The United States is experiencing a level of tension and division that is unprecedented in its recent history. Rising crime, civil unrest, allegations of police brutality and the uncertainty of the pandemic drove gun sales to record levels during the summer with the FBI carrying out 28.2 million background checks through September, an all-time high with three months to go until the year ends. Towards the end of the first (and possibly only) presidential debate, moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump whether he would call on his supporters to stay calm and avoid engaging in civil unrest, to which the president replied: “I’m urging my supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully because that’s what has to happen. I am urging them to do it”. There are now real fears that militias will act on the president’s remarks and show up at polling stations brandishing weapons.
With the country so dangerously divided, the sheer number of guns in civilian hands has added an extra level of uncertainty to the drama on Capitol Hill and the civil unrest off it. So just how many guns are in circulation in the U.S. and how does that compare to other countries? The best estimate comes from the most recent edition of the Small Arms Survey which put the number of civilian-held firearms worldwide at 857 million in 2017. There were a further 133 million guns in the hands of militaries that year as well as 22.7 million controlled by law enforcement. The Small Arms Survey noted that it is difficult to precisely gauge the number of civilian-held firearms worldwide and it uses a variety of available data sources including published official document and research studies, official responses to questionnaires, public opinion surveys, news reports and correspondence with experts.
The United States has more guns than people and the research estimates that it had a grand total of 393,300,000 civilian-owned firearms in 2017 – 120.5 for every 100 residents. So how does that compare to other countries? India has a population of 1.35 billion and it comes a very distant second in the gun-ownership league with an estimated 71.1 million weapons. China, the world’s most populous country, comes third with 49.7 million. Pakistan is in fourth place with 43.9 million civilian-owned guns while Russia rounds off the top-five with 17.6 million.
*Click below to enlarge (charted by Statista)