Unexpectedly Intriguing!
June 27, 2018

According to the Small Arms Survey, Americans own 46% of all the firearms that are in civilian hands in the world today.

The Small Arms Survey says 393 million of the civilian-held firearms, 46 percent, are in the United States, which is “more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined.”

“The key to the United States, of course, is its unique gun culture,” the report’s author, Aaron Karp, said at a news conference. “American civilians buy an average of 14 million new firearms every year, and that means the United States is an overwhelming presence on civilian markets.”

The report said the numbers include legal and illegal firearms in civilian hands, ranging from improvised craft weapons to factory-made handguns, rifles, shotguns and, in some countries, even machine guns.

We were curious about the trend for firearm ownership in the U.S., so we tracked down estimates of the total number of firearms in the nation going back to 1994. The estimates are sporadic, where surveys aren't done every year, but the following chart reveals what we found.

Estimated Number of Firearms in Civilian Possession in the United States, 1994 through 2017

Since 2005, the estimated number of civilian firearms in the United States has increased at a steady pace of nearly 10.3 million units per year, or by an average of 2,600 per 100,000 of the non-institutionalized population. These figure would represent the net change in the number of firearms in the U.S., where with Americans buying an average of 14 million per year, suggests that Americans are retiring some 3.7 million firearms per year.

In the next chart, we've calculated the number of firearms for every 100,000 noninstitutionalized Americans.

Estimated Number of Firearms per 100,000 Noninstitutionalized Population in the United States, 1994 through 2017

Here, we discover that 2009 saw the number of firearms in the United States exceed the number of non-institutionalized Americans for the first time, where by 2017, there are 122,674 firearms for every 100,000 Americans.

We next wondered if there would be any correlation between the number of firearms per 100,000 non-institutionalized Americans and the number of firearm-related homicides and suicides in the United States. In the next chart, we've extracted homicide firearm death rate data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control WISQARS database to pair with the available historic firearm estimates data.

Firearm Homicide Deaths per 100,000 Population versus Firearms per 100,000 Population, 1994 - 2017

We were surprised to see no apparent correlation between the rates of firearm-related homicides and the number of firearms, where the number of firearm homicides in the United States would appear to be independent of the number of firearms in civilian hands. The next chart presents what we found when we repeated the analysis with the firearm suicide death rate.

Once again, we see no apparent correlation between the rates of firearm-related suicides and the number of firearms in the U.S., where the number of firearm suicides in the United States would appear to be independent of the number of firearms in civilian hands. We do however note that the rate of firearm-related suicides is about 1.5 times higher than the rate of firearm-related homicide fatalities, which is in keeping with the overall higher incidence of suicides with respect to homicides for all methods.

Note: In the last two charts, we paired the reported firearm homicide and suicide rates for 2016 with the 2017 estimate of firearms per 100,000, since the 2017 homicide and suicide rate data is not yet available at this writing. We anticipate that data for 2017's firearm-related homicides and suicides will become available in September 2018.

References

Karp, Aaron. Estimating Global Civilian-Held Firearms Numbers, Annexe. Small Arms Survey. [PDF Document]. 14 June 2018.

Ingraham, Christopher. There are now more guns than people in the United States. Washington Post. [Online Article]. 5 October 2015.

Krouse, William J. Gun Control Legislation. Congressional Research Service 7-5700. [PDF Document]. 14 November 2012. p. 8.

Small Arms Survey, 2007. Small Arms Survey. [PDF Document]. 2007.

U.S. Census Bureau. Monthly Population Estimates for the Unites States: April 1, 2010 to December 1, 2018. 2017 Population Estimates. [Online Database]. Accessed 25 June 2018.

U.S. Census Bureau. National Intercensal Tables: 2000-2010. Intercensal Estimates of the Resident Population by Sex and Age for the United States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2010. [Excel Spreadsheet]. Accessed 25 June 2018.

U.S. Census Bureau. Statistical Abstract of the United States, 2000. Population: 1960 to 1999. [PDF Document]. 2001.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System Fatal Injury Reports, 1981 to 2016. [WISQARS Database]. Accessed 25 June 2018.

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