The Truth About Guns in America: 3 Percent of Americans Own Nearly Half of the Total

It happened again on November 14: a lone white gunman in Rancho Tehama, a tiny community in northern California, who was out on bail for a charge of stabbing a neighbor, used a semiautomatic rifle and two handguns to kill his wife before shooting 14 people, killing 4 of them. His shooting randomly into an elementary school has set many of us teachers into lockdown mode.

The statistic often quoted is that American civilians own around 300 million firearms, meaning close to one gun for every American. (The next closest country is Yemen, with an estimated 55 guns for every 100 people.)

The facts are actually more complicated.

Only 22 percent to 31 percent of American adults admit to personally owning a gun, a number that has been declining over the past 40 years.

Of those Americans who do own guns, the vast majority own fewer than three, according to a 2015 study by researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities.

On the other hand, just 3 percent of Americans own a total of 133 million firearms, almost half of the total, with collections that range from 8 to 140 guns. That’s around 7.7 million American adults who have a gun collection of an average 17 weapons. These gun fanatics are generally male and unlikely to be black or Hispanic, according to the report

Why does anyone need one gun, let alone 17? 

“Why do you need more than one pair of shoes?” suggested Philip van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group. “The truth is you don’t, but do you want more than one pair of shoes? If you’re going hiking, you don’t want to use that one pair of high heels.”

I guess that analogy works if you ignore the fact that shoes aren’t accidentally killing people, but regardless, the love of firearms is far more concentrated in the U.S. than any other country.

Americans own nearly half of the estimated 650 million civilian-owned guns worldwide. And according to preliminary statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those guns were used to kill more than 33,000 people in 2016.

That’s around 93 gun deaths every day. The rate of gun homicide in the U.S. is more than 25 times the average of other developed countries.

Of these murders, around 700 are related to domestic violence, and women make up the vast majority of these victims, most often the wife or girlfriend of the killer. 

More Facts About Guns In America

The CDC also reports that Americans taking their own lives constitute the majority of gun deaths, around 20,000 every year. They also note that over 60,000 people are shot each year but survive.

Equally disturbing is the revelation that:  

“Half of America’s gun homicides in 2015 were clustered in just 127 cities and towns, according to a new geographic analysis by the Guardian, even though they contain less than a quarter of the nation’s population.”

All of these deaths were made possible by the ready availability of guns.

Cars are also potential killing machines but are subject to numerous controls to ensure safety, such as air bags, seat belts, driving tests and licenses, and penalties for driving drunk or buzzed. All these contribute to making cars available to all, but less lethal.

By contrast, “We’ve done everything we can to ensure that this epidemic of death and disability from firearms is only going to get worse,” said George Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association, speaking on NPR.

The government’s response to potentially deadly diseases is also substantial. When the Zika virus appeared to pose a huge health threat last year, the Department of Health and Human Services allocated over a million dollars to the crisis and took measures such as going from neighborhood to neighborhood testing mosquitoes and pushing to get a vaccine. 

Yet when 50 people died and over 400 more were injured in Las Vegas last month and a mass shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, resulted in 26 deaths, the government did nothing.

Even more insulting, President Trump tweeted on November 14, right after the gun rampage in Rancho Tehama, “May God be with the people of Sutherland Springs, Texas. The FBI and Law Enforcement has arrived.” 

Really, he didn’t even check to see where the latest gun tragedy had taken place? The tweet was later deleted.

America deserves better than this. Ninety percent of Americans want commonsense gun safety policies, but our laws reflect the ability of the National Rifle Association to line the pockets of Republican politicians.

With 379 mass shootings so far this year, we must keep fighting to force Congress to protect Americans from gun violence.


Photo Credit: jongela19


Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 months ago

Automatic weapons have been illegal for some time now. But those "bump stock" things were legalized under Obama. Other than that it is our right to own guns!

Richard A
Richard A3 months ago

Steve, I don't shoot horses, I shoot inanimate targets.

Misss D
Misss D3 months ago

I have only just read the last few posts here. Sometimes, when I post, it looks like it is not on there at all and then it appears a day or two later. This is not a very good website - I think there is something wrong with the technology behind it because this happens all the time. Thought you might like to know, Steve.

Steve Oram
Steve O3 months ago

Richard, I did reply but it hasn't appeared here. Can't be bothered to write it again, sorry.

Steve Oram
Steve O3 months ago

Hello Richard. Sorry for not responding, I don't get notifications. I will try to turn them on. It was a general comment anyway, not directed at you. I wasn't incorrect in saying that a lot of people claim gun ownership for self-defense. And I do believe there's a lot of people who imagine that they are safer, and maybe even more 'manly', for having one. If not self-defense, then maybe hunting, which is almost entirely just for sport rather than a genuine need for animal population control (I have no objections to the latter). Killing wildlife for a hobby (especially with guns) isn't a venerable activity. Hunting plentiful species for food is fine, but an air rifle or basic shotgun will suffice. Most guns in America are not designed for this. If my horse is too high, perhaps you could shoot it out from under me.

Georgina M
Georgina M3 months ago

Petition signed

Richard A
Richard A3 months ago

Steve Oram, it has been more than two days since your remarks;

If you are going to make libelous statements you should at least show the courtesy of a reply.

Deborah S
Deborah S3 months ago

The ND A sees what is happening and could care less. There is no middle ground here, they fight and legislation and suggestions. Gun control has to be a must.

Danuta W
Danuta W3 months ago

Thanks for sharing

Winn A
Winn Adams3 months ago