Survey: Civilian gun ownership up 32 percent since 2006

Gun ownership spiked worldwide over the last decade, according to the most recent Small Arms Survey.

Civilian-held legal and illegal firearms increased 32 percent to 857 million in 2017, according to researchers. American gun ownership far outpaced the remaining 229 counties and territories included in the list, accounting for more than 45 percent of the global total — or roughly 120.5 firearms per 100 U.S. citizens.

India, China, Pakistan and Russia round out the top five countries for civilian-held firearms, according to the data.

“The key to the United States, of course, is its unique gun culture,” the report’s author, Aaron Karp, told the Chicago Tribune this week. “American civilians buy an average of 14 million new firearms every year, and that means the United States is an overwhelming presence on civilian markets.”

Researchers compiled the estimates from a patchwork of government databases, surveys and seizure reports. Due to fluctuating laws internationally, the definition of firearm ranges from “improvised craft weapons” to factory-made handguns, shotguns, rifles and machine guns.

“It is clear that global civilian holdings are growing, with much, but not all, of the increase attributable to rising ownership in the United States,” the report concludes, noting the data should be interpreted with caution. “With much of civilian ownership concealed or hard to identify, gun ownership numbers can only approximate reality or reveal only part of it.”

The Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey is a research center focused on generating “impartial, evidence-based, policy-relevant” knowledge on “all aspects of small arms and armed violence,” according to its website.

Eric Berman, the center’s director, told the newspaper Monday despite appearances, their research isn’t anti-gun.

“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 center’s program director, added the latest research suggests more guns doesn’t equal more violence, necessarily.

“The countries with the highest level of firearm violence — they don’t rank high in terms of ownership per person,” she said. “So what we see is that there is no direct correlation at the global level between firearm ownership and violence.”

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