Just how many guns are there in the US?

David Yamane is a sociologist who runs a blog called Gun Culture 2.0; he tackles various topics that arise concerning the 2nd Amendment. I stumbled across his blog a few years back and was delighted to discover that he regularly puts out good information & has his students do studies on 2nd Amendment related topics.

He recently has been addressing the topic “How Many Households in America Today Have Guns?” and wrote:

 Legault and Lizotte estimated the U.S. civilian gun stock to be just over 216 million as of 2006. And the 2015 National Firearms Survey (NFS) pegs the current stock of firearms at somewhere between 245 million and 285 million.

I know some will argue that the NFS estimate is low, and that there are over 300 million firearms in the United States today. But for me, Wright’s “give or take a few tens of millions” is right on. The heart of Wright’s observation is that there are ALOT of guns in America. Even though no one knows exactly how many, these estimates all support the idea that there are ALOT. Far more than any other country, both in absolute numbers and per capita. Whether it is 285 million or 315 million is inconsequential.

Commentators responded that these estimates may be low by pointing a Weaponsman blog posting referring to ATF manufacturer figures showing 250 million serial numbered firearms manufactured since 1999.

David did a followup article and addresses this:

The author, who writes under the pseudonym “Hognose,” reports on a BAFTE data system called “Access 2000 (A2K)” (see Appendix II here for a brief overview). As Hognose describes it, “This system allows voluntarily participating manufacturers, importers and wholesalers (no retailers) to enter their firearms by the identifying data that goes on a 4473 directly into an ATF computer.”


I’m going to quote from the Weaponsman article here to give some context:

 The typical estimate of the total number of firearms in the USA is about 300 million, depending on whom is queried. […]

We believe that the correct number is much higher — somewhere between 412 and 660 million. You may wonder how we came to that number, so buckle up (and cringe, if you’re a math-phobe, although it never gets too theoretical): unlike most of the academics and reporters we linked above, we’re going to use publicly available data, and show our work.

What if we told you that one ATF computer system logged, by serial number, 252,000,000 unique firearms, and represented only those firearms manufactured, imported or sold by a relatively small number of the nation’s tens of thousands of Federal Firearms Licensees?

ATF  maintains a system, introduced in 1999, called Access 2000 or A2K (GAO report; details are in the .pdfs linked at that .html link). This system allows voluntarily participating manufacturers, importers and wholesalers (no retailers) to enter their firearms by the identifying data that goes on a 4473 directly into an ATF computer.

The relevance of the A2K database to the question of how many guns is this: “As of 2 October, 2015,** the data in A2K included 252,433,229 records, representing one firearm each.”** […]

None of the current academic media and academic estimates were developed with A2K data, even though this data has been made publicly available. You’re probably reading about it here for the first time.

**The participants in A2K include, as of fall, 2015, 35 firms representing 66 FFLs total.**

**As of 2 October, 2015, the data in A2K included 252,433,229 records, representing one firearm each.** That means that at least those 250 million firearms have been manufactured, or imported, or sold at wholesale in approximately 15 years. (Duplicate records, say from a manufacturer or importer in 2000 a jobber as a used gun in 2007, don’t increment the count; the unique serial number ties those data points together as a single “record”).

For the total count of firearms in the USA to be 300 million, the following must be true:

(A2K + all firearms made and sold by non-A2K FFLs from 1999-2015 + all firearms made by everyone 1899-1999 + all firearms imported 1899-1999 + all firearms made or imported since October, 2015) – firearms exported = 300M.

It seems unlikely that 5/6 of all firearms were made or imported in the last 17 years. […]

They address numerous things and conclude with:

 At this point we have a reasonable and very conservative, very low estimate of 329 million new firearms to the US market 1999-2016. The question becomes one of estimating how many firearms were made and imported in the period from the invention of modern metallic cartridge, smokeless powder ammunition from, say, 1899 to 1998 — and how many of those survive as practical, usable firearms. […]

Absent a better idea, we can say that** the US inventory of firearms is almost certainly between 412 and 660 million**, not the lower numbers recently trumpeted in the media.

This also doesn’t count the number of firearms made from “80%” receivers, AK flats, and the like.

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