Guns. Also, Math and Facts are Hard.

I saw a claim today that, in a bid for stricter gun control, estimated that the United States of America contains 5% of the world’s population and 50% of its guns. Is this accurate, and how does it impact local and global violence?

The Small Arms Survey, a group in Switzerland that keeps track of these things, includes “revolvers, self-loading pistols, rifles and carbines, assault rifles¹, sub-machine guns and light machine guns”, as well as “heavy machine guns, hand-held under-barrel and mounted grenade launchers, portable anti-aircraft guns, portable anti-tank guns, recoilless rifles, portable launchers of anti-tank missiles and rocket systems; portable launchers of anti-aircraft missile systems (MANPADS) and mortars of calibres less than 100mm.” Recently, “To this list, the Survey has added single-rail-launched rockets and 120 mm mortars as long as they can be transported and operated as intended by a light vehicle.”

According to the Small Arms Survey, the United States is one of the most transparent nations when it comes to reporting weapons imports and exports (including military grade), and only Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands have higher “transparency” scores. The least transparent countries are Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. It is safe to say that the United States is excellent when it comes to reporting what happens with its firearms.

Most studies you will read place about 270,000,000 (270 million) legally owned firearms in the hands of American civilians. With the current population of the United States hovering around 323,100.000 (323.1 million), basic math will show you that’s about 85 legally owned guns per 100 people. Subtracting the population under the age 18, it comes out to roughly 92 guns per 100 adults. That does indeed sound like a lot. The Small Arms survey estimates somewhere in the middle of these two numbers, with 89 firearms per 100 residents.

Meanwhile, the global population is somewhere around 7.5 billion (7,500,000,000). According to the small-arms survey, there are roughly 650 million privately owned firearms. The USA is at the top of this, followed by Yemen (55), Switzerland (46), Finland(45), and Cyprus (36). Since we know that fifty percent of 650 million is 325 million. As the USA has 270 million privately owned firearms, this is less than the 50% statistic quoted above. It comes out closer to 42%. At 323.1 million, the US also has roughly 4.3% of the global population, after China (18.5%) and India (17.9%).

The United States of America contains 4% of the world’s population, and owns 42% of the world’s civilian firearms.

Let’s break this down further. The following countries prohibit gun ownership or so heavily restrict it so as to make ownership near impossible except in certain circumstances,  to ordinary citizens. Listed also are countries that prohibit ownership for self-defense. Numbers in parentheses denote percentage of world population:

  1. Taiwan (0.3%)
  2. India (17.9%)
  3. Israel (0.1%)
  4. Kuwait (0.1%)
  5. Malaysia (0.4)
  6. East Timor (0%)
  7. Indonesia (3.5%)
  8. Japan (1.7%)
  9. North Korea (0.3%)
  10. Singapore (0.1%)
  11. South Korea (0.7%)
  12. China (18.5%)
  13. Turkey (1.1%)
  14. Cyprus* (0%)
  15. Iceland (0%)
  16. France* (0.9%)
  17. Germany* (1.1%)
  18. Netherlands* (0.2%)
  19. Romania* (0.3%)
  20. United Kingdom* (0.9%)
  21. New Zealand (0.1%)
  22. Brazil (2.8%)
  23. Chile (0.2)
  24. Australia (0.3%)
  25. Canada (0.5%)
  26. Denmark* (0.1%)
  27. Finland* (0.1%)
  28. Hungary* (0.1%)
  29. Ireland* (0.1%)
  30. Norway (0.1%)
  31. Ukraine (0.6%)
  32. Vietnam (1.3%)

Statistics for African countries not available. This list, however, legally prohibits or heavily restricts 53.3% of the world’s population from possession of a firearm, most notably, hand guns. This percentage puts those 650 million guns into the hands of only (approximately) 3.5 billion. Now, let’s remove the United States from the equation, leaving 380 million firearms in the hands of 7.2 billion people. Clearly, this still leaves the United States on top for private gun ownership, but in the overall picture, what, exactly, does this mean?

Next: Global gun ownership and crime.

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