One thing that I’ve learned at Bearing Arms is that the “conventional wisdom” is almost always wrong, and sometimes grossly so.
For example, while there is no definitive way to account for all the firearms in the United States, it has become commonly accepted that there are roughly 300 million firearms in the United States in 2016.
That has always bugged me, especially as that general estimate has only shifted slightly upward in recent years, even though we know that the NBI NICS background checks system has been setting new records for 15 straight months.
WeaponsMan, a gun blog created and manned by a former Special Forces soldier and his peers, makes a compelling argument that the commonly bantered-about estimate of 300 million guns in the United States may potentially be 100 million to 360 million too low.
The numbers are all over the place, and many of them seem to recursively refer to one another, not exactly building confidence in the rigor of their development. But they seem to cluster around a Narrative-friendly 300 million. But what if that number is wrong?
We believe that the correct number is much higher — somewhere between 412 and 660 million. You may wonder how we came to that number, so buckle up (and cringe, if you’re a math-phobe, although it never gets too theoretical): unlike most of the academics and reporters we linked above, we’re going to use publicly available data, and show our work.
What if we told you that one ATF computer system logged, by serial number, 252,000,000 unique firearms, and represented only those firearms manufactured, imported or sold by a relatively small number of the nation’s tens of thousands of Federal Firearms Licensees?
WeaponsMan isn’t kidding.
He does “show his work” in exhaustive detail, showing both how the ATF’s voluntary Access 2000 database (A2K) is used by 35 firms representing just 66 FFLs to upload data (and avoid annoying on-site visits). Most of the voluntary participants are manufacturers, but there are some distributors as well. These 66 FFLs have uploaded 252,433,229 unique serial numbers in just 15 years, and they account for just one half of one percent of operating manufacturers and importers.
I can’t see any significant flaws in their calculations or estimates.
Unless a keen-eyed reader or critic can find a significant flaw in the arguments made on WeaponsMan, I think we have to seriously consider that our commonly accepted “best estimate” of roughy 300 million firearms in the United States is a grotesque undercount.
A more accurate estimate of 450-600 million firearms existing in the United States isn’t just plausible, but seems likely.