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On Real Time with Bill Maher (aired March 30, 2012), host Bill Maher said:

There are now more guns in America than there are people...


(I'm guessing he is talking about "civilian firearms ")


From Wikipedia - Number of guns per capita by country:

Guns per capita

The above figure from 2007 is close to what Bill Maher claims, but a quick google search yielded no results for more recent figures. This made me wonder where he got his info from.


My question:
Are there now more guns (civilian firearms) in America than people?

  • Those are the Small Arms Survey's numbers for privately-owned firearms (including those owned by gangs and militias). Considering that 26% of small arms worldwide are owned by states, there almost certainly were more guns than people in the US in 2007. But I can't say whether there are more privately owned firearms than people today. – Chel Mar 31 '12 at 23:14
  • I note that Switzerland rates highly on the list, but wonder how they counted the hundreds of thousands of privately-held, government-issued rifles. – Oddthinking Mar 31 '12 at 23:36
  • @Oddthinking The SAS notes a couple of times that Switzerland is one of its most problematic countries, as estimates differ by an order of magnitude. What is known is that of the ~40% of citizens issued a rifle at age 20, about 60% keep it after age 30, and these rifles are used in 40% of firearm murders but 70% of total suicides. In any case the SAS's numbers attempt to include these rifles, which account for (very roughly) half of gun ownership in the country. – Chel Apr 1 '12 at 0:10
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    Daisy "rifles" are air guns. These are not firearms. Linked suggest that these are .22 guns, while the advert clearly says ".22 pellets". – vartec Apr 1 '12 at 14:46
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    @Chad: BB gun cannot kill a human, unless you grab it by the barrel and smack someone in the back of his head. And it's most definitively not a firearm. – vartec Apr 3 '12 at 14:09
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Maybe

There are no firm statistics for the amount of guns in the US at any one time. Estimates are based on surveys to gun owners, estimates of illegal guns and guns imported into and manufactured in the USA.

The issue also gets blurred if you choose to consider military bases or overseas territories as part of the USA and how broadly you want to define gun. For example, are self-made guns to be included?

According to the US Census, the population of the USA is about 311 million people.

Most reliable or semi-reliable estimates I can find for the amount of firearms in the US seem to put the number at between 200 and 300 million.

According to this Reuters report which quotes from a 2007 survey(I will link to it when I find it), U.S. citizens own 270 million firearms which would be less than the total population of the US.

According to data from the General Social Survey collected in 2004, there were approximately 44 million firearm owners with Americans owning 192 million firearms.[1]

A National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms from 1994 also put the amount of of firearms privately owned by Americans at 192 million.[2]

According to statistics from the NRA, it is estimated the total number of firearms owned by Americans in 2010 is about 300 million.[3]

It is not clear to me how these estimates are calculated, if they included seized guns or account for smuggled or self-made guns.

While it does not seem unreasonable to me that the number of guns in the USA could surpass the number of people living there, at the moment, the figures we have would indicate that this is not the case. These figures are restricted to the census population and privately owned firearms.

If we consider:

  • Firearms used by police and military
  • Unregistered firearms
  • Self-made firearms

The number of firearms in the US could easily surpass the population.

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  • The Reuters figure comes from the "Small Arms Survey" (linked in my question). The most interesting to me is the "300 million" figure from the NRA. Trying to track down the original source let me to their Firearms Fact Card 2012, which says: Approaching 300 million ... The number of (privately owned) firearms rises over 4 million annually – Oliver_C Apr 2 '12 at 10:47
  • @Oliver_C I had another link which also put the number at about 300 million, but have been unable to find it again. It was from a hunting association or something. I will try and find more links...I'm surprised the ATF or FBI did not have easy statistics available. – Sonny Ordell Apr 3 '12 at 0:36
  • There are generally no records kept when privately-owned firearms are discarded or destroyed, and not all firearm owners will admit to survey-takers that they own guns. The number of commercially-produced firearms sold to Americans since 1968 would be an upper bound on the number of commercially-produced post-1968 firearms owned by Americans, but there's no good way to estimate the number destroyed since then, which would be necessary to know how many still exist – supercat Jan 23 '17 at 19:48
  • And there's an estimate of up to 600 million. Mentioned here as the primary source seems to be down: bearingarms.com/bob-o/2016/10/25/… – Loren Pechtel Jul 16 at 4:43
  • Edit: Archive of the primary source: web.archive.org/web/20190205130812/http://weaponsman.com/… – Loren Pechtel Jul 19 at 4:07
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Basis reports by some indicate there are between 400-600 million firearms in the US. So yes there's more guns than US citizens. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/fact-there-are-400-million-privately-owned-guns-us-72936

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    Please quote from your source where it says "400-600 million firearms", and explain why we should trust it. (What I see is from the National Interest an opinion piece that claims that there are an estimated 400 million, with no explanation of how that estimate was produced.) – Oddthinking Jul 16 at 9:30
  • @Oddthinking While I agree his article doesn't support the number I suspect it's the same data I referenced in my answer to Sonny Ordell--with the problem that the primary source is gone. Archived: web.archive.org/web/20190205130812/http://weaponsman.com/… – Loren Pechtel Jul 19 at 4:07

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