Is U.S. Gun Ownership Approaching Its Limit?

NICSchecksPrivateFirearmsStocks1999-2015

Last month, the FBI racked up to the highest number of NICS checks for any January on record: 2,545,802. A bit less than 1.9 million new firearms entered the market. Globally, the United States is home to the highest number of firearms on the planet, approaching 1.25 for every man woman and child in the United States. Where will it end? That depends on how you define “need” and “want” . . .

The United States advanced beyond “needs” a long time ago. Most “poor” people in the United States would be upper middle class in most of the rest of the world. People do not “need” central heating, air conditioning, television, cell phones or microwave ovens. In the U.S., such things are taken for granted. As a consumerist society, we divide our disposable income into things that we want, rather than things we need to survive.

Some firearms, for some people, some of the time, are a clear “need.” But most firearms, for most people, most of the time, are a “want.” Which works perfectly for the firearms industry.

As you know, firearms have many different, sometime overlapping categories of utility. In times of normal ammunition availability, a .22 rifle and pistol are ideal for practice and training. A centerfire handgun is the favored tool for personal carry. Hunters prefer centerfire rifles. Some rifles are well-suited to home defense and neighborhood security during times of unrest. Shotguns also work well for hunting and home defense.

In that short paragraph, I’ve listed six types of firearms. It’s not unreasonable to think that many if not most gun owners would want to own one more more example of each firearm type. (Remember: needs are finite. Wants are infinite.) For people who “want” to explore and enjoy firearm ownership, owning a hundred firearms is not unusual. And why not? There’s little downside. Firearms are fun, easy to store and maintain their value. They are also safer than swimming pools, stairs and bicycles.

Let’s do the math . . .

There are about 237 million adults in the United States as of the end of 2015. Six firearms types times 237 million is 1.4 billion firearms, about 3.5 times the current number. Even at the current fevered pace, the industry’s “only” producing 17 million firearms per year. It would take roughly 50 years of such production to meet the measly 1.4 billion minimal “limit” that I have arbitrarily set — provided the U.S. population remains flat. Which it won’t.

That said, firearms are not like most consumer products. They seldom wear out. Given moderate care and use, they last centuries. In fact, it’s likely that completely different weapons technology will eclipse firearms before the modern stainless steel and composite stock firearms wear out. It’s one of the reasons that the current number of firearms in the United States exceeds 400 million.

Even so, there is little reason to believe that the U.S. is anywhere near market saturation for firearms sales. Nor will it be for decades to come. Again, human “want” has no limit. What guns do you want?

©2016 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.
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