Americans Own at Least 423 Million Firearms, Industry Report Shows

Just under 423 million firearms were produced or imported for civilian ownership in the United States from 1986 to 2018, indicating that the number of guns currently in circulation remains substantial.

This is a low-end estimate, as it does not include firearms that were produced before the time span studied, although it also does not account for any weapons that may have been removed from circulation post-production.

In addition, a new industry report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry's trade group, found that over 17.7 million modern sporting rifles—a term that encompasses semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15—were produced or imported overall from 1990 to 2017.

"These figures show the industry that America has a strong desire to continue to purchase firearms for lawful purposes," Joe Bartozzi, the foundation's president, said in a press release. "The Modern Sporting Rifle continues to be the most popular centerfire rifle sold in America today and is clearly a commonly-owned firearm with more than 17 million in legal ownership today. The continued popularity of handguns demonstrates a strong interest by Americans to protect themselves and their homes, and to participate in the recreational shooting sports."

Despite calls to ban sales of so-called assault weapons, these kinds of firearms are prevalent in American civilian society and elsewhere. In 2017, modern sporting rifles, which overlap with what activists often call "assault weapons," made up over half of all rifles produced in the United States.

Domestic firearms production has fluctuated widely over the past few years. Starting around 2005, the industry experienced steady growth, producing more and more weapons every year, with just one incremental drop in 2010. But starting around 2014, that growth nosedived by 15 percent before rebounding over the next couple of years and then tanking again, by over 25 percent, in 2017.

An interim estimate for 2018 indicates that the industry may be continuing its downward trend, producing just over 7.6 million total firearms, a few hundred thousand less than it did the previous year.

The firearms industry is unusually susceptible to major political and cultural events, so purchases can fluctuate from year to year depending on whether an election is approaching or even the tenor of the national discourse.

The Connecticut Post wrote that after the 2012 shooting at Newtown's Sandy Hook Elementary School, handgun sales in the state gradually rose. Just before the 2016 presidential election, sales increased dramatically.

The Pew Research Center has estimated that 30 percent of U.S. adults own a gun and a further 11 percent live with someone who does. White men are more likely than any other subgroup to own a gun. Nearly half of them do, according to Pew, whereas just under one-quarter of white women and nonwhite men do.

A gun shop owner displays AR-15 rifles on September 29, 2016, in Benson, Arizona. A new trade group report found that over half of rifles produced in 2017 were modern sporting rifles, a type of weapon encompassing semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15. John Moore/Getty