Back in May, Miguel at Gun Free Zone posted a brief piece on a divorce settlement auction in Arkansas. He included a link to the listing of nearly 300 guns being auctioned by Roylston Auctions.
More recently, The Truth About Guns called attention to a story from the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Pacific Palisades where a rich eccentric named Jeffrey Alan Lash has accumulated some 1,200 guns and 6.5 tons of ammunition and explosive materials.
These stories got me thinking about the distribution of firearms in America and what constitutes an “arsenal.”
Several years ago, the Small Arms Survey estimated that there were 270 million civilian owned firearms in the United States, including handguns, rifles, and shotguns. Current estimates put this number at over 300 million.
Although this amounts to nearly one firearm for every person in the country, these weapons are not evenly distributed through the population. A majority of the adult population does not personally own any guns or even have a gun in their household. The minority of Americans who do own guns, therefore, frequently own more than one.
A 2004 national firearms survey found that 48 percent of individual gun owners own four or more firearms, and 3 percent own more than 25 firearms. As a result, the average number of firearms owned among those who own any is 6.6. As many as two-thirds of guns, therefore, are owned by just 20 percent of gun owners.
Which suggests that, depending on how you define an “arsenal,” many American gun owners have one. One of Merriam-Webster’s definition of an arsenal is “a collection of weapons.” No specification of how many weapons need to be in the collection for it to be an arsenal, and certainly no negative connotation to the term. But one of the points in the TTAG story about the 1,200 gun collection in Los Angeles was that the term arsenal is used negatively by the media.
When I present work on guns to academic audiences, I get gasps when I report the findings of the national firearms survey mentioned above. Of course, many in the audience cannot imagine why someone would need/want even a single gun, much less 6.6 or more than 25. But the case of someone close to me shows how easy it is to go from owning one or two guns to having an arsenal at home.
He begins with a semi-automatic .22 pistol, the Ruger Mark III, which is perfect for learning the fundamentals of marksmanship. He has teenagers, so he gets a single-action Ruger Bearcat .22 revolver, a very safe gun for a beginner. His wife wants a .22 caliber handgun, so they add a Smith & Wesson M&P22. Because he wants to shoot rifles in addition to handguns, he gets a very popular semi-automatic .22 rifle, the Ruger 10/22, and also a single shot .22 rifle for the kids. The idea of precision rifle shooting leads him to get a CZ American .22 bolt action rifle. So, just in .22 caliber, this person has 6 firearms – one for every person in his family.
He and his wife take a liking to clay target shooting, and so get his and hers over/under CZ shotguns, one in 12-gauge and one in 20-gauge. Add to that a 12-gauge semi-auto shotgun handed down from family and a 12-gauge tactical shotgun for home defense and the arsenal has grown to 10 firearms – above the national average of 6.6.
Shooting .22 handguns naturally leads to interest in shooting larger calibers, so add a 9mm Beretta 92FS – the civilian version of the M9 that the wife carried as a member of the United States Coast Guard. He gets a full size 9mm version of what Paul Barrett called “America’s gun,” the Glock 17, as well as an FNH FNX-9 due to its fully ambidextrous controls (he is left-handed). Running total = 13.
Becoming familiar with firearms leads to the possibility of carrying firearms concealed, so he gets a Beretta Nano 9mm and a Kahr P380 for pocket carry, and she a Smith & Wesson 640 revolver (.38/.357) and a Beretta 21A Bobcat .22. Running total = 17.
Rounding out the arsenal is a Bushmaster AR-15 platform rifle, just because, for a total of 18 firearms, nearly 3 times the national average in 2004. If you ask this person if he owns “an arsenal” of guns, I’m sure he would say no. But he does have a collection of different guns to be used by different members of his family for different purposes. And he is not a paranoid insurrectionist, tin-hat prepper, or any other dismissive terms people outside the gun culture might want to use to describe him. He is a normal, law-abiding gun owner.