Small Arms Survey Outlines Difficulties In Estimating Gun Ownership

By Carlton Purvis

Small Arms Survey discusses the difficulties that arise when trying to estimate the number of weapons owned in a brief issued this month on civilian gun ownership.

The research group said low estimates could undermine effective policy responses and cripple interventions. Likewise, high estimates could discourage needed action. The report also says the United States leads the world’s countries in gun ownership with 89 fire arms per 100 residents.

While it’s relatively easy to be certain of the existence of some guns, it’s impossible to count them all, the group says.

Current estimates say civilians own 650 million guns worldwide--more than three times the number owned by armed forces worldwide and more than 25 times the amount held by law enforcement. Roughly 270 million of those are owned by Americans.

Some of the difficulties in calculating gun ownership lie in how numbers are gathered. The most common numbers on gun ownership come from personal estimates from “knowledgeable observers” the group says. For that same reason, though, estimates offer differ dramatically.

Household ownership surveys are said to provide the most useful index. But this method has its drawbacks as well. Many surveys measure the number of households with a gun rather than the number of guns in each household.

Other methods of estimates include using other indicators like a country’s GDP or the proportion of suicides committed with guns, or by comparing similar countries.

The most accurate numbers come from countries where gun registration is mandatory, the report says. But even then, because of standards that vary from country to country, the numbers may be somewhat skewed. England includes air guns in their totals, for example.

Small Arms Survey is a project of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva made up of researchers with expertise in fields related to international armed violence who publish occasional reports on their findings.

photo by isafmedia/flickr


View Recent News (by day)


Beyond Print

SM Online

See all the latest links and resources that supplement the current issue of Security Management magazine.