TABLE 3-2 Estimated Number and Per Capita Ownership (rate per 1,000) of Firearms in the United States, 1950 to 1999

Year

Total Firearms

Handguns

Firearms per 1,000 Persons

Handguns per 1,000 Persons

1950

57,902,081

14,083,195

381.3

93.5

1960

77,501,065

18,951,219

430.6

105.4

1970

111,917,733

31,244,813

548.7

153.2

1980

167,681,587

51,707,269

737.9

227.5

1990

212,823,547

72,499,181

853.3

290.7

1999

258,322,465

93,742,357

925.8

336.0

 

SOURCES: Data for 1950 to 1990 are from Kleck (1997: Table 3.1). The 1999 estimate was derived by adding the annual net increase in the stock of total firearms and handguns (manufactures + imports – exports) to the 1990 estimate using data from U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (2002: Exhibits 1, 2, and 3).

ports) to a base measure of the firearms stock.4Table 3-2 presents production-based estimates of the size of the civilian firearms stock based on a cumulated total since 1999. As the table shows, in 1999 there were more than 258 million firearms in the United States, 36 percent of them handguns. For every 1,000 people in the United States in 1999 there were nearly 926 firearms, 336 of which were handguns.

From 1950 to 1999, the per capita rate of overall firearms availability increased 143 percent, while handguns alone increased 259 percent. These data suggest that in recent years the rate of increase has slowed: the annual number of new handguns introduced to market has declined since 1994, while annual introduction of other firearms has remained relatively stable.

Survey-Based Estimates

Although production-based estimates indicate a 25 percent increase in firearms availability since 1980, survey-based estimates indicate an 11 to 33 percent decrease in households reporting ownership. Three often-used surveys are the General Social Survey (GSS), the Gallup Poll, and the Harris Poll.5 According to these surveys, the percentage of respondents reporting

4  

Production-based data have limitations in that they account for neither additions to the stock from illegal or other uncounted means nor losses from seized, lost, or nonworking firearms. These data also exclude firearms manufactured or exported for the military but include firearms purchased by domestic law enforcement agencies.

5  

Each survey asks a similar question about gun ownership. Gallup asks “Do you have a gun in your home?” Harris asks “Do you happen to have in your home or garage any guns or revolvers?” and the GSS asks “Do you happen to have in your home (or garage) any guns or revolvers?”



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