The Number and Type of Private Firearms in the United States

Published date01 November 2022
AuthorJohn Berrigan,Deborah Azrael,Matthew Miller
Date01 November 2022
Subject MatterThe Changing Composition of Gun Violence
70 ANNALS, AAPSS, 704, November 2022
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231164855
The Number
and Type of
Firearms in the
United States
Since 2015, tens of millions of guns have entered the
U.S. market. Using household survey data, we found
that the number of firearms owned by U.S. adults
increased from 265 million in 2015 to 326 million in
2019. Over this period, the proportion of firearms that
were handguns increased slightly, from 42 to 44 per-
cent, continuing a long-standing trend. Seventy percent
of handguns were pistols (102 million) and 30 percent
revolvers (43 million); 5.7 million were stored in cars.
Sixty-three percent of long guns were rifles (113 mil-
lion); 37 percent were shotguns (65 million). Of the 40
percent of rifles that were semiautomatic, half were
described as military-style rifles (23 million) and half as
hunting rifles (22 million). Gun ownership was highly
concentrated: 87 percent of all firearms were owned by
the half of gun owners who owned more than two guns.
We discuss the public health and surveillance implica-
tions of these findings.
Keywords: firearms; guns; handgun; long gun; gun
John Berrigan, a graduate of Northeastern University,
is currently a third-year medical student at University
of Kansas Medical School. He has led several firearm
related peer-reviewed studies in collaboration with Drs.
Azrael and Miller, including the present one. He plans
on continuing to pursue and integrate his dual interests
in public health research and clinical medicine.
Deborah Azrael is director of research at the Harvard
Injury Control Research Center and has over 25 years’
experience conducting and leading grant-funded
research on firearm violence, injury surveillance, and
suicide prevention. She was the codirector of the pilot
for what became the National Violent Death Reporting
Matthew Miller is a professor of health sciences and
epidemiology at Northeastern University, adjunct pro-
fessor of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public
Health, and codirector of the Harvard Injury Control
Research Center. His research focuses on injury and
violence prevention, with a focus on firearm-related
injury and suicide prevention.
The U.S. is widely acknowledged to have the largest stock of civilian-held fire-
arms in the world (Ingraham 2018). Nevertheless, despite the year-on-year toll of
firearm-related death—approximately 40,000 Americans annually over recent
years (WISQARS [Web-Based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System]
2021)—no ongoing data source provides information on the size or composition
of the U.S. gun stock, or about how firearms of different types (e.g., handguns,
shotguns, rifles) distribute across U.S. gun owners. Indeed, although numerous
surveys, including the biannual General Social Survey (GSS), ask respondents
whether they live in a household with a gun and/or personally own a gun, few
have asked about the number of guns respondents own, let alone more detailed
questions about these firearms. To the best of our knowledge, only three nation-
ally representative surveys, one in 1994 (Cook and Ludwig 1997), one in 2004
(Hepburn et al. 2007), and another in 2015 (Azrael et al. 2017) have used
respondents’ enumeration of the number and types of firearms they own to
extrapolate to the U.S. population overall. The most recent of these surveys
found that that between 1994 and 2015, the U.S. gun stock had grown from
approximately 192 million to 265 million firearms and that the number of hand-
guns in civilian hands had grown from approximately 65 million (constituting
one-third of the U.S. gun stock), to approximately 135 million (and 42 percent of
the stock) (Azrael et al. 2017).
Since 2015, the fraction of U.S. adults who personally own a gun increased
from approximately 22 percent in 2015 to almost 26 percent in 2020 (based on
estimates from the GSS) (Davern et al. 2020), and tens of millions of guns
entered the U.S. retail gun market, (“Firearms Commerce in the United States”
2021); but no information is available about how these guns are distributed across
U.S. gun owners. In this article, we use data from the 2019 National Firearm
Survey (2019 NFS), a nationally representative survey of adults in gun owning
households, to update the estimate of the number of guns in the U.S., and to
provide more detailed information on the size, composition and distribution of
the U.S. gun stock.
The 2019 NFS1 was conducted by the research firm Ipsos from July 30 to August
11, 2019. Respondents were drawn from Ipsos’s KnowledgePanel (KP), an online
sampling frame comprising approximately 55,000 U.S. adults recruited using
address-based sampling methods.
The panel study members report whether they live in a home with firearms
when they enroll in KP, and the information is updated approximately annually.
Invitations to participate in the survey were sent only to adults who reported that
they lived in a home with firearms. All panel members who reported living in a
household with a gun, except those on active duty in the U.S. Armed Forces,
were eligible to participate. Email invitations for the survey contained a link that

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