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America’s 300 million guns concentrated in fewer and fewer hands

By now, you’ve probably heard that there are nearly 300 million privately owned guns in the United States, almost one gun per person. As disturbing as that is, what’s even scarier is this: A minority of Americans own all of these weapons and just 20 percent are hoarding the majority of them.

Following the massacre at an Aurora, Colorado movie theatre over the summer, CNN conducted an analysis of US gun ownership that revealed that “the number of U.S. households with guns has declined, but current gun owners are gathering more guns.”

A decreasing number of American gun owners own two-thirds of the nation’s guns and as many as one-third of the guns on the planet — even though they account for less than 1% of the world’s population, according to a CNN analysis of gun ownership data.

If that’s not troubling enough, here are findings from other studies that CNN cites:

study published in the Injury Prevention Journal, based on a 2004 National Firearms Survey, found that 20% of the gun owners with the most firearms possessed about 65% of the nation’s guns.

A 2007 survey by the U.N’s Office on Drugs and Crime found that the United States, which has 5% of the world’s population, owns 50% of the world’s guns.

The number of households owning guns has declined from almost 50% in 1973 to just over 32% in 2010, according to a 2011 study produced by The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center. The number of gun owners has gone down almost 10% over the same period, the report found.

While it’s next to impossible for even federal law enforcement officials to know detailed demographics about gun owners (the Federal government is prohibited from keeping a registry by the Firearms Owners Protection Act of 1986), a 2011 Gallup survey of self-reported gun ownership found that the majority of owners are “men, Republicans, and Southerners.” The fact that this population of mostly white males is an aging and therefore declining demographic may be one reason why the number of gun owners has declined, according to an analysis by the Violence Policy Center.

This brings me back to one of the most frequent arguments invoked by (usually white male) gun rights advocates who insist they need their guns to defend themselves from a potentially hostile and authoritarian government (I think that for some, this is a fantasy they dream about). Let’s pretend for a moment that it makes sense to sacrifice our children to massacres every so often in exchange for unregulated access to military-style rifles that we may one day need to use against a tyrannical government. Do gun owners really think their guns will protect them from F-16s and drone strikes? Perhaps they should begin stockpiling hellfire missiles to prepare for the coming battle. (Disclaimer: please don’t, this is just a joke)

The real reason gun owners stockpile weapons and ammunitions is a fear of looming gun control legislation that, ironically, never comes to fruition. In the aftermath of Obama’s election, gun sales skyrocketed. People were scared he was going to take away their guns. The same happened following the massacres in Tucson and Aurora, sparked by the (bullshit) talk about a need for reasonable gun restrictions by the media and lawmakers.

Obviously, a majority of these gun owners aren’t using their firearms to kill people. But do they really need 47 guns and $100 thousand worth of ammunitions, the amount found in the home of an Indiana man who over the weekend threatened to kill as many people he could at a nearby elementary school? You would think that an individual purchasing such a large amount of ammo would raise red flags in the law enforcement community, but “Ammunition purchases are functionally unregulated and off-limits to federal law enforcement,” according to Wired. “The only way law enforcement would know about bulk ammo purchases is if the dealer decides he or she is dealing with a shady customer and alerts the authorities.”

Relying on the voluntary tattling of gun dealers doesn’t seem like the wisest strategy in deterring mass killings given that Aurora’s shooter easily purchased 6,000 rounds of ammunition from Amazon without raising suspicion. The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition, enough to kill every single student in the school if he had more time.

Am I the only one who finds it disturbing that a small portion of Americans are hoarding not just hundreds of millions of weapons but also stockpiling massive amounts of ammo? It’s frightening to think what these particular gun owners might do if America were to suddenly adopt common sense gun restrictions…

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8 Comments
  1. chris yu #

    When is the last time you went to the shooting range to learn marksmanship? Have you spent the time learning, first hand – about firearms, firearm safety? Do you understand how many thousands of rounds are needed to learn any proficiency? Did you know the most common bullet purchased in the united states regularly comes in boxes of 550 for around $20?
    I know that guns kill people. I would happily give up my own guns if I knew it would guarantee the prevention of tragedies like we have been seeing lately. But, I haven’t surrendered my legal firearms. And to me, pandering to one idea that “guns are bad” will not help a constructive dialog to determine better gun control laws. Even worse, the idea that – every gun owner is a nut job.
    Frankly, I don’t have the solution, I couldn’t begin to know where to address the issue. But, I do know that you’re right that it would be, “frightening to think what *these* particular gun owners might do if America were to suddenly adopt *common sense* gun restrictions…”
    Man is the most dangerous animal, able to lash out when threatened, why would you want to approach the issue so uncompromisingly?

    December 17, 2012
  2. The concentration of guns is interesting to say the least. However, as more people are concentrated in urban areas, where gun ownership is, we’ll say, difficult, it doesn’t surprise me that less people as a percentage own guns.

    A couple points about your post:

    You say he bought ammo from Amazon, but your reference article says “It was pretty much as easy as ordering a book from Amazon.” Amazon’s policy has been to not allow this type of activity.

    “The shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School was carrying hundreds of rounds of ammunition, enough to kill every single student in the school if he had more time.” He had twenty minutes from the first 911 call until first responders showed up. He had enough time to kill everyone in the school. http://www.cnn.com/interactive/2012/12/us/sandy-hook-timeline/?hpt=hp_c2

    As far as your concern about purchasing large amounts of ammunition, I’ll give you a case in point to the affirmative. We as a family like to shoot sporting clays (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sporting_clays). It takes 100 shotgun shells per person. Just like everything else, it is economical to buy in bulk. And that is just shotgun shells. We also shoot IDPA on a monthly basis, which requires 100 rounds of pistol ammunition per person. If you participate in shooting sports, bulk ammunition purchases are cost less per unit and hedge against inflation since the cost of ammunition is influenced by the market price of metals, supply and demand. It’s not so far fetched to have a “stockpile” of ammunition.

    Finally, “arguments invoked by (usually white male) gun rights advocates who insist they need their guns to defend themselves from a potentially hostile and authoritarian government”. An armed revolt is a last resort – period. But, I believe you agree with me, that the acts of our government is concerning. Indefinite detention without a trial thanks to NDAA, the Patriot act, drone strikes, are but a few examples of concern. I’ll close this thought with “the practice of arbitrary imprisonments, have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny” Alexander Hamilton Federalist Paper #84.

    Since you would like a “use-case” for “military-style” weapons, I would offer that they are most often used in varmint hunting and feral hog hunting. They’re popular in 3-gun competitions as well (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shooting_sport#3-Gun).

    Finally, I’ll leave you with the fact that Alexander Hamilton in Federalist #84 argues that the need for the bill of rights is redundant. but thank goodness for redundancy. “For why declare that things shall not be done which there is no power to do? Why, for instance, should it be said that the liberty of the press shall not be restrained, when no power is given by which restrictions may be imposed?” I today’s culture, however, how many times does the press have to invoke the first amendment? The rights “of the people” and government have been debated since the beginning of this nation – our conversations today aren’t very far from what they were debating ~250 years ago. http://www.thefederalistpapers.org is one source for the documents.

    Personally, I wish your post had less references about hording-crazy-white-with-guns, but its a dialogue nonetheless. With that, I thank you for your opinion on this important topic.

    December 20, 2012
  3. Greg #

    Good thing no one told the Mujahadin that you can’t defeat jets and tanks with rifles…

    December 20, 2012
  4. Scott Vines #

    “Do gun owners really think their guns will protect them from F-16s and drone strikes?”

    Who’s living in a fantasy world? Do you really think the federal government would use F-16s and drone strikes against its own people? If they did, they would lose the propaganda war, and thus the war. The fact is, any civil war/revolution would involve irregular actions – hit and run attacks on known traitors and isolated enemy units, distruption of utilities, communications, roads and other infrastructure. Ever heard of the IED? Also, a rebelliion might entail the succession of Southern and Midwestern states from the Union. And because the South is actually more economically diverse than in the past and thriving relative to more socialist areas of the country, they would be more difficult to defeat than 150 years ago. And they still have kids who can blow the head off a squirrel at 50 yards with iron sights…. YOU are delusional.

    Just like a typical mini Mao, you bring up what I call the “need” agrument, as if you or anyone else has a divine right to determine what anyone else “needs.” If I want 0 or 1000 guns, it’s none of your damned business as long as I am not harming your person or property. It’s called freedom.

    You also mention the stupid “rest of the world” argument, as if anyone should give a flying crap about what the rest of the world does. So what if 5% of the world owns 50 percent of the guns? So what??? What’s your point? Am I supposed to feel ashamed for being so lucky to live in a country where the LAW OF THE LAND states that I have a right to keep and bear arms???

    December 22, 2012
    • Bob #

      I think the point Rania is making is the American obsession with guns is obviously going to create more gun violence. I’m not talking about the people who have A gun at home to protect themselves, or the legitimate hunters. There’s the people who stockpile guns, the survivalists, the militias, the people who believe the pursuit of happiness includes blasting machine guns in the woods at trees, animals, etc. because it’s “fun.” Fun as in the power to destroy things. It’s also fun to drive a car 80 mph, but we have speed limit signs to remind people not do so. Just because you can doesnt mean you should.

      In response to the critics of the original post, yes, we probably have more of everything than the rest of the world – cars, refrigerators, etc. That means we produce most of the pollution from powering these things, and also consume most of the planet’s resources. You dont need to feel guilty, just responsible like an adult. But I suspect the critics here probably dont believe in global warming.

      And why should a kid be able to shoot the head off a squirrel at 50 yards? For survival? Give me a break.

      January 6, 2013
    • YOU ARE 1000% RIGHT, BUDDY…THANKS.

      March 14, 2013
  5. Surprised I didn’t catch this article earlier, anyway.

    37% huh… from some study at Chicago University… Well, according to a Gallup Poll in 2011, confirmed by the NYTimes (probably one of the most anti-gun news outlets in America), it’s 47% of house holds that own guns.

    “Men, Republicans, and Southerners.” By majority you mean 46%, because according to a 2008 National Exit poll, gun ownership in our country by race goes like this. 46% White (37% of them Democrats), 29% Hispanic, 21% Black, and 15% Asian. Unless all those people decided to throw away their expensive guns within the past 4 years, it probably hasn’t changed much.

    Statistics, lol

    March 12, 2013

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