As I noted in my last post, I am focusing my Sociology of Guns seminar around James Wright’s 1995 essay, “Ten Essential Observations on Gun in America.” Last week we addressed the first three of Wright’s observations are:
- Half the households in the country own at least one gun.
- There are 200 million guns already in circulation in the United States, give or take a few tens of millions.
- Most of those 200 million guns are owned for socially innocuous sport and recreational purposes.
Observations 2 and 3 are easier to address. So, in this and two following posts I will address observation 2, then 3, and then observation 1 last.
The students were assigned three contemporary readings on Wright’s first three observations:
- “The Stock and Flow of US Firearms: Results from the 2015 National Firearms Survey,” a yet-to-be-published manuscript by Azrael, Hepburn, Hemenway, and Miller (connect to it here).
- “Caught in a Crossfire: Legal and Illegal Gun Ownership in America,” by Richard L. Legault an Alan J. Lizotte (published in a 2009 Handbook on Crime and Deviance).
- Selection from Shooters: Myths and Realities of America’s Gun Cultures by Abigail A. Kohn (published in 2005).
To take the second observation first, the first two readings both support Wright’s earlier observation. Although Wright does not cite his source, the National Study of Private Firearms Ownership in the United States sponsored by The Police Foundation and National Institute of Justice estimated 192 million privately owned firearms in 1994. This amounts to roughly 200 million guns, “give or take a few tens of millions,” as Wright says.
Legault and Lizotte estimated the U.S. civilian gun stock to be just over 216 million as of 2006. And the 2015 National Firearms Survey (NFS) pegs the current stock of firearms at somewhere between 245 million and 285 million.
I know some will argue that the NFS estimate is low, and that there are over 300 million firearms in the United States today. But for me, Wright’s “give or take a few tens of millions” is right on. The heart of Wright’s observation is that there are ALOT of guns in America. Even though no one knows exactly how many, these estimates all support the idea that there are ALOT. Far more than any other country, both in absolute numbers and per capita. Whether it is 285 million or 315 million is inconsequential.