The number of weapons in the civilian population

First of all, it is worth noting that the data on firearms is ambiguous and requires a systematic calculation that would take into account a wide range of resources, which results in only approximate calculations. Especially given the fact that most civilian weapons are carried concealed and difficult to detect.

The main difficulty in counting weapons is that most of them are in private hands. Official registers provide the most accurate data, but they do not reflect the full spectrum, and estimates, even the most comprehensive, are not always reliable. This background paper shows how different data sources can be combined to produce more accurate estimates of the number of weapons in the world.

Thanks to data from various sources, it was possible to calculate that at the end of 2017, there were approximately 857 million firearms in the hands of civilians in 230 countries and territories. Only 133 countries and territories had civilian gun registries. The results of the demographic survey helped to determine the total number of weapons in the hands of citizens in 56 countries.

The figure of 857 million is 32% more than in the previous Small Arms Survey (650 million), which was conducted in 2006. The number increased in almost all countries.

The main conclusions:

– At the end of 2017, the civilian population of the world had approximately 857 million firearms.

– Approximately 100 million firearms are registered, that is, only 12% of the total number.

– The gun-to-population ratio by country varies from 120.5 guns per 100 people in the US to less than 1 gun per 100 people in countries such as Indonesia, Japan, Malawi and several Pacific island nations.

– Regional and national demographic surveys on civilian gun ownership are available for 56 countries and territories.

Manufacturers produce millions of weapons every year, which is immeasurably more than the number of weapons destroyed. This is one of the factors of its increase. Only in the USA in 2006-2017, citizens purchased 122 million units of new weapons.

Also, keep in mind that the legal definition of civilian weapons can vary: for example, in some countries citizens can own military weapons, and in others they cannot. As a result, the document takes into account not only pistols, rifles, shotguns and home-made weapons, but also machine guns, which are owned both legally and illegally (Blocks 2 and 3). Where possible, the figures also include weapons in the possession of private security firms, non-state armed groups and gangs.

Detailed consideration of the total number of firearms in the world

At the end of 2017, there were approximately 1 billion 13 million firearms in 230 countries and territories, 84.6% of which were in the hands of civilians, 13.1% in the military, and 2.2% in law enforcement agencies.

Despite the fact that this indicator, compared to 2006, increased by 15.7%, this does not mean that only the number of weapons affected it. The improvement of information gathering and evaluation methods also played its role.

But it is also important to take into account that a huge number of weapons in the armies and law enforcement agencies could have been lost.
Sources of data on the possession of weapons by civilians
In most countries of the world, there is practically no system of counting weapons, along with improperly filled registers, this complicates the process. Therefore, this document used such sources of data as official published documents and studies, survey results, news and private correspondence with experts.

Registration of firearms

Firearm registration may be the only reliable indicator of the total number of guns in civilian hands. Thanks to the efforts of governments, surveys and the media, it was possible to establish that the total number of registered weapons in the world is approximately 100 million units. However, registration systems can be quite inaccurate and varied. There are registries without automatic extension of the term, due to which weapons simply disappear from them. And it happens that they add pneumatic weapons (Scotland) and swords (Japan).

In the US, only certain categories of weapons are required to be registered, and in some countries, gun registration is laxly approached, which is why the number of registered guns is much lower than the actual figures.