According to the Small Arms Survey released this week, world wide private firearms ownership has increased from about 650 million in 2006 to 857 million at the end of 2017. That’s a 32% increase over the eleven year period, or 207 million firearms.
The estimate for the United States jumped from 270 million to 393.3 million, a 46 percent increase or 123.3 million firearms. The United States accounted for 60 percent of the total global increase.
Uncertainty about any firearms data requires systematic estimation that relies on a broad spectrum of sources and makes approximation unavoidable. The Small Arms Survey’s estimates of civilian firearms holdings use data gathered from multiple sources. However, with much of civilian ownership concealed or hard to identify, gun ownership numbers can only approximate reality. Using data from several different sources, at the end of 2017 there were approximately 857 million civilian-held firearms in the world’s 230 countries and territories. Civilian firearms registration data was available for 133 countries and territories. Survey results were used to help establish total gun civilian holdings in 56 countries. The new figure is 32 percent higher than the previous estimate from 2006, when the Small Arms Survey estimated there were approximately 650 million civilian-held firearms. Virtually all countries show higher numbers, although national ownership rates vary widely, reflecting factors such as national legislation, a country’s gun culture, historical and other factors. While some of the increase reflects improved data and research methods, much is due to actual growth of civilian ownership.
While the United States accounted for 60 percent of the total increase, nearly all countries experienced an increase in firearms ownership. The United States was estimated to have 41.5% of privately owned firearms in the world in 2006. At the end of 2017, the Small Arms Survey estimated the U.S.A. had 46% of privately owned firearms in the world.
My estimation of the private firearms stock in the United States is a bit higher. I use the method first used by Newton and Zimring, then outlined by Gary Kleck in his book Point Blank.
Using that method, there were closer to 295 million private firearms in the United States in 2006. At the end of 2017, using Kleck’s methodology, there would be about 418 million firearms (2017 numbers estimated from NICS checks).
The BATFE’s numbers, plus the estimation for 2017 from NICS, shows an increase of 123 million firearms added to the private stock over the period. The Small Arms Survey shows 123.3 million added over the same period, a virtually an identical increase. Thus, the only difference is in the estimation of the private stock in 2006.
The number of civilian-owned firearms tends to increase with prosperity. Firearms are a highly desired manufactured good. It’s to be expected that as societies become more prosperous, the number of private firearms increases.
Of course, no one knows how many guns have been manufactured by individuals, either as hobbyists or for the unregulated market, or in small, unregulated shops. Such guns can make up a significant number. In 1986, 20% of the guns confiscated in Washington, D.C., were reportedly home made.
Similarly, no one knows how many guns are removed from the private stock by destruction, wear, or loss due to tragic boating accidents. Some guns are buried and forgotten. Guns are extremely durable items, capable of lasting and being operable for hundreds of years.
Illegal and unregulated importation and exports are also unknowns. Despite the huge number of guns already available in the United States, it does happen. Guns that originally were procured by the U.S. military, which then are transfered to private citizens, aren’t counted as additions in the BATFE totals.
While all these numbers are unknown, they are assumed to cancel each other out. That’s why the estimation by the Small Arms Survey is exactly that; an estimate.
©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.