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How Many Guns Are in the U.S.? Likely More Than You Think

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(Photo: NPR)

More guns are clearly being produced these days.  (Photo: NPR)

No one knows for sure how many firearms are in the United States. That’s because we have this thing called freedom that keeps the government from tracking who owns which firearm.

But some folks are still curious.

The go-to number for media outlets has always been “something around 300 million.” Authors who cite these estimates rarely provide sufficient evidence for their conclusions, but they usually employ their findings to scare the other people in their anti-gun echo chamber: “That’s one gun for every person! It’ll be the Wild Wild West before you know it!”

Fear-mongering aside, many in the pro-firearms community are interested in working out a real, fact-based number, and one weapons expert thinks he has it: between 412 and 660 million.

These numbers come from a former Special Forces weapons man who runs a blog appropriately titled “WeaponsMan.”

He arrived at his final estimate by doing something no journalist has ever done before: looking at actual government statistics.

The number of background checks have also skyrocketed. While not a one-for-one indicator of gun sales, it's a pretty good bellwether for the firearms industry. (Photo: NPR)

The number of background checks have also skyrocketed. While not a one-for-one indicator of gun sales, it’s a pretty good bellwether for the firearms industry. (Photo: NPR)

Turns out, the ATF runs a firearms database called Access 2000 or A2K. Firearms manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers can voluntarily participate in the program by inputting their data. The ATF uses this data to trace firearms that have been used in crimes. Gun makers benefit because if they’ve already inputted their data, the ATF never has to bother them about a trace.

Right now there are 66 FFLs in the system. Those 66 FFLs have reported 252,433,229 individual serial numbers since 1999. That means in the last 16 years over 250 million new firearms have been introduced to the US market by only 66 firearms manufacturers, importers, and wholesalers.

As WeaponsMan points out, that 250 million doesn’t count FFLs who do not participate in A2K, all the firearms made between 1899 and 1999, all firearms imported between 1899 and 1999, and all firearms made or imported since Oct. 2015.

WeaponsMan does some fancy mathy stuff (that’s the technical term) to reach his final estimate, which you can read here. But it’s clear to anyone with the smallest amount of common sense that the old 300 million number needs to be reconsidered. Whether the real number is on the low end or the high end of WeaponsMan’s estimate, there are hundreds of millions more firearms in the United States than previously thought.

(Photo: NPR)

Yet, this study indicates that gun ownership per household is down.  Hmmm, something is rotten in Denmark. Could it be that gun owners are increasingly wary about sharing the details of the personal collection with pollsters?  (Photo: NPR)

But where is the Wild Wild West? With all the firearms floating around (two for every person!), the country should have long ago devolved into chaos and anarchy.

At least, you might think that if you’re in the anti-gun echo chamber. The Second Amendment community knows better. They know that the vast majority of firearms owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens. They know that more guns do not equal more crime, and they know that firearms don’t kill—people do.

If WeaponsMan’s estimate is correct, the American people have amassed a vast arsenal of privately-held firearms while simultaneously maintaining a record-low crime rate. These numbers blow the old estimate out of the water—along with the anti-gun rhetoric surrounding it.

{ 36 comments… add one }
  • Gary O'Dell November 6, 2016, 10:31 am

    If you don’t get out the vote for Donald you are just playing right into that old dried up prunes hands. So please for the sake of God get out the vote.

  • WEDGE November 5, 2016, 11:35 am

    Are US military firearms represented in that 400,000 export count? I wonder. IF the political elite really want us disarmed, they sure have a funny way of doing it.

  • James McLaughlin November 4, 2016, 11:30 pm

    Could I get a list of the bodies of water and approximate location of those guns losses. I’m a certified diver and would like to do a little scrap iron recovery!

    • Bill in Lexington,NC November 11, 2016, 9:20 pm

      I’m not a diver at all … but can handle a magnet and some rope. 😉

  • Gregory Kilburn November 4, 2016, 4:53 pm

    Take away people who protect the politicians and the rich and famous with guns. See how that goes over!! It’ll go over like a lead balloon.

  • Edward Allen November 4, 2016, 2:51 pm

    Another thing to through off the number of fire arms = back ground checks. If I’m going to purchase a firearm, I’m going to wait until I am ready to purchase more than one. At one point, I purchased 4. Why would I want to pay the fee 4 times, when I can do so ones and save $100?

    • Edward Allen November 4, 2016, 2:52 pm

      Sorry, throw off the numbers.

    • Dave Hicks November 5, 2016, 6:49 pm

      Edward Allen Where do you live that you pay for a back ground check ? The only fee where I live is a FFL transfer fee .That’s for a firearm I order and the FFL holder handles the records.

  • JOHN T. FOX November 4, 2016, 1:58 pm

    IN THE COUNTY WHERE I GREW UP THERE WERE 7 GUNS PER PERSON ON AVG. WHEN YOU CONSIDER WAR TROPHY’S, FAMILY HEIRLOOMS AND COLLECTIONS, THE NUMBER BEGINS IN 1970 AROUND 300,000,000 GUNS. SINCE THEN, YOU CAN ADD ABOUT 5,000,000 A YEAR SINCE THEN. SO ADD AROUND ANOTHER 250,000,000 TO THAT NUMBER AND THERE ARE OVER HALF A BILLION GUNS IN AMERICA! AND TENS OF TRILLIONS OF ROUNDS OF AMMO!

  • Mike Watkins November 4, 2016, 1:18 pm

    There is more common sense and wisdom in the comments to this article, than I’ve seen in one place in a long time.

    Washington D.C., are you listening?

    HELL NO! And that’s why a non-politician like Donald Trump is getting so much support, despite his flaws. We the People are neither blind to Trump’s flaws, nor are we a bunch of ignorant racists. We are simply TOTALLY DISGUSTED with how our elected government has failed to represent US, the working folks who keep this Nation afloat.

  • Vito Corleone November 4, 2016, 12:50 pm

    Any firearms I may have mentioned I owned, were lost in a terrible fishing accident….

    • Ron Wilson November 4, 2016, 3:43 pm

      Sounds like a fish story to me.

    • Bill in Lexington,NC November 11, 2016, 9:24 pm

      I was hiking when I fell into a river. When I surfaced, 7 rifles were missing. What a tragedy … all my Cheetos got wet!

  • Leighton Cavendish November 4, 2016, 12:23 pm

    Yep…lot of people “lost” their guns…and plenty do not give an answer to the question…or just plain lie…
    Plenty of households with no guns as well…by choice…
    Nobody is forcing people to have a gun…or vote…but both are rights
    The 2nd is the only amendment that specifically states: shall not be infringed…and it also is written the right of THE PEOPLE…not the right of the militia. ALL the rights are personal rights…even this one.

  • marshall johnston November 4, 2016, 9:40 am

    During World War II Admiral Yamamoto was asked why he didn’t attack the West Coast after Pearl Harbor his answer, Their are more guns in America than blades of grass.

    • Bob November 4, 2016, 10:06 am

      I believe it was “there is a gun behind every blade of grass,”

      • Bill in Lexington,NC November 11, 2016, 9:26 pm

        I believe that quote was never actually traced to Yamamoto … although it does match his sentiments expressed elsewhere.

  • Clifford Holcomb November 4, 2016, 8:07 am

    The Wild, Wild West claim comes only from those who have never studied history and want to spread FUD (Fear, Uncertaincy and Doubt). The WWW is an invention of Hollywood film and TV. Per capita, very few gunfights happened. As in the news where ‘If it bleeds, it leads’, the movies are there to make money. There are Probably more “shootouts” each month in Chicago than happened in Dodge City or any of the other historic gunfight towns of the Old West in a whole year.

    • Edward Allen November 4, 2016, 2:56 pm

      Considering how many have died in Chicago, I would say that is a safe bet. Probably a decades worth of shootings in Chicago each day. But that is what happens when sheeple keep voting for the same politicians.

  • MagnumOpUS November 4, 2016, 7:01 am

    Molon Labe!

    • Bill in Lexington,NC November 11, 2016, 9:26 pm

      Moulin Rouge!

  • Joe McHugh November 4, 2016, 6:33 am

    That chart showing the gun owning households on the decline is accurate. Take my own experience for example. On a recent canoe fishing trip, I suffered a capsizing event. All of my pistols, shotguns and rifles, including my spare ammunition went to the bottom in very deep water. Fortunately, I was able to save my fishing gear, but we lost our ability to defend ourselves from any rabid ducks that we might have encountered.

    I thought about using my insurance policy to purchase replacement firearms, but then I remembered the wise council offered by Governor Andrew Cuomo, here in New York State. He declared that guns in the home cause tragic childhood accidents and that eventually, gun ownership always leads to criminal behavior. I really respect Governor Cuomo and I declined to buy any more guns. So add me to the 69% of the households in America that don’t have private firearms.

    Dear readers, you believe my little tale of woe don’t you?

    • jstert November 4, 2016, 8:01 am

      gee, what an odd coincidence! i had a tragic boating accident too, lost it all. and i go out of my way to tell everyone, especially telephone pollsters, that im happy to be rid of evil firearms with their telepathic powers, and that hillary clinton is the most trustworthy and kind politician of the ages.

      • jimbo November 4, 2016, 8:52 am

        You think that’s bad – I had the same thing happen to my guns, but also lost all my gold!

        • perlcat November 4, 2016, 11:06 am

          I always lie to pollsters. A pollster is no better than a thief asking you where you keep your money. They take your private information, which you give them for free, package it, and sell it to people that use that against you. When asked who I vote for, if they listen real hard, they can hear me flip a quarter. If everybody did that, then politicians would actually have to do their jobs instead of ignoring the communities that are solidly for or against them and spend all their money on the close races. All’s they’ve accomplished in the past 60 years is a Balkanization of a united country.

      • Lubbockite November 4, 2016, 10:02 am

        Wow, this is truly an epidemic! There isn’t much for deep water here in Lubbock, but lightning seems to have struck several times. Those canoes are death traps! We need to call for establishment of a new Federal registration program to register and monitor canoes, especially black ones with automatically paddles set in multiple clips along the side boards, hand grips at the front, and a fishing spear lug in the bow. But outside of getting wet when the canoe foundered in the dark, drifting downstream for numerous miles in a lifejacket without being able to identify any landmarks in the dark, I must say that it is certainly an asset to society that my entire collection, including ammunition, is now rusting out at the bottom of a lake. I guess I didn’t have the weight distributed properly in the canoe.

      • Altoid November 5, 2016, 8:31 am

        I’ve had no boating accidents. But all my firearms were destroyed in a home fire in the mid 1980s. That happens to be true.
        Of course, they’ve never been replaced.

    • TXMechEngr November 4, 2016, 10:10 am

      Same thing happened to me! This is not a coincidence. Was in the Gulf of Mexico and my kayak capsized . Lost all my evil weapons! Guns, ammo, knives, pencils, rocks, spitballs; everything!! I was so glad this happened I was afraid that since I am a law abiding citizen, my weapons would commit a crime. Glad they are at the bottom of the ocean and that they are now in the care of Poseidon. We are safe now.

      • American November 5, 2016, 6:56 pm

        No What happen to me =I became really sick ended up in the hospital for 4 weeks When I go home all the firearms and ammo had to be sold to pay bills.I don’t remember who bought them but he was tall and going bald Oh and he had cash.

    • Bobo November 4, 2016, 10:42 am

      I lived in NY and moved out west and never looked back. If you love to pay crushing real estate taxes and income taxes that’s the place to live. Why don’t you go a step further and put a sign on your lawn “this is a gun free house” to show your support of Cuomo.

      • Joe McHugh November 5, 2016, 8:42 am

        Bobo, in answer to your question about installing a lawn sign, “this is a gun free house”, I considered doing so but then I realized that almost no one in upstate New York admits to owning a gun. Basically, ALL New York residents seem to live in gun free homes. We just feel safer by following Governor Cuomo’s earnest warnings about these “evil” devices. Also, if we did injure a home invader with a gun, he would just sue us for using excessive force against his civil rights. The police in New York frown on shooting to kill, one is supposed to aim for the criminal’s gun, or knife arm. After all, defense lawyers don’t come cheap.

        The liberals in New York City haven’t been able to have guns since 1911 when the Sullivan Act was passed in Albany. Most of those people don’t care about having guns anyway, they only care about getting bigger government checks. There are two groups of citizens in New York City, the welfare people and the rich who have armed body guards.

        I regularly attend monthly meeting at my local Rod and Gun Club. We now learn how to better entice the trout with custom tied fishing flies. Once in a while a person actually brings a .22 caliber rifle to the old shooting range area. Our range is pretty much overgrown with high weeds and shrubs do to neglect. Such people are usually recent arrivals from Texas or Vermont where the Constitution is the guide for firearm ownership. These people usually come to New York State because of job transfers. Almost all of them seek transfers to other states in short order. Perhaps our excessive state taxes and severe winters discourage them?

        I don’t understand the big deal about the Second Amendment. Let’s face it, we can just go to the grocery store to purchase whatever meat we might want, right? Shooting Bambie’s mother is not really necessary.
        (sarc. sw. off)

      • Bill in Lexington,NC November 11, 2016, 9:29 pm

        I put up a sign that said exactly that … with an arrow pointing next door at my gun-fearing neighbor.

  • Joe McHugh November 4, 2016, 6:11 am

    obama and his ilk try to justify gun control as being “reasonable” steps in “fighting” crime. Never let a liberal get away with that rational. “Gun control” is really people control. All Democrat elite, and the RINOs too, fear private ownership of firearms. They instinctively know that they cannot abuse the inherent rights of an armed populous.

    The Founding Fathers didn’t inscribe the Second Amendment into the Bill of Rights to only enable hunting and target shooting.
    George Washington said it best: “A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.”

    • Ram6 November 4, 2016, 9:31 am

      Look at where “gun control” is listed on the way a government can become a socialist dictatorship.

      1) Healthcare — Control healthcare and you control the people (Obamacare exists)
      2) Poverty — Increase the Poverty level as high as possible, poor people are easier to control and will not fight back if you are providing everything for them to live.(Almost 50% of the population is not paying taxes and on government assistance of some kind)
      3) Debt — Increase the debt to an unsustainable level. That way you are able to increase taxes, and this will produce more poverty.(21 Trillion dollars and counting)
      4) Gun Control — Remove the ability to defend themselves from the Government. That way you are able to create a police state.(Attempting at every turn to confiscate our firearms)
      5) Welfare — Take control of every aspect of their lives (Food, Housing, and Income).
      6) Education — Take control of what people read and listen to — take control of what children learn in school.(Public Schools and a co-opted media)
      7) Religion — Remove the belief in the God from the Government and schools.(Already happened)
      8) Class Warfare — Divide the people into the wealthy and the poor. This will cause more discontent and it will be easier to take (Tax) the wealthy with the support of the poor.(Constant railing about rich not paying “their fair share).
      This is taken from “Rules for Radicals” subscribed to in total by Hillary Clinton and the socialist, Democrat liberal establishment. Does any of this sound familiar to you? Electing her and allowing her to further entrench the liberal left wing bureaucracy with her appointments, not to mention at least two Supreme Court Justices, will signal the end of America as we know it. They are hard on the track to confiscate our firearms and she will attempt it through executive order if elected. Congress? “We don’t need no stinkin’ congress” will be her administrations cry.

      • Miles Huggins November 5, 2016, 12:07 am

        Sir i believe you hit it dead nuts dont forget poisoning the food and water supply to dumb down the populace

        • Altoid November 5, 2016, 8:34 am

          Public schools, colleges and universities are doing their fair share as well.

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