Pistol on wooden table with bullets.

50 facts about guns in America

Written by:
November 25, 2020
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50 facts about guns in America

For better or worse, guns contribute heavily to America’s image, with the U.S. leading the world in firearm possession. In 2020 alone, citizens collectively bought 17 million firearms. And while America only accounts for 5% of the global populace, it still owns almost 45% of worldwide firearms. However, the right to bear arms in the Second Amendment is complicated, with firearm owners and anti-gun activists constantly shouting one another down for their opposing beliefs on possession.

All 50 U.S. states have specific rules to regulate guns that vary greatly, from Stand Your Ground laws to the right to carry a concealed firearm. To seek out 50 facts about guns in America, Stacker gathered information from scientific, government, and news reports. Notable sources include Pew Research Center, a Washington D.C. nonpartisan fact tank, the Los Angeles Times, and Gun Violence Archive, a database that reviews up to 7,500 daily sources that report firearm assaults. Facts about the history of guns, landmark legislation, contributions to conservation, and statistics on gun use in America are included, among others.

Research shows demographically that where there are fewer gun laws, there tend to be more firearm deaths per capita. Alabama and Mississippi, states with some of the least restrictive laws in the country, have a firearm mortality rate seven times that of Massachusetts, where guns are heavily legislated. Along with restrictions in gun laws, widespread panic dictated gun ownership and purchases in 2020. The COVID-19 pandemic brought record-shattering numbers for federal background checks, with 3.7 million performed in June alone, the most in more than 20 years.

One topic that captures the collective consciousness all too often is mass shootings. From Las Vegas to Uvalde, and as far back as Columbine, they have become a part of life, with the U.S. leading the world in mass shootings.

Keep reading to find out 50 facts about guns in America.

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The first firearm reached the New World in 1492

Firearm evolution dates back to 1364 with what was initially branded a “hand cannon,” and were aboard the ships that discovered the New World. Riflemen in 1776 used flintlock muskets to fire roughly three shots per minute during the American Revolution. Samuel Colt invented the first multi-shot revolver in 1873.


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Record climb in background checks from 2010 to 2015

The steep climb in personal history reports required for gun ownership performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System rose the most from 2010 to 2015. The total of FBI background checks, which started at 8.5 million in 2000, grew to 23,141,970 only 15 years later.

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Americans purchased 17 million firearms in spring and summer of 2020

During the spring of 2020, when COVID-19 broke out in the U.S, firearm sales soared, then rose higher during a summer of racial and social unrest. Americans purchased approximately 17 million firearms during the spring and summer, with many citizens buying their first guns.

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The Second Amendment is at odds with modern politics

The Constitutional definition regarding “the right to bear arms” is questionable in an age of mass shootings, dividing many Americans whose opinions on gun ownership differ. The Atlantic reports that while the “contextual reading is quite enlightening” in the amendment, its initial and sole purpose was to permit U.S. states to create armed militias legally.

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Protection cited as primary reason for ownership

The report “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” details that regardless of demographics, up to 67% of U.S. citizens claim to own firearms primarily for safety purposes. Additional reasons Americans say they own firearms are for hunting, sport shooting, gun collection, and employment purposes.

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More Americans want stricter controls

Following the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history at the Mandalay Bay Casino and Resort in Las Vegas in 2017, the number of U.S. citizens who favor further firearm restrictions rose from 50% to 62% by 2019. Lawmakers have also debated gun policy laws, even proposing policies to prevent gun violence, including a ban on straw purchases and assault weapons, safe storage requirements, mandatory background checks, and the “red flag” law.

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No political divide in banning bump stocks

When it comes to banning bump stocks, bipartisan politics does not seem to play a role, with 60% of all registered voters rejecting the firearm accessory, as well as 78% of Democrat and 60% of GOP lawmakers renouncing the device. Bump-firing is when a semiautomatic weapon recoil causes rapid succession fire. After the 2017 Las Vegas Nevada and Parkland, Florida, mass shootings, the U.S. banned the deadly accessory.

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Third-leading death of adolescents is firearm-related

Firearm related deaths were the third-leading reason for adolescent fatality in 2016, behind injury-related deaths and motor vehicle crashes, respectively. Of the total 3,143 firearm adolescent deaths, 1,865 were homicide-related, 1,102 were suicides, 126 were deemed unintentional, and 50 were of undetermined intent.

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Only certain states require background checks

Though federal law dictates that all licensed gun dealers perform background checks on purchasers, it does not mandate a personal history release on brick-and-mortar gun sales or firearms purchased online. However, 13 states and the District of Columbia require universal background checks with all firearm types for purchase or trade.

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Record-breaking firearm sales in 2013

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) reports the manufacturing of 10,844,792 firearms in 2013, the most in one year since 1986. In those 29 years, the fewest firearms were produced in 2001, with only 2,932,655 made that year.

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Firearm ownership triples the rate of self-murders

Research proves that those with self-harm tendencies are more likely to successfully take their lives if a firearm is in residence. More than 12 U.S. case-control studies reveal that more self-murders take place in states with more guns and fewer restrictive firearm regulations, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Up to 34 states have Stand Your Ground law

Of all U.S. states, 34 implement Stand Your Ground, a law allowing the use of deadly force with a firearm to defend oneself from severe physical harm or possible death. However, the “duty to retreat” noted in the law often foreshadows that the self-defense law does not result in a criminal penalty if upheld.

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3 out of 10 Americans own a gun

Three out of 10 Americans, or 30%, admit to owning a gun, 11% say they know someone who does, and 57% do not possess one, according to a Pew Research Center study conducted in 2017. The study also showed that 66% of gun owners own more than one firearm. Firearm exposure begins in adolescence for almost half of Americans, with up to 48% saying they grew up with a gun in the house.

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There were 25 mass shootings in 2019

There were 25 mass shootings in 2019, collectively killing 176 Americans. The largest mass shooting took the lives of 22 people in El Paso, Texas, in August. The incident took place in a local Walmart that police say was filled to capacity.

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The National Rifle Association formed in 1871

Founded by two Union veterans, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was formed in 1871 in order to improve troop marksmanship and “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.” The NRA reported that more than 125,000 “certified instructors” train 1 million firearm owners on how to properly shoot a rifle.

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Bipartisan support against gun owners with mental illness

Both GOP and Democrat lawmakers agree that Americans who have a mental illness should not own a gun. Both political parties agree that anyone on a federal no-fly or watchlist should be prohibited from buying or possessing a firearm. Federal law must mandate background checks for gun purchasers who buy from a private dealer or show.

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44% of Americans know someone who was shot

Almost half of Americans confess to knowing someone who has been accidentally or intentionally shot with a firearm, while 23% admit to using a gun to threaten a family member. Additionally, suburban Americans know fewer people who have been shot compared to citizens in rural regions.

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Concealed and open carry

Self-identifying definitions, concealed or open, are the two ways an owner can legally carry firearms, but this was not always the case. In the last three decades, profound policy changes on the public display of weapons made openly carrying a gun easier, with 14 U.S. states allowing it as long as the gun owner has a permit or license to do so.

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Nonmailable Firearms Act of 1927 banned shipping firearms through USPS

The U.S. Congress authorized the Nonmailable Firearms Act in 1927, which banned shipping firearms, including pistols, revolvers, and concealable guns, through the U.S. Postal Service. Only military, police officers, and specific law officials were authorized to mail firearms. If found guilty of illegally sending weapons, gun owners could face as long as two years in prison and up to $1,000 in fines.

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America has more guns than people

There are more guns than people in America, with 120.5 firearms per 100 U.S. citizens, according to Vox, making the country more prone to gun violence. As the leading country in gun ownership (with Yemen second), the U.S. owns almost half of all firearms globally, at around 45%.

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States with more guns have higher firearm fatalities

Harvard Injury Control Research Center Director David Hemenway states that “a wide array of empirical evidence indicates that more guns in a community leads to more homicide” in America. He adds in his book, “Private Guns, Public Health,” that additional research shows firearms in a home cause a greater risk of self-murder and unintentional injury.


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2,000 US mass shootings since Sandy Hook

Since the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut, more than 2,000 mass shootings have taken place throughout nearly every U.S. state.

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Higher police officer deaths in gun-friendly states

According to the American Journal of Public Health, occupational mortality for law enforcement officers (LEO) is much higher in states with less-restrictive gun regulations. Using the Poisson distribution to breakdown data gathered from the FBI between 1996 and 2019, research proves LEO homicide rates to be three times higher in states with more gun owners.

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Five states allow students to carry concealed guns

While mass shootings, specifically on school grounds, have compelled lawmakers to enforce regional gun restrictions and bans, five states welcome concealed weapons on campus. The University of Colorado, the Oregon University System, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Mississippi, and Utah public colleges or universities allow students to have a gun on the grounds.

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Vernont adolescents can own a handgun

In the Green Mountain state, a resident only has to be 16 to legally possess a handgun without parental consent. Additionally, there is no age restriction on owning or possessing a rifle or shotgun in Vermont, allowing any child to have that type of firearm without parental consent.

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States exempt from federal gun laws

Under nullification laws, individual U.S. states feel they do not have to follow federal law regarding the sale of guns manufactured in the region. Since 2010, Idaho, Kansas, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Arizona have all passed federally defiant legislation based on “firearms freedom,” allowing them to make guns without national regulations and sell them without an official federal record.

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19 adolescents are shot daily in the US

A 2017 study showed about 19 children are shot daily in the U.S. on average, with an average of three fatalities each dawn-to-dark. There are more males victims than females. While there is an inordinately elevated number of daily homicidal gun shootings among Black adolescents, there is also an excessively high number of gun-shooting deaths by self-harm for whites and Native Americans.

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39% of parents don’t think kids know where gun is stored

Not only do 39% of parents or guardians falsely believe that their children do not know where the firearms in the house are stored, but up to 22% of parents also had no clue that their children either handled or played with said guns. Presently, only 11 states have laws regarding safe storage.

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Nearly 40% of Americans believe they will own a gun

While 30% of Americans admit to owning a firearm, even more confess they could see purchasing and possessing a gun in the future. In a Pew Research Center study, up to 36% of U.S. citizens feel they may need a weapon and are more likely to purchase a handgun first, followed by a rifle and a shotgun.

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Up to 215,000 children in US have witnessed mass shootings

A detailed Washington Post report reveals that between 1999–2017, more than 250,000 children experienced a mass shooting on school grounds. Numbers for children killed outside of school grounds are even more daunting, with nearly three times as many children killed on American land than soldiers murdered abroad. Guns killed approximately 180,000 adolescents from 1963 to 2015.

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President George Washington’s pistols worth $2 million

The Lafayette-Washington steel-mounted “saddle” pistols reportedly carried by George Washington during the 1777 encampment at Valley Forge sold for more than $1.9 million at a Christie’s auction located in London and New York. Nearly as expensive, famous french gunsmith Nicolas-Noel Boutet’s renowned silver-mounted rifled flintlock pistols also sold at Christie’s for more than $1.8 million.

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Domestic violence lead cause of adolescent shootings

A decade-long Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis shows that in 17 U.S. states, adolescents become “collateral victims” in domestic violence incidents committed with a gun. From Colorado to Massachusetts, 179 children, at least half younger than 13 years old, were killed with a firearm after a fight broke out in the home from 2003–2013.

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States with most restrictive firearm regulations see fewer deaths by guns

States with stricter gun laws have fewer deaths by firearm, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Six of the seven states—and Washington D.C.—with the strictest gun laws had the fewest gun crimes per capita.

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Gun-Free School Zones Act made it illegal to carry a firearm near schools

The Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, amended in 1995 to allow for commercial activity, made it illegal to carry a firearm within 1,000 feet of a school. Eight states allow guns into schools with a concealed-carry permit, and many states don’t have laws against guns in daycare centers.

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Washington DC gun ownership was banned 1975–2008

In its 2008 ruling in the District of Columbia vs. Heller, the Supreme Court overturned a 32-year handgun ban in the nation’s capital. The decision was the most recent regarding the Second Amendment from the top court, which in April 2020 sent New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. City of New York back to the lower courts.

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Demographics of gun ownership

Broken down by gender, adult men are nearly twice as likely to own a gun as their female counterparts, and 48% of white men reported owning a gun, double the rate for non-white males. Two-thirds of all gun owners have more than one, while 29% own five or more.

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National Firearms Act of 1934 was passed in response to gang violence

In response to the notorious extreme gun violence committed by 1930s gang leaders including mobster Al Capone and hitman John Dillinger, the U.S. Congress passed the National Firearms Act of 1934 under President Franklin Roosevelt’s Administration. The legislation under the “New Deal for Crime” prohibited the use of any firearm with a barrel shorter than 18 inches.

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There are more than 2,000 US gun shows a year

The ATF estimates that America hosts about 2,000 gun shows annually. A lack of federal and state oversight at gun shows makes the thousands of firearm displays questionable, with some not requiring background checks or a waiting period.

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Alaska has highest percentage of gun ownership

Approximately six in 10 adults in Alaska own a gun in 2020, with Arkansas and Idaho rounding out the top three. Texas leads the way in terms of the number of registered firearms, followed by Florida.

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Delaware has lowest percentage of gun ownership

The Northeast region of the United States has some of the strictest gun laws and the six states with the lowest gun ownership rates, led by Delaware at 5.2%. Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, New Hampshire, and Connecticut round out the top six, all under 17%.

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58 were killed in largest mass shooting

Fifty-eight concertgoers at the Rt. 91 Harvest Festival in Las Vegas lost their lives during the largest mass shooting in U.S. history. More than 850 were injured when a single gunman opened fire from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino. Country musician Jason Aldean was performing when the shooting started.

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The Federal Firearms Act of 1938 required a license to sell firearms

Under the Federal Firearms Act of 1938, all gun dealers, manufacturers, and importers were required to obtain a license to sell firearms. The law also excluded certain groups, like convicted felons, from owning a gun. The Gun Control Act of 1968 replaced the Federal Firearms Act but adopted many of the same rules still in place today.

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7 states and DC have assault weapons bans

Seven states and the District of Columbia have outright bans on the sale and purchase of assault weapons, while Minnesota and Virginia have regulations in place. California, New Jersey, and Connecticut put bans into effect before a federal 10-year ban was enacted with the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. Massachusetts, Hawaii, New York, and Maryland have similar laws.

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Gun purchases contribute to wildlife conservation efforts

Gun purchasers have contributed billions of dollars to wildlife conservation and hunting safety through the Pittman-Robertson Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. Through the act, legally sold firearms and ammunition are subject to a minimum 10% tax, bringing in nearly $800 million in tax revenue in 2016.

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The 1993 Brady Act introduced FBI background checks

The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act of 1993 implemented a five-day waiting period before an unlicensed person could purchase a gun so the FBI can perform a background check. The law was named for former White House press secretary James Brady, who was shot in the head during an assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

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There are loopholes in background checks

Though the Brady Act in 1993 required background checks for the sale of firearms, 20% of all transactions today occur without one. Private gun vendors in certain states are exempt from performing federal background checks, both at gun shows or through online sales. The Bipartisan Background Checks Act passed the House in 2019 and would require checks on all sales.

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Alcohol abuse heightens gun violence

A 2017 study by the University of California, Davis, revealed that an alcohol arrest was a bigger factor toward future gun violence than prior violence itself. Another showed that nearly half of all homicide perpetrators had consumed alcohol before their crimes.

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Gun Control Act of 1968 was first to prohibit gun sales to certain groups

The Gun Control Act of 1968 was the first gun legislation to prohibit the sale of guns to certain groups, including convicted felons, minors, and the mentally unstable. The bill also banned the sale of guns through interstate mail, five years after the assasination of President John F. Kennedy using one such gun. Two more assassinations—those of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy—came just months before the bill’s passage.

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A city in Georgia requires that every household must own a gun

The city of Kennesaw, Georgia, has a law on the books stipulating that “every head of household in the city limits must own a gun.” The law was passed in 1982 in response to a gun ban in Morton Grove, Illinois. A handful of towns have since passed similar laws requiring gun ownership.

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Remington Arms is the oldest gun manufacturer in the US

Remington Arms was formed in 1816 and serves as the nation’s oldest gun manufacturer, while Italy’s Beretta dates to 1526. Bankruptcy proceedings in 2020 threatened to break Remington apart, while American competitor Smith & Wesson, founded in 1856, is the second-largest manufacturer in the world behind Ruger.

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