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10 Big Questions in the U.S. Gun Control Debate


10
How Many Guns Are in the U.S.?
Gun enthusiasts explore products displayed on the exhibition floor at the National Rifle Association of America's annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., 2008. Scott Olson/Getty Images
Gun enthusiasts explore products displayed on the exhibition floor at the National Rifle Association of America's annual meeting in Louisville, Ky., 2008. Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. has a lot of guns -- so many, in fact, that there's nearly one firearm for every person who lives in the country. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2009 there were an estimated 310 million guns in the U.S., including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles and 86 million shotguns [source: Krouse]. The 2012 U.S. population is nearly 314 million.

This already huge privately held arsenal is growing at a very fast rate. About 8 million firearms are manufactured globally each year, and 4.5 million are bought by people who live in the U.S. [source: Small Arms Survey].

That may lead you to the mistaken impression that everyone is packing heat. In truth, however, the majority of Americans still are unarmed. In a January 2012 Gallup poll, for example, 43 percent of Americans said they had a gun in their homes [source: Gallup]. That's consistent with the General Social Survey, which has found that over the past several decades, only 44.3 percent of Americans have kept firearms where they live [source: GSS]. In fact, the portion of Americans who are gun owners seems to be on the decline; Gallup, for example, found that the percentage who had guns in 2012 was 8 percent lower than in the mid-1990s. Some believe that gun ownership may be decreasing because gun owners tend to be middle-aged white males, a demographic that represents a smaller segment of the population in 2013 [sources: Statistic Brain, Brennan].

However, a relatively small number of heavily armed people -- about 20 percent of the population -- own 65 percent of U.S. firepower, a 2004 survey found [source: Hepburn et al.].


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