After posting yesterday about how many guns there are in America today, John Richardson of No Lawyers – Only Guns and Money pointed me to a post on The Weaponsman Blog called “Total US Firearms: Not 300 Million, but 412-660 Million?”
The author, who writes under the pseudonym “Hognose,” reports on a BAFTE data system called “Access 2000 (A2K)” (see Appendix II here for a brief overview). As Hognose describes it, “This system allows voluntarily participating manufacturers, importers and wholesalers (no retailers) to enter their firearms by the identifying data that goes on a 4473 directly into an ATF computer.”
The relevance of the A2K database to the question of how many guns is this: “As of 2 October, 2015, the data in A2K included 252,433,229 records, representing one firearm each.”
This suggests that since 2000, (at least) 252 million guns were ADDED to the U.S. gun stock. Hognose goes on to consider many caveats, but his basic point remains: How could there ONLY be 300 million guns in the United States if 252 million (at least) were added just in the last 15 years?
In fact, his conservative estimate is that 329 million were added from 1999-2016. He then offers various guesstimates for the pre-1999 period to arrive at a low estimate of 412 million to 660 million guns in the US gunstock.
The Weaponsman post is thoughtfully argued, but it also raises some questions. The site doesn’t contain a contact page and the comments are closed, but perhaps Hognose will see this post somehow and offer some further thoughts.
(1) Civilian Firearm Stock: Most of the estimates I have looked at are trying to estimate the CIVILIAN (i.e., not military or police) firearm stock. I don’t see that The Weaponsman estimate excludes military and police firearms. (Note: I recognize that police are civilians, but am using the term here as it is commonly used to exclude M&P.)
If military and police firearms are not excluded from the A2K data, how much of the difference between the common estimate of 300 million and The Weaponsman estimate of 412-660 million is due to M&P firearms?
(2) BAFTE Firearms Commerce in the United States Statistics: Hognose distinguishes his estimates from others by declaring “unlike most of the academics and reporters we linked above, we’re going to use publicly available data, and show our work.”
Ignoring the fact that the A2K data does not seem to be public (only the summary statistic on the number of records seems to be), the sources that I drew upon in my previous post did use publicly available data and did show their work.
See Table 22.1 in Legault and Lizotte’s book chapter:
And Appendix 1 in the report from the 2015 National Firearms Survey:
In fact, both of these calculations of the U.S. civilian firearm stock use data from the BAFTE, especially the report on “Firearms Commerce in the United States.”
They both show their work, estimate a 1% annual loss due to attrition, and come to very similar estimates for 2006 of 216 million for Legault and Lizotte and 220 million for the NFS paper. (The 4 million difference due mainly to the difference in their estimates of the stock in 1946.)
Using the round numbers given in the NFS paper for 1999-2013, 107 million guns were added. The 2016 Firearms Commerce report shows an addition 13 million guns manufactured or imported in 2014. Using that same estimate for 2015 and 2016, we get a total of (very approximately) 146 million new guns manufactured or imported according to the BAFTE data.
Round that up to 150 million and there is still a 100 million difference between the BAFTE Firearms Commerce data and the BAFTE A2K data.
So, my question is this: What accounts for this difference?
In concluding I should note that although I am an “academic,” I have no interest in “trying to minimize the number of guns there are in America,” as Hognose accuses those who use the 300 million number of doing. My interest is in understanding reality.
If there are 300 million guns in civilian hands in America, that’s good to know. Same if there are 400 million, 500 million, 600 million, or a billion.
Also, I think most “anti-gunners” don’t use the 300 million number to minimize the number of guns but actually shudder in horror that there are that many guns in the United States. So I don’t think that can be taken as a motivation for these estimates by Legault and Lizotte or the National Firearms Survey paper.