The United States is known for many things, but the Second Amendment to its Constitution is one of the most famous. Guns and the United States are practically synonymous throughout the world. Most Europeans think of guns as an American obsession, and people in other countries often question the relationship of the US to its guns. This is due, at least in part, to American gun culture.
Indeed, guns are a foundational aspect of the American way of life. From the necessity of hunting for food in the days of early settlers to reliance on militias for national defense in formative years, America is no stranger to guns. There’s even a famous quote attributed to Admiral Yamamoto, commander of the Imperial Japanese Navy during World War II, in which he stated “you cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind every blade of grass.”
While many historians now say this is not accurate and that Yamamoto never actually said this, there’s a reason the urban legend has persisted. Because whether he said it or not, there are millions upon millions of guns in the United States.
Worldwide Gun Ownership Figures
To get an idea of why the United States is considered exceptional when it comes to firearms ownership, it’s helpful to look at the number of guns worldwide — specifically, the number of small arms in the world. To clarify, small arms generally means rifles, handguns and shotguns.
Based on survey and research data for small arms, it’s estimated there are more than 1 billion of these firearms in the world. Of that, there are around 133 million military small arms and almost 23 million police-owned firearms worldwide. After removing those numbers, we can see that there are 857 million firearms in civilian hands worldwide.
American Gun Ownership Figures
As of 2018, the United States had 393 million of that global total of 857 million guns. Just for the record, there are around 330 million people in the U.S. so that means there are more guns in the United States than people. What’s more, this was before the record number of new gun purchases in 2020 — a rifle behind every blade of grass, indeed.
In terms of gun ownership as a country, the number of guns per capita in the United States is actually more than double the next closest nation. In the US, there are more than 120 guns per 100 people. The next closest country, Yemen, doesn’t even come close to that. In Yemen, there are slightly more than 52 guns per 100 people. For our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, the numbers are 34 and 12 respectively.
Households with Guns in the United States
Obviously, not everyone in the US owns a gun. Those guns are spread among 50 million of the 118 million total households within the US.
That means each gun owning household has somewhere around eight guns on average based on that breakdown. But surveys and studies have broken that information down farther to reveal that 3% of US gun owners own 50% of all the guns in America. For that group, the average number of guns is 17 each. The remaining 50% of the guns are owned by 19% of American adults.
Gun Sales in America
The American culture of guns is about more than hunting or sport shooting. The culture is one rooted in rebellion to tyranny and in the inherent right of self-defense. The traditional American idea is that it’s up to the individual to defend themselves against both foreign invasion and crime. It’s a part of our cultural fabric that liberty is individually protected.
This is why there are increases in gun sales when there are fewer restrictions in place or when the populace feels threatened by a particular administration when it comes to guns. Irrespective of political beliefs, the Obama years correlated with a boom in gun manufacturing, and gun sales have increased every year since 2016. Additionally, there were record breaking numbers of gun sales in 2019 and 2020.
While some of this is due to concerns over AR-15 or magazine bans, a major reason is a desire for protection. When surveyed, three-quarters of all gun owners said the purpose for their purchase was protection. It seems to be working too. The overall crime rate has dropped each year as well, and violent crime rates dropped for the past 3 years.
Interestingly, the vast majority of these gun sales are handguns.
Gun Ownership by Region
The region with the highest percentage of gun ownership in the US is the South. According to collected data, 36% of people in the South owned a gun of some kind. The Midwest and West were second and third with 32% and 31% respectively. The Northeast is the area with the fewest guns by far, coming in at only 16%.
Rural vs Urban Gun Ownership
To further break down that information, the majority of gun ownership is in rural areas. According to research, 46% of the people living in rural areas own a gun. Additionally, 28% of those living in the suburbs have a firearm of some kind. Meanwhile, only 19% of those living in urban environments are gun owners.
Stats about Female Firearms Ownership
It's true that more men own guns than women. Statistics show that 39% of men own a firearm while only 22% of women own a gun. However, there are other interesting trends when it comes to female gun ownership.
First, among non-gun owners, women are more likely to live with someone who owns a gun than men are. All in all, 18% of women without a gun live in a household with someone who owns a gun. Compare that to only 5% of men.
The number of women buying guns is on the rise. The NRA and National Shooting Sports Foundation report a 77% increase in female gun ownership over the period of 2005-2015. The numbers have kept pace with the rest of the new gun buyers since then. It’s also worth noting that crimes against women have dropped during this time. Sexual assault, rape and robbery rates all went down as the rate of female gun ownership increased.
There are numerous reasons why the number of women buying guns has increased, not the least of which is an active effort on the part of the gun community to include women. Firearms manufacturers have worked diligently to provide options designed with women’s preferences in mind. Additionally, gun groups have been choosing more women as the face of the gun community and reaching out in terms of education and competition options.
The United States is clearly the gun capital of the world. Between our history, our traditions of individuality and our longstanding desire for personal liberty, it’s no wonder that the US tops the charts when it comes to gun ownership.
Data for infographics:
- Guns in the world: 1.013 Billion
- Guns owned by world militaries: 133 Million
- Guns owned by world police forces: 23 million
- Civilian guns worldwide: 857 Million
- Guns in America: 393 Million
- People in America: 330 Million
- Guns in the US per capita: 120.5 per 100 people
- US Households with guns: 50 million
- Percentage of Americans with guns: 22% (3% own 50% and 19% own the remaining 50%)
- % of people who own guns in different environments
- Rural: 46%
- Suburbs: 28%
- Urban: 19%
- % of people who own guns in various regions:
- South: 36%
- Midwest: 32%
- West: 31%
- Northeast: 16%
- 39% of men own a gun
- 18% of women own a gun
- 77% increase in female gun ownership over a 10-year period