We are all affected by the slaughter of the students at Parkland high school a few weeks ago, and uplifted (I hope) by the massive turnout of demonstrating students and adults all over our country and around the world to protest gun violence. In this fraught situation, many of you may have noticed the special opinion section in the Boston Globe yesterday that offered some key statistics and seven proposed practical steps the country could take, based on Massachusetts experience, to limit the slaughter going forward.
I was particularly struck by 2 numbers in the Globe, which they attributed to the National Firearm Survey from 2015:
- 78% of American adults do NOT own a gun
- 3% of Americans own HALF of all guns nationwide
For me, these numbers begged being made more concrete and communicative. So let’s add in the population of the country and the total number of guns in the country:
- 325,000,000 is fairly close to the current population of the U.S. (multiple public sources)
- 300,000,000 would be a low estimate of the total number of firearms owned by the public in the U.S. (Congressional Research Service cited by NPR and multiple other sources). Many current estimates are at least 5% higher. Regardless, that’s a lot of guns.
The Magic of Division and Subtraction
Through the wonders of arithmetic, we can readily derive the following:
- 253,500,000 Americans do NOT own a gun
- Therefore 71,500,000 (22% of Americans) own all 300,000,000 guns, but not equally
Of those 22%, a small minority (3%) own fully half the guns, meaning the remaining 19% own the other half:
- So 61,750,000 Americans (19/22 or 86% of the gun-owning population) own 150,000,000 guns, or an average of 2.43 guns per gunowner
- And only 9,750,000 Americans (3/22 or 14% of the gun-owning population) own the other 150,000,000 or a whopping average of 15.4 guns per gun-owner!
What a Concentration of Firepower
Over 15 guns per person for under 10 million Americans account for half of all guns in the country. Did you have any idea of that concentration of hardware? I certainly didn’t. Nor do I recall any real public discussion of the skewed ownership of guns. When a reliable federal survey indicates over three-quarters of Americans do NOT own a gun, and 3% of Americans own half the guns? These numbers are worth pondering. There are policy prescriptions in there somewhere that a rational body politic would figure out.