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.
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.
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.