That’s a good question – with several equally accurate answers. In theory, all you need is to divide the number of gun owners into the number of guns – and wallah! An answer.
But there are certain difficulties with that approach. As I recently pointed out, depending on how you define a “gun owner,” there are between 65 million and 210 million gun owners in the United States.
If you count the people who fill out the Form 4473 and put payment on the counter, there are at least 65 million American gun owners. But if you count the Americans who have access to guns at home, there are more than 200 million gun owners; most likely 210 million or slightly more.
Obviously, even if we knew precisely how many guns Americans owns, we would not have a precise answer to the question. But how many guns do Americans own?
Well, that’s a poser as well. Most estimates start like the Carter Administrations “Wright Rossi Report” and assume guns have the same service life as cars. However, guns seldom wear out, and given minimal care will easily last a century or more. In fact, far more guns fall into disuse because of the lack of locally available ammunition than any other cause.
That is, Kapotnick heads for the local ammo emporium only to find they have no .50/110/450 Sharps ammunition on hand. So Kapotnick looks the gun case over, picks out a .300 WSM, a couple of boxes of ammo, fills out a Form 4473, and goes to fill his freezer. And the 130 year old Sharps becomes a wall hanger or a “safe queen.”
So the assumption that guns last no longer than a much more complex and heavily used and abused car is simply wrong. As a rule, guns have at least a 100 year service life – although I have not seen any .303 Ross ammo lately.
We do know roughly how many guns were manufactured or imported into the United States in the last century. We also know what the “mortality rate” for guns over that period should be – and we can arrive at a very reasonable estimate of the number of guns currently in circulation.
How many? 620 million. Minus 20 million, plus 35 million. So there are between 600 million and 655 million guns currently in circulation in the United States. Since many guns were privately imported, the actual number is likely to be higher than lower.
And how many guns does an “average American” own? If you count everyone in a gun owning household as a gun owner, the average American gun owner owns three guns. If you only count those who have put their money on the counter the average American gun owner owns nine guns.
You can take your choice – but we have enough guns in circulation in the United States to arm every American man, woman, and child twice over.
And violent crime is still inversely proportional to the number of guns in LOCAL circulation. More guns mean less crime. Each and every time.
UPDATE As of July 1, 2012, there are at least 78 million individuals who have “filled out a 4473 and put money on the counter.”
Those gun buyers and their families add up to 244 million Americans who live in a home with a gun, and have some claim to gun ownership.
There are more than 650 million guns that are either serviceable or that could be restored to service with a good cleaning in Americans hands.
And in the American States that are still free, there are no restrictions on the number of guns an American can own.