The Corner

In September, Americans Bought At Least 1.76 Million Guns — Half As Many As Are Owned In All of Australia

Some predictable news from the Washington Free Beacon:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation processed a record number of background checks in the month of September, indicating that gun sales were at an all time high for the month.

The FBI’s National Instant Background Check System processed 1,795,102 firearms related applications in September. That represents a new record: 335,739 more checks than the previous September high set in 2012, or a 23 percent increase.

Let’s presume that two percent of these checks were denied — as is typical — and then hypothesize generously that each person bought just one firearm per visit, rather than a whole bunch. At a conservative estimate, then, we’re looking at about 1.76 million guns sold in September alone.

For some context, note that 1.76 million is around half of the total number of firearms in circulation in Australia or in Britain. In other words, in just one month Americans bought half as many guns as exist in toto in the two nations that President Obama thinks are comparable to the United States. 

And September was not egregious:

September is the fifth month in a row to set a record for background checks. May, June, July, and August all produced record numbers. The summer of 2015 has seen the most gun sales on record.

Those numbers?

This August saw 1.7 million background checks performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on new gun sales, the most checks ever performed in any August since the creation of the National Instant Background Check System. The agency performed 1.6 million checks in July, the high for that month. They did a further 1.5 million in June, another all-time high.

The FBI reports that it has run 15,512,384 background checks so far this year. If we assume once again that two percent of those checks came up positive — and that each yielded only one sale — we can conclude that at least 15.2 million guns have been sold in America in 2015. If this pace continues, that number will be 20 million by the end of the year — about the same number of guns as are owned in all of France. Were the people of the United States starting from scratch, this year’s purchases alone would be enough to put them at number five in the non-per-capita world rankings. Moreover, by the time the next president were running for re-election, the U.S. would not only be in first place but would be home to almost as many firearms as the next three nations combined.

How about a different measure: per capita? That is equally startling. At the current rate it would take contemporary Americans just 17 months to reach Australia’s gun-to-person ratio (1:8), and just nine months to reach Britain’s (1:20).

Quite how many guns Americans own in total is unknown. Per the Washington Post, it could be as high as 360 million or as “low” as 245 million:

Adding up new guns and imports and subtracting gun exports, in 2013 there would have been roughly 357 million firearms in the U.S. — 40 million more guns than people. This is just an estimate. These numbers are blind to firearms that enter and exit the country illegally, and to guns that break down, or are lost or destroyed.

Philip J. Cook of Duke University suspects that estimates based on the ATF numbers don’t properly account for this type of attrition. He’s estimated that roughly 1 percent of the American gun stock gets destroyed, lost or broken in a given year. Applying that factor retroactively back to when the ATF first began keeping records in 1899, that would put the civilian firearm total at something like 245 million as of 2011, he said.

Either way, the U.S. is a dramatic outlier and looks set to be so well into the future. It took two-and-a-half decades for Australians to import the one million weapons needed to make up the gap left by its post-1988 gun control push. Ceteris paribus, Americans will buy that many weapons between today and Halloween. Next time he contends that the United States is similar to those two countries, President Obama might just consider that.


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