Gun control advocates will argue that there are simply “too many” guns in America. Whether there are “too many” is a matter of opinion, but there is no denying that there are a lot of firearms in private hands in the United States.
And there are a lot more guns being sold every single month – more than a million in fact.
One Million Sale Going Strong
May 2023 was the 46th month in a row that saw unit sales of firearms exceeded one million units, and there is no sign that the volume will fall below the million mark this summer.
That means that beginning just before the pandemic to now, Americans have bought tens of millions of firearms – and the total figure is likely close to 60 million over just a four-year period. That is in addition to the total number of firearms that were already owned before the global coronavirus pandemic helped kickstart sales like never before.
So How Many Guns Are We Talking?
Currently, there are probably around 400 million guns owned by Americans. And “probably” is simply a guess.
According to GunPolicy.com, which cited ATF data, there were around 242 million firearms in private hands in 1996. CNN reported last year that there were 393 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., which used data from the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey – but the pro-gun control website TheTrace.org cited data from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the firearms industry trade association, that puts the figure around 433.9 million firearms.
However, as TheTrace.org also noted, the latter figure doesn’t appear to account for guns leaving circulation – such as those presented during police or community buybacks, or just old firearms that are no longer functional.
Yet, the point remains that gun sales are strong, and it is simply impossible to know how many firearms are in private hands.
If Guns Are Outlawed…
There is a popular T-shirt and bumper sticker slogan that claims, “If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns,” and it probably isn’t really that far off the mark. We have to question whether criminals – notably the gangs that are typically packing on the mean streets of Chicago or those in organized crime – would actually abide by a ban.
The answer: probably not. More importantly, a lot of Americans might be willing to become outlaws.
Efforts to ban firearms would likely fail dismally for the latter reason. Even countries that have had far smaller numbers of privately-owned firearms, which then attempted bans – notably Australia – still routinely see thousands of firearms turned in whenever there is an amnesty.
That means that thousands of individuals (and likely far more) opted not to abide by such a ban in the first place. It is hard to believe that Americans would be any different.
Overturning the Second Amendment Entirely – Not Possible
Getting the guns out of people’s hands wouldn’t even be the first step. It is difficult to ban a legal product, which is why tobacco companies are still able to market a product that has been scientifically shown to kill people. It is even more difficult to ban a legal product that is literally protected by a Constitutional amendment.
Any universal ban would require addressing the Second Amendment.
In fact, while overturning the Second Amendment is simply impossible for a number of reasons, not the least is that there will never be enough support from lawmakers, even calls for bans of specific firearms, such as the AR-15, are likely to fail today.
Guns remain a hot-button topic. But there are other factors at play, including the Fourteenth Amendment, which prohibits the government from depriving a person of life, liberty, or property without due process.
With hundreds of millions of guns in private hands, it is very likely there would be legal challenges.
It Would Drive Sales
If anything, any attempt to ban firearms would only result in more guns in private hands.
Every time there are serious calls for gun control, it is only met by a spike in sales. That should be evidence enough that some Americans will take the words of the late screen legend Charlton Heston to heart, who as president of the National Rifle Association, said he’d only give up his firearms when they were taken from “cold, dead hands.”
Author Experience and Expertise:
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.