Any attempt by Congress to enact new restrictions on gun purchases or ownership faces a reality — America is a country in which many people own guns, weapons which will not simply disappear with the wave of a legislative wand.
Aside from any discussion over the Second Amendment, the reality of firearms currently available in the country is stark and certain.
With hundreds of millions of firearms already in the possession of Americans, limiting access to guns or limiting gun sales would be a major enforcement challenge.
Here’s a look at some basic data on gun manufacture, imports, and ownership, as well as data on crime committed by people using guns.
How many guns do Americans own?
According to the Congressional Research Service, in 2009 there were an estimated 310 million firearms in the United States (not including weapons on military bases), of which 114 million were handguns, 110 million were rifles, and 86 million were shotguns. The current population of the United States, according to the Census, is around 314 million.
A separate calculation by the Government Accountability Office estimated that 118 million handguns were available for sale to, or were possessed by, civilians in the United States in 2010.
It’s impossible to know for certain how many guns are in private hands because there is no central firearms registry. The 1986 McClure-Volkmer Act forbids the federal government from establishing any “system of registration of firearms, firearm owners, or firearms transactions or distribution.” And the 1993 Brady Act prohibits the establishment of any electronic registry of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions.
How many firearms are manufactured in the United States?
According to the annual statistical report from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, in 2010 more than 5.4 million firearms were manufactured in the United States. In the 20 years from 1990 to 2010, an average of 4 million firearms were made in the United States every year.