The US Is the Most Heavily Armed Country in the World

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Since the Newtown shootings more than two years ago we’ve devoted a great deal of coverage to chronicling the prevalence of guns and firearms violence in the United States. It won’t come as a surprise to many of you that there are far more guns in civilian hands in the US than the UK or Germany, for instance. But even if you’re broadly familiar with the contours of the gun story, it’s still stunning to see just how heavily armed the US is compared to every other country on the planet. Indeed, the only country that even comes close to the US per capita average is Yemen. While the US has only 5% of the world’s population, it has between 35% and 50% of the world’s civilian firearms. These numbers come from a group called the Small Arms Survey based in Geneva, Switzerland. And I have some of the tables from their most recent tabulations after the jump.

This data comes from chapter two of SAS’s 2007 Yearbook. As far as I can see this is the last time the group published a comprehensive international tabulation, though they continue to published more specific studies each year. The numbers are a mix of official records, public opinion surveys and other forms of data to get a range of numbers in each country. Official registration records can dramatically understate the number of guns in circulation.

Here’s the first chart, showing the total number of guns in each country and the per capita number.

As you can see, the US has almost one firearm per person. The only other country even in that ballpark is Yemen. And the estimate range for Yemen is so wide – 32 per capita to 90 per capita – that that the upper bound number may be a mirage created by the uncertainty of finding an accurate count.

Another interesting aspect to the numbers is that you can see that wealth is also a strong determinant, not just politics and regulation. France and Germany have many fewer civilian firearms than the US. But they’re still really high compared to lots of other countries on the list – even ones we often hear about in the news as “awash” in guns. Also notable, Germany and France are pretty heavily armed compared to most, but not all, European nations.

The Nordic countries have a lot guns, as does Switzerland. And those who were watching the news in the 1990s – or reading the history of the 17th or 18th or 19th or 20th centuries – will not be surprised that Serbia has a lot of firearms in civilian hands.

This chart shows the estimate ranges of the absolute number of guns in each country. Again, the US totally dwarfs every other country.

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