasmania on April 28, 1996.
In the wave of public revulsion against what became known as the Port Arthur massacre, the move for stricter gun controls was led by Howard, who had taken office just seven weeks earlier and who, in the first few hours after the tragedy, declared himself horrified "at this shocking and senseless act."
He took his anti-gun campaign around the country, at one stage addressing a hostile pro-gun rally wearing a bullet-proof vest. He also oversaw a successful gun "buy-back" scheme that took some 650,000 guns out of circulation.
Australia's eight states and territories got behind legislation that addressed mass shootings: High calibre rifles and shotguns were banned, licensing was tightened and remaining firearms were registered to uniform national standards -- an accomplishment regarded by many in the country as Howard's enduring legacy.
Australia has been compared to the United States for its "frontier mentality." But unlike the U.S., there is no constitutional right to bear arms, gun ownership is markedly lower and American-style gun culture has taken hold in only a few pockets of Australian society -- most notably among the crime gangs operating in the two biggest cities, Sydney and Melbourne.
Finland enjoys a strong tradition of hunting and has a high proportion of gun ownership, with 1.5 million firearms owned in a nation of more than five million people, according to government figures.
Gun control has also been more relaxed here. Until recently anyone aged 15 and over was able to apply for a gun license if they offered a valid reason such as membership of a gun club.
Though gun crime is rare, the country has suffered two major incidents at schools in recent years.
On November 7, 2007, a teenager opened fire with a handgun at his high school in the southern Finnish town of Tuusula, killing eight people before fatally turning the gun on himself.
Police said all of 18-year-old Pekka-Eric Auvinen's victims had multiple gunshot wounds, most to the upper body and head. Some 69 shells and more than 320 unused bullets were found at the scene.
Auvinen, who had no criminal record, obtained a license for the weapon the previous month and regularly practiced sharp-shooting as a hobby at a local range, police said.
The authorities said Auvinen, who police later described as lonely and antisocial (my italics), had posted a series of videos on YouTube featuring guns, with some hinting at the massacre at Jokela High School itself.
The following year, on September 23, the country was numbed by news of another mass shooting. Over the course of 90 minutes, 10 people were fatally shot as Matti Juhani Saari, wearing a ski mask and black fatigues, rampaged through a campus at Kauhajoki city's School of Hospitality in south-western Finland.
The 22-year-old later died in hospital from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.
Chillingly, police revealed Saari had been questioned days before the shooting about a video posted on the internet showing him firing a gun, though no action was taken because he was licensed and had not broken the law.
In the wake of the shootings, the Finnish government moved to issue new guidelines on the use of firearms, particularly handguns and revolvers. New applicants for handgun licenses are now required to show they've been active members of a gun club for one year and be vetted by their doctor and police.
The minimum age for purchasing licenses of short barrel weapons has been raised to 20 -- 18 for hunting rifles. Permits are now valid for a period of five years before being reviewed.