Friday, December 14, 2012

Owning a Gun in the United States

In light of recent mass shootings in the United States, I thought I'd do a brief posting on the subject of gun ownership in America.  For my source material, I am using data from the website.  Please note that is hosted by the University of Sydney School of Public Health in Australia and promotes the public health model of firearm injury prevention.  Research for this website is supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.  Let's look at some of the data.

In America, there are an estimated 270,000,000 privately owned firearms for a population of 311.6 million people resulting in a gun ownership rate of 88.2 firearms per 100 people.  The overall number of privately owned firearms puts the United States gun ownership at number 1 in the world as does the rate of private gun ownership.

Here is a graph comparing the overall number of guns owned privately for several nations around the world to the United States:

Here is a graph comparing the rate of civilian firearm possession per 100 people for the same nations in the previous graph to the United States:

The rate of gun ownership in the U.S. is nearly twice the rate of the second-place finisher, Switzerland and 3.5 times the rate of gun ownership in Canada.  In case you were wondering, the total estimated number of privately owned guns in Canada is 9,950,000 and Canada rates at number 12 in the world for overall number of privately owned guns and number 13 for the rate of gun ownership per 100 people.  Of these Canadian guns, 3,500,000 are rifles, 2,600,000 are shotguns and only 1,100,000 are handguns.  Looking at Switzerland in more detail, while the country has the second-highest private gun ownership rate, the annual rate of firearm homicide per 100,000 population is a tiny fraction of the rate in the United States as shown on this graph:

Switzerland's anomalous gun ownership rate is related to the military obligation of its residents; members of the Swiss militia store their weapons at home and since service is universal, every male over 20 has a pistol or rifle in his possession. 

In the United States, the number of gun homicides over the past 11 years is as follows:

2009: 9146
2008: 9484
2007: 10129
2006: 10225
2005: 10158
2004: 9385
2003: 9659
2002: 9369
2001: 8890
1999: 8259
1998: 9257

Here is a graph showing the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people for the United States since 1993:

Here is a graph showing the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people for Canada since 1992:

Here is a graph showing the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people for the United Kingdom since 1998:

Not terribly surprising, in both Canada and the United Kingdom, the rate of gun homicide is a fraction of that experienced in the United States.

In closing, here are a few interesting facts and figures:

1.) The annual value of small arms and ammunition exports from the United States in 2009 was reported to be $689,170,603.

2.) The annual value of small arms and ammunition imports into the United States in 2009 was reported to be $1,585,242,738.

3.) The asking price for an AK-47 assault weapon in the United States is $500.  By way of comparison, the same weapon sells for only $320 in Yemen and $200 in Algeria. 

It is intriguing to look at some detailed statistics about gun ownership and use in the United States.  While gun ownership itself is not necessarily an evil thing, the violence associated with the illicit use of guns quite clearly is.  Nothing proves that more than the mass shootings of the past year.



South Africa has 12.7 privately owned firearms per 100 people and is ranked at number 50 in the world.  Its rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people has been as high as 28.8 in 1994 and has been steadily dropping to a level of 17 in 2007.

Mexico has 15.0 privately owned firearms per 100 people and is ranked at number 42 in the world.  Its rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people has ranged from a low of 2.7 in 2004 to a high of 10.0 in 2010.

Russia has 8.9 privately owned firearms per 100 people and is ranked at number 68 in the world.  Its rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people is not available on the source website.

Saudi Arabia has 35 privately owned firearms per 100 people and is ranked number 7 in the world.  Again, the source website does not have information about the rate of gun homicide, however, the overall rate of homicide by any means ranges from 0.47 to 2.7 per 100,000 people.  Perhaps the threat of a quick trip to "Chop Chop Square" in Riyadh for murdering someone is enough of a deterrent to keep homicides down to a near-zero level.


  1. Unfortunately, your data is absolutely meaningless, as it doesn't correlate with homicide rates. South Africa has 1/7 as many guns per person than the US, but has 7x the homicide rate. Mexico has 4x the homicide rate and Russia 3x. Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has the third highest gun ownership in your comparison, yet one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

    Guns are a scapegoat for a culture of violence. I guess it's easier for a simple minded person to blame an inanimate object than it is to confront the real underlying social issues driving these murders.

    1. You are correct people kill people not guns, but if you don't have access to Assault rifles and pistols the likelyhood of mass assaults are greatly reduces. Civilians do not need access to military type weapons. Use a revolver for your personal protection.

    2. There was a dramatic increase in the rate of guns per 100 from the 1970s (approximately 50 per 100).Over the same time period murder rates and the rate of violent crimes dropped by nearly 50% percent (FBI statistics). What's the correlation between gun ownership and murder?

    3. And if the law abiding people are denied access to firearms to defend themselves, ONLY THE CRIMINALS AND GOVERNMENT TYRANTS HAVE THEM.

      Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot and Mao ALL AGREED WITH YOU .

      Do us a favor, stay in Canada with your head up your gun grabbing ass and pray when some criminal scumbag breaks down your door you can hold out for 20 minutes till the ambulance gets to you.

  2. What a stupid comment, comparing a country such as South Africa to the Western nations in question.

    Of course his statistics aren't meaningless - there will always be hidden variables, but what has been done is to compare the correlation of gun ownership and gun homicide in societies which are vaguely comparable.

    How can people just say black is white like this? Gun homicide is a fraction of that in the UK as it is to the US. Are you really suggesting that this has nothing to do with the far smaller amount of gun ownership?

  3. Let me get this straight: It's ok to compare other nations when arguing for gun control, but using those very same nations for a counter argument is a stupid comment?

    My comment is simply to highlight that all of those statistics are meaningless in isolation. It's easy to say gun control will reduce murders, but that's probably not the case. Some of the highest murder rates are in societies with far fewer guns per person than the US - where there's a will, there's a way. There may be a reduction in these mass murders due to the reduced effectiveness of other weapons, but they only represent a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall US homicide rate.

    The fact it, America has always had an obsession with violence, whether it be cowboys shooting natives, the mafia, bikers or gangster rappers. The existing gun laws are a RESULT of a violent culture, not the cause.

  4. I find it compelling that the nation that has, by far (with the exception of Switzerland) the highest level of per capita gun ownership in the world, is the nation with an extremely high level of gun-related homicide. While there are exceptions to every rule, it's hard to completely ignore these statistics.

    Gun ownership in the U.S. is such a contentious and emotionally-driven issue. I watched a gun "expert" on the mainstream media last evening explaining that the Aurora slaughter would not have taken place if theatre-goers were allowed to carry guns into the theatre with them to defend themselves. While that is possible, it is also possible that more guns would have meant the deaths of more innocents caught in a cross-fire situation. More guns is likely not the answer to the problem.

    Unfortunately, there is no easy solution but it is becoming more and more apparent that the status quo is simply not working.

  5. A must read after Connecticut. There certainly is something strange going on. Good article. Good research.

    From Sep 12/2012 (before Connecticut): shopping at Walmart armed with a concealed handgun

    Guns: as American as apple pie

  6. I think that we have a new candidate for the 2012 Darwin Awards.

    Thanks WQB.

  7. Saudi Arabia has the third highest gun ownership in your comparison, yet one of the lowest murder rates in the world.

    Saudi Arabia justice system is alot different,
    you steal you lose a hand, you murder you lose your life and it doesnt take 30 year on death row for it to happen.

  8. A couple of points:

    South Africa/Mexico - obvious reasons for high murder rate despite relative lack of guns (poverty, extreme wealth differences, Apartheid, drug wars).

    Switzerland - while the Swiss former military are required to own guns, they are strictly controlled and as of recently, they are not allowed to keep ammunition.

    It is clear that guns aren't the only factor in these problems in the US, but blaming everything on the culture is insane. You don't think countries like Germany and France and the UK have a recent history of violence?? Remember WWII?? Obviously reducing gun ownership, particularly ownership of guns designed specifically for killing humans, will reduce the number of people dying like this.

    1. Quite the opposite, the former Swiss military are REQUIRED to keep a box of ammo in their home if they are a part of the national guard, however they are also required to bring that box unopened to training which can be once month,year etc depending on contract, requirements etc.

  9. It might be interesting to dig deeper into these statistics.

    For example, in Switzerland, how much training do the gun owners receive? Because they are military, I'm guessing there is a great deal more discipline and training. While that won't prevent someone who is psychologically disturbed from picking up a gun, I bet it reduces the chances of it happening even if it is just because the process might weed out the unstable.

    More interesting, however, might be to look at the type of guns and the availability of them. These mass murders are committed using military weaponry that is designed for killing as many people as possible. As you indicated the vast majority of the Canadian personal arsenal are shotguns and rifles. Causing this much carnage with a shotgun or simple rifle is going to be challenging. But when you can legally and easily own a gun that can discharge multiple rounds per second from clips that hold 10+ rounds, you are living in a culture that is accepting the killing of human beings as normal behaviour.

    It would be interesting, then, to see how the graphs would change if you were to find some method of gelling this down to hunting/farming/target shooting rifles and shotguns vs. multi-round rapid fire butchering machines.

    1. Well in the Swiss case, most of the weapons are assault rifles and handguns. As discharged soldiers keep their weapons the assault rifles are either fully automatic (which you can't buy in the US) or converted to semi-auto. The Swiss government also subsidises ammo sales and sponsors shooting competition (including for teens) to keep skills sharp. The Swiss have tremendous amounts of man-portable firepower and yet no school shooting problem

  10. The definitive work on the question of firearms control laws and crime is John R Lott, More Guns, Less Crime. I've seen his conclusions criticized, but I've not found anyone who successfully takes a run at his statistical analysis. You have to undertake multivariate analysis to find the trends between firearms laws and crime rates - a simple "this one goes up when this one goes up" doesn't cut it.

    One of the things that amazes me in these debates is that no one ever mentions the abundance of first-person shooter games like Call of Duty. Those programs are highly effective at conditioning people to kill without thought - using many of the same training techniques the military uses to train soldiers including developing marksmanship skills. Dave Grossman has offered some compelling analysis on that subject (On Killing, On Combat, Stop Teaching our Children to Kill).

    Why no mention of violent video games? I suspect it is counter to the social liberal mindset which says that restrictive legislation will create a utopia, if only we can find the right rules, and if only if everyone thought the same way that we do.

    The real issue underlying such tragedies is not magazine capacity, or the types of firearms available, but rather a culture which refuses to deal with their fascination with violence. A lower firearms homicide rate in Canada is not due to tighter firearms laws as much as it is to a different cultural perspective (although that is changing for the worse here too).

    You would like to think a few laws will solve the problem of firearms murder...but reality is much more complex.

  11. keep weapons of war away from people who are not soldiers or police

    1. Agents of the state (police and military) kill many more than civilians ever do (10s of million in the 20th century). Disarming the populace is a tactic of every genocidal regime. No thanks.

  12. Thank you for linking to my site! Indeed the threat of execution by beheading seems to be an efficient deterrent..
    In Finland on the other hand we have high rate of gun ownership and we suffer also from similar school shootings.

  13. Good piece. I think a good study would be the effect that gang related homicides has on the overall numbers. I live in Kentucky and a homicide is kind of a big deal and gets front page news quite a bit. Now go to L.A. where the Hispanic population alone is greater than the whole population of my state. If I had to guess, the U.S. homicide rate is greatly impacted by the drug gangs such as MS-13 and the Latin Kings and Bloods and Crips. There is a whole subculture (the 'thug life') that praises heroic strong gang members that kill.

  14. "In the United States, the number of gun homicides over the past 11 years is as follows:"
    "Here is a graph showing the rate of gun homicide per 100,000 people for the United States since 1993:"

    What would make this a more complete study would be to breakdown that information into how many of those homicides were committed by legal and illegal gun owners.

  15. Well i would like to say, United Nation should give strict instruction about Guns control to all the county.

  16. Thanks for this data. People use guns for killing others but they are supposed to be the device for safety. All you need to do is simply join the Firearms safety training classes and get the license to carry the firearms as carrying it without any license is generally illegal.