At the end of 2017, there were approximately 1 billion firearms in over 230 countries around the globe, 84.6 percent of which were held by civilians, 13.1 percent by state militaries, and 2.2 percent by law enforcement agencies – with Americans the dominant owners, according to a study released Monday.
Of the 857 million guns owned by civilians, the Small Arms Survey says 393.3 million are held in the United States, which is “more than those held by civilians in the other top 25 countries combined.”
To clarify – there are more civilian-owned guns in the US than there are people.
And while headlines have proclaimed a slowdown in gunmaker revenues, as @StephenGutkowski noted, the numbers are still astounding – In May alone, American civilians bought somewhere around 2 million firearms.
Table 1: Estimated total civilian-held legal and illicit firearms in the 25 top-ranked countries and territories, 2017
“The key to the United States, of course, is its unique gun culture,” the report’s author, Aaron Karp, said at a news conference.
“Ordinary American people buy approximately 14 million new and imported guns every year,” Karp told a news conference at UN headquarters in New York City.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution preserves the right of the people to keep and bear arms. This enables Americans to have access to powerful and cheap firearms that are not commercially available in other regions around the world due to strict laws.
“Why are they buying them? That’s another debate. Above all, they are buying them probably because they can. The American market is extraordinarily permissive,” he said.
The estimated rate of gun ownership around the world significantly varies, with 120.5 firearms for every 100 residents in the United States. Second on the list is Yemen, with 52.8 firearms per 100 residents, 39.1 in Montenegro, and 34.7 in Canada.
Table 2: An estimated rate of civilian firearms holdings in the 25 top-ranked countries and territories, 2017 (firearms per 100 residents)
The report mentioned out of the 1 billion firearms worldwide, 133 million weapons were held by government military forces and 22.7 million by police agencies.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Karp said the new estimate of global firearms is significantly higher than the 875 million weapons determined in the 2007 survey, with 650 million civilian-held guns at that time.
After the American-led interventions in the Middle East and the 2008 financial crisis, citizens of the world have been rushing to stockpile guns. This alarming trend was significantly noted in the United States as civilian gun ownership soared from 2007 to 2017.
However, the U.S. is fifth today in military firearms holdings, behind Russia, China, North Korea and Ukraine. The report also indicates it is fifth in law enforcement holdings, behind Russia, China, India, and Egypt.
Small Arms Survey director Eric Berman emphasized that the Geneva-based research and policy institute is not an advocacy organization, but would rather educate governments about the global distribution of civilian firearms.
“We don’t advocate disarmament. We are not against guns,” he said. “What we want to do, and what we have done successfully for the last 19 years, is to be able to provide authoritative information and analysis for governments so that they can work to address illicit proliferation and reduce it — and to reduce also the incidents of armed violence.”
Anna Alvazzi del Frate, the institute’s program director, said that “the countries with the highest level of firearm violence — they don’t rank high in terms of ownership per person.”
“So what we see is that there is no direct correlation at the global level between firearm ownership and violence,” she said.
But “the correlation exists with firearm suicides, and it is so strong that it can be used, at least in Western countries, as a proxy for measurement,” Alvazzi del Frate said.
While it is evident that global civilian arms holdings have rapidly expanded post-2008, it seems as the majority of the increase came from the United States.