How many guns do Americans own, and how many of us own them? These may sound like innocuous questions, a simple matter of data collection. But it’s taken as a truism that gun owners by and large don’t take kindly to strangers on the telephone asking about their guns, and so we’re left with estimates. One of these, a survey done by Harvard and Northeastern universities, puts the figure at 265 million guns held by twenty-two percent of the population. The reason for having a gun is increasingly for self-defense, and women are a growing group of owners. They tend to have a handgun and leave it at that, whereas three percent of Americans—almost all of them men—own about half of the total firearms, some seventeen per owner on average.
This number, 265 million, makes no sense. It sounds so twentieth century. And that’s in fact the estimate for the quantity of privately owned firearms in 2000, according to Dean Weingarten of The Truth About Guns. His article—“How Many Guns Are There in America?”—takes data from the research of Gary Kleck, professor of criminology at Florida State University. His work is based on manufacturing numbers, export and import figures, and sales to law enforcement or the military. In other words, taking the actual data we have, rather than hoping for people to answer the telephone. The current number, following Kleck’s methodology: 347 million, almost eighty million more than Harvard and Northeastern believe.
Given the number of guns manufactured and sold this century, especially during the Obama years, the higher figure is the more probable one. The Harvard and Northeastern explanation for what they admit has been an increase is a reasonable one. Though the researchers work hard to be dismayed about the situation. Matthew Miller, one of the study’s authors, puts it this way: “The desire to own a gun for protection—there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country. It isn’t a response to actuarial reality.” It’s speculation, but it would be an interesting direction of study to inquire after whether more guns in the hands of good people contributes to a reduction in violence. My suspicion is that improvements in education, social services, and the like are the key factors, but it is safe to say that loosening gun laws and rises in the number of guns owned hasn’t caused more murder, robber, rape, and assault.
But Deborah Azrael, the lead author, sees an “increasing fearfulness” among gun-owning Americans. “If we hope to reduce firearm suicide, if we hope to reduce the other potential dangers of guns, my gut is, we have to speak to that fear.” And in that statement, I see the typical smugness to be found in advocates of gun control. Concern and preparedness are characterized as fear, if not paranoia, and the idea that people can take care of themselves is seen as antiquated.
What I take from the survey is that we gun owners need to bring a lot more people into the community. We have the guns—more than the personal arms inventories of many militaries added together. We now have to do the recruiting. Our percentage of the population is nowhere nearly large enough. Of course, I’d like to see large majorities, since I find owning and using guns to be rewarding, but it’s sufficient to bring in more people and to show those who have no interest in guns that we who do are good Americans just as they are.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.