Cornering the Market on Guns in America

While we frequently hear stories about the pervasiveness of gun ownership in the United States, we rarely see a comparison to gun ownership rates in the rest of the world.  Thanks to the 2018 edition of the Small Arms Survey we have a good idea of how many small arms are privately owned by civilians in 56 nations across the globe.

The authors of the survey used the following sources to calculate their final estimate of civilian firearms ownership:

1. Where relevant national statistics were available, they were used to establish the number of registered firearms. If only the number of persons licensed to own a fire- arm was available, this number served as a minimum estimate for registered firearms, with the assumption that each person with a licence owns at least one firearm.

2. If population surveys were available, a mean estimate of the number of firearms was calculated, using the most recent reliable survey of households and individuals in each country/territory. Each estimate was then adjusted for annual increase to make results comparable and aligned to the reporting year.

3. Expert estimates were analysed and mean estimates of the number of civilian firearms in each country/territory were produced. Each estimate was then adjusted for annual increase to the reporting year, making up for the difference between the year of the original estimate and the reporting year. Highest and lowest expert estimates were discarded if they were too extreme.

4. Survey- and expert-based mean estimates were averaged out for each country/territory, if they were available.

5. Attrition (known actions that would deflate numbers) since the reference year was considered; that is, any known figures were deducted related to civilian disarmament, firearms collection programmes, seizures, destruction, etc. from the mean estimate derived from expert assessments and survey-based estimates.

6. In countries/territories where no information from sources (1), (2), or (3) was available, firearms numbers were estimated using analogous rates from comparable countries and territories where the research team, guided by available research and media reporting, appraised whether analogous comparisons were plausible.

The authors also assumed that the annual change in total civilian ownership of at least one percent per year was the same in each nation with the exceptions of the United States where gun ownership rates are documented as being higher than 1 percent and Japan where gun ownership rates are documented as being lower than 1 percent.

The authors of the study concluded the following for the end of 2017:

1.) There were approximately 857 million civilian-owned firearms throughout the world.

2.) Approximately 100 million or 12 percent of the total civilian firearms were registered.

3.) Law enforcement owned 22.7 million firearms.

4.) Military forces owned 133 million firearms.

5.) Annual gun ownership rates increased by 4.16 percent in the United States in recent years.

Here is a table showing the 25 nations with the most civilian-owned firearms, both legal and illicit:

The authors also found that national gun ownership rates per 100 residents varied widely by nation as shown on this table:

In both cases, the United States comes out far ahead of its peers when it comes to both total civilian gun ownership and civilian gun ownership rates, in fact, the United States has the distinction of having 45.9 percent of the world’s total inventory of civilian-owned guns with the United States having 4.3 percent of the world’s total population.

Let’s take a closer look at the United States.  Here is a graphic showing the number of firearms acquired on an annual basis by type going back to 2000 (in millions):

Firearms sales patterns have changed dramatically over the past decade with pistols and semi-automatic rifle sales growing at far higher rates than other types of firearms, in fact, in 2012, 13 percent of all American purchases of firearms were semi-automatic rifles.

Let’s close with three additional graphics from Statista.  Here is a graph showing the percentage of U.S. households that own firearms:

Here is a graph showing the number of registered weapons by state:

Here is a graph showing the number of firearms manufactured in the United States in 2015 by category:

In case you don’t have a calculator handy, a total of 9,356,661 firearms were manufactured in the United States in 2015.

I will let you draw your own conclusions from the data in this posting, however, it is undeniably an  interesting exercise to put American gun ownership into a global context. 

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