Look Left, Look Right, Look at 100 People Around You and There Are Guns for 90 of Them

shotguns2.JPG A new study shows that the U.S. has 90 guns per 100 people. Let me say that again 90 per 100. That makes us the most armed country in the world. As Reuters reports there are other ways to think about firearm ownership: People in the U.S. own 270 million of 875 million arms in the world and of about 8 million firearms made each year, 4.5 million are bought in the U.S. Leaving aside the whole gun control question, exactly what are Americans worried about? I mean that is a large amount of guns. Do these people know something the rest of us don’t? Furthermore, I am fairly certain that the people I tend to encounter do not own arms. Maybe I need to get out more and meet some new people (likely a true statement), but really who owns all these guns? My guess is that a gun owner in the U.S. tends to own several guns rather than just one. If so, are there a whole bunch of people packing concealed heat? Or perhaps there are enclaves where Cold War-style bunkers are filled to the brim with arms. All jest aside the report shows that some of the presumptions about firearm ownership may be off.

For example, Yemen (61/100) is second to the U.S. on a per capita basis and Finland (54/100) is third. Finland? I suppose Russia next door is something to worry about but still. The article notes that the perception that many poor countries are armed and violent is misleading. As the director of the Survey noted “Firearms are very unevenly distributed around the world. The image we have of certain regions such as Africa or Latin America being awash with weapons — these images are certainly misleading.” In fact the director pointed out that there is a correlation between wealth and firearm ownership. So it may be that as countries develop the demand for and acquisition of firearms in those countries may increase. (Oh yeah, new markets!) Last, the numbers about the recent increase in overall firearm quantity and lack of registration are impressive if not chilling. Five years ago there were about 640 million firearms, now there are 875 million. In addition, of the current 875 million firearms, about 650 million are in civilian hands and only around 12 percent are registered.

I’d like to say more on the topic, but the last shootout in Mr. and Mrs. Smith is on and man, it has some booms. The Blues Brothers riff (Girl From Ipanema playing in the elevator while mayhem awaits outside) mixed with the pseudo-Butch Cassidy ending — the shed in the Costco-style warehouse instead of South America, a battle that has a complete array of weapons from knives to handguns, shotguns, machine guns, and a grenade launcher, and all to Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros’ “Mondo Bongo” as Brad and Angelina survive the absurd odds (can’t kill heroes in modern film) — is just too cool.

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12 Responses

  1. ken says:

    How many are hunting rifles? Most hunters I know have two or three.

    Additionally, there are solid reasons that a person in a rural area is likey to have a firearm or two. Varmit control is one; I’m not kidding here where I now live there is a problem with wild dogs, wild cats, coyotes and (of late) bears. Another is the fact that you are on your own if something goes wrong. Sure, one of the two deputies on duty might get to your house in 10 minutes if he’s close, but more likely he’s in another area of the county and isn’t going to be there for a hour.

  2. -dan z- says:

    “A new study shows that the U.S. has 90 guns per 100 people.” The point to note here is that, as the number of firearms in the U.S. has increased by millions, our violent crime rate has dropped drastically. This compares to countries such as England and Canada where, after strict gun control laws, violent crime rates increased.

  3. Matt says:

    I don’t have strong feelings about gun control either way. I think that most people are fooling themselves if they think owning a gun makes them safer, and that therefore most people would be safer if there were fewer guns. But, some of the tone of this post is more than a bit offensive. As noted above, when people hunt they often own more than one gun since they will often do more than one sort of hunting. And, if you enjoy target shooting (as I sometimes do, though I don’t now own a gun) it’s not unreasonable to enoy it w/ more than one type of gun. In my home growning up we had, at most times, probably 5 guns total- a rifle, a shot gun, and three different hand guns (for different types of shooting). There was no sympathy for survivalists or ‘gun nuts’ there at all and the situation wasn’t that unusual for places like Boise, Idaho. So yes, you should get out more and should try to be less insulting to people.

  4. Flash Gordon says:

    Many gun owners have the same passion for their guns as other hobbyists have for the implements of the their sport. This all seems strange to someone who is not familiar with the many facets of the shooting sports.

    If one gets into shooting for sport, competition and just plain fun one quickly finds reasons to own more and more guns. There are many different types of guns that function differently and have interesting histories. There is opportunity for esoteric knowledge that many people find satisfying and enjoyable.

    This sort of person may end up with a bunch of guns, all kept in an expensive safe. They protect their guns as they would their children. I have found them to be good people who would come to your aid if you needed them and pose no danger to anyone, except maybe to criminals trying to harm them or their family.

  5. Miriam Cherry says:

    I don’t think the tone of the post is in the least “offensive.” If anything, I don’t think it goes far enough.

    Someone needs to take all the guns, put them in a big pile, and bomb it back to the stone age.

    Several centuries from now, people will look at our absurd fixation with guns and violence and shake the heads, the same way that we do now when we think about slavery.

    Oh, all those wonderful lawabiding gun owners. Generalization, generalization, blah blah blah. Let’s see how you like it when you are the victim of gun violence (as I have been, twice).

  6. Pulverschnee says:

    Coming from germany I find such articles very interesting. It´s not allowed here for everyone to have a gun. I have to admit, i don´t really ever wanted one, although as a boy i thought to have a gun is pretty cool. sinc ei am a father myself I look around if there is something dangerous for kids in my apartement. I owned a selfdefense gun which is able to shot gas for self defense and that was the first thing i got rid off. The idea they might find it, play with it and getting hurt scared me too much.

  7. “People in the U.S. own 270 million of 875 million arms in the world and of about 8 million firearms made each year, 4.5 million are bought in the U.S.”

    270 Million? When did we get them all? At 4.5 million per year, it would take 60 YEARS for us to accumulate 270 million and that’s with no loss of assets. If the bulk came years ago well, rejoice, it reads like we’re weaning ourselves slowly but surely. However, if this yearly purchase number is at an all-time high, then the majority of those firearms must be veritable antiques…

    ..of course this is Reuters and when you get to the latter part of their article you read that of that 875 million worldwide number, 225 of tis with law enforcement and military. But their opening paragraph reads that that US CITIZENS own 270 million which would mean that we own over 40% of all firearms owned by citizenry in the world…but like I noted, this is Reuters

  8. Ray says:

    Miriam Cherry needs to get out more often, engage with ordinary people, face-to-face you know. We should be very concerned when those like her consider the taking of the lawful property of others. She should be even more bothered by all the cars we see on the road. Global warming, the astounding vehicle death rate and all that carnage!

  9. Mike in SC says:

    I find this exchange interesting. Gun ownership and concealed weapons permits (CWPs) in the US is highest in rural areas — think the Dakotas — where elimination of vermin and protection against varmints make packing heat a really good idea. The rural imperative is true too for cities, but local governments tend to know better, so the innocents are defenseless.

    Take the DC metro area — DC, suburban Maryland, and suburban Virginia. The District of Columbia effectively bans gun ownership, yet has the highest rate of gun crimes and murder among the three jurisdictions. Maryland comes in at #2, with Virginia a distant #3. Yet owning any kind of gun and obtaining a CWP is easiest in VA, not so easy in MD, and virtually impossible in DC.

    One political aspect of guns that’s too often overlooked is that in the 13 states that do not have “shall issue” laws for CWPs, it’s the local sheriff who decides who gets a permit and who does not. I grew up in Chicago where contributors to the sheriff’s campaign did not even have to be citizens to be issued a permit, but business folks who were robbed frequently on their way to the bank could not get one if they did not post the required endorsements around election time.

    These sorts of shenanigans continue: take a look at Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca who makes sure that certain Hollywood stars and campaign contributors get a badge and a gun permit if they express an interest. In return, he gets to live in a really nice house that seems beyond his pay as a civil servant.

    We regular folks that live in one of the 37 states with shall-issue laws can thank our state legislators for the relative ease of obtaining a CWP. If we take a course, submit fingerprints, and pass a criminal-records check, we have to be issued a CWP license. No politics! We retain the license as long as we abide by reasonable rules governing where we may carry, so where’s the concern with law-abiding folks packing heat?

    Not every gun owner who takes a CWP class goes on to get a CWP. It’s not just the idea of memorizing the reasonable rules, but the commitment one assumes when carrying; after thinking about it a bit, some folks don’t feel comfortable with the obligations. Others do, but remain aware of the obligations they assume and responsibility they bear when carrying concealed.

    When was the last time you read about a CWP-holder blasting away with wild abandon? When was the first time? Chances are, you have not, because such instances are rare. If one has passed the hurdles to get the permit, one has proved that s/he’s responsible and will therefore exercise that right responsibly.

    Two states that require no permit for concealed carry — Vermont and Alaska — are not known as the killing fields, are they?

    I understand very well the emotional response to guns and other weapons: my dad committed suicide with a handgun thirty years ago. But it wasn’t the gun that did it — that was simply the means. He was looking for escape from his demons and was in escalation mode, having already failed with other methods.

    One need only understand that bad folks are simply looking for the easiest way to have their way, and that means attacking the weak. Imagine three houses, each with a car parked out front. If one car has an NRA bumper sticker, another has a “Guns Kill” bumper sticker, and the third has no bumper sticker, which do you think a bad guy would target?

    As for Miriam’s point, Brits have seized most of the guns, but find that their gun murder rate is up. How is that possible? Well, the law-abiding turned in their weapons, but the bad guys did not.

    I should add that British law prohibits self-defense. Pepper spray, mace, knives, and any sort of self-defense weapon are prohibited. Burglary when folks are home is on the rise because the bad guys know that self-defense will land the home-owner in jail.

  10. Deven says:

    Wow. Those are all interesting comments. Now to be clear, I am not writing about gun control (though of course you all may discuss that to your hearts’ content), and thanks for responding. For those who were offended, hey I really was trying to get a grasp on who owns the guns. And no I was not saying ban guns or gun owners are inherently evil etc. Some of you just decided to read that into the post. The basic idea that I acknowledged—if one owns one gun, one may own several—seems to resonate with many of you. Indeed, the hunting culture point is a great one. Still, some of you indicated that a household may have four or five guns. A household to me is usually two to five people. So the question remains where are all these guns? And who has them? The study indicates that many guns are unregistered. To our friend Maryland Conservatarian, interesting point about time and accumulation. As far as I know the reason the U.S. has so many guns is that they have indeed accumulated overtime. In part that is why I was pondering where they all are. Older weapons seem simply not to be tracked. We do not appear to know where they are.

    As for the concealed weapons issue, Mike in SC, I was not really suggesting that everyone is packing heat. I was pointing to the question of where the guns are in general. Still, your thoughts about concealed weapons’ laws are interesting. In addition, I think you are nodding to the idea that if one owns a gun, one should be responsible by taking classes etc. on gun safety. Good point. As you note the issue is emotional for many. I am not sure whether gun ownership is or is not a deterrent. NOW I KNOW that many may jump in with claims and studies showing that yes it is or no it isn’t. (And oh yeah for those readers who assumed I know no one who owns guns. Wrong. I know some folks who own guns, have shot guns at a range with guidance, and appreciate the skill it takes to use guns well.) Let me reiterate, I am not engaging in a gun control pro or con debate here. I think the issue is too messy and filled with too many claims of correlations as causations to be coherent. That being said, being the prime market in the world for new guns is a heck of a fact. I do not know what it says about the U.S. It could be that most of these guns are for hunting. It could be that most of the guns are for home protection. It could be that they are for both if the concentration is in areas where both hunting and law enforcement dictate the question. It could be that the country should focus on asking whether violent crime would go down if social services were improved. And it could be that reducing the numbers of guns may reduce violence. Honestly there are many, many ways to dice this one. You all can do so. I, however, am sticking to the where are the guns question.

    Turning to the international question that was lost a little in the discussion, the study apparently found that “Germany, France, Pakistan, Mexico, Brazil and Russia were next in the ranking of country’s overall civilian gun arsenals” behind the U.S., India, and China (this is not per capita; this is total guns). So the response about Germany may indicate that there too a group has guns and another group just stays away from them. Either way, the idea that as wealth increases more countries will become more armed is a fascinating one for me. Again one would have to study what people are doing with guns. In addition, if wealth is a key issue, it may be that many in the U.S. are buying guns not for hunting but for different recreation such as competition or gun range use. Still it may be that people buy them as signs of power. Again the facts might help to understand the phenomenon better and then allow for some nature of an informed gun policy discussion.

  11. Gun Owner says:

    I’m a single female and I live alone. I have a gun in the top drawer of my night stand for purposes of self-defense. It’s registered. I don’t carry it with me, except that once a year, it gets taken to the target practice range and cleaned. So, in addition to the hunting example, I think there are a number of households that have guns for self-defense. I’d add that there are probably more guns in areas that are or used to be rural within the last two generations (which is a big SWATH of middle-America) because the “culture” of gun-ownership not being a big deal survived.

  12. Flash Gordon says:

    Gun Owner, you should consider going out to the range and shooting that gun a little more often!