Report: Nearly 400 Million Civilian-Owned Guns in America

Civilians own 100 times as many guns as the military, 400 times as many as police

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June 21, 2018

A report published this month found civilians in the United States own almost 400 million guns, outpacing every other civilian population, police, or military force in the world.

The Small Arms Survey estimates there are 393,300,000 civilian-owned firearms in the United States. The survey, performed by the Graduate Institute of Geneva, estimated the United States military has about 4.5 million firearms. It put the number of firearms owned by police throughout the United States at just over 1 million.

That means American civilians own nearly 100 times as many firearms as the U.S. military and nearly 400 times as many as law enforcement.

Federal Bureau of Investigation background check records suggest that civilians bought more than 2 million guns in May alone, which means civilians purchase more than double the number of firearms owned by police departments. The number of gun-related civilian background checks in May and April, at over 4.7 million, is greater than the number of firearms currently owned by the American military.

The FBI reported processing more than 25.2 million gun-related civilian background checks in 2017, which is more than the 22.7 million guns the Small Arms Survey estimates are currently held by every law enforcement agency in the world combined. Between 2012 and 2017, the FBI reported conducting more than 135 million civilian gun checks—more than the 133 million guns the Small Arms Survey estimates are in all the world's military stockpiles.

The Small Arms Survey estimated there are about 1 billion firearms currently in circulation throughout the world. By its estimate, about 85 percent are owned by civilians and American civilians own nearly 40 percent of all the guns in the world. Researchers said worldwide firearms ownership was up since the last time they studied the issue about a decade ago.

"At the end of 2017 there were approximately 1,013 million firearms in the 230 countries and autonomous territories of the world, 84.6 per cent of which were held by civilians, 13.1 per cent by state militaries, and 2.2 per cent by law enforcement agencies," the authors of the survey said. "The 2017 combined global total of 1,013 million firearms is higher than the previously published Small Arms Survey global total of 875 million firearms in 2006, an increase of 15.7 per cent for all identified firearms. Much of this change is due to an increase of 32 per cent in the estimated civilian-held firearms total. Reported global totals for the law enforcement and military categories show net decreases, mostly due to changes in estimating Procedures."

Though the United States greatly surpasses every other country in terms of civilian gun ownership—the next closest is India with about 70 million civilian-owned guns—it is only fifth in military and police stockpiles. Despite a population about 40 percent the size of the United States, Russia leads the world in both categories. Russia has about 2.4 times as many firearms held by law enforcement agencies than the United States and about 6.7 times as many firearms held by its military.

The Small Arms Survey is one of the most widely cited estimates for global gun ownership. Its findings, however, are not exact. It uses a variety of sources including government data on the number of registered guns, U.N. reports on the number of military firearms held by each country, surveys on the number of firearms owners, expert estimates, and other sources to determine the number of guns in each category.

The FBI's gun-related civilian background check numbers are considered the most reliable indicator of gun sales in the United States. Similarly, they do not represent an exact one-to-one comparison to gun sales for a variety of reasons.

Published under: Guns