They always say there are “300 million” firearms in the United States, but the real number is probably a lot higher Joe Raedle/Getty Images
DELRAY BEACH, FL - JANUARY 05: Brandon Wexler shows a customer one of the weapons that she was picking up at the end of the three day waiting period at the K&W Gunworks store on the day that U.S. President Barack Obama in Washington, DC announced his executive action on guns on January 5, 2016 in Delray Beach, Florida. President Obama announced several measures that he says are intended to advance his gun safety agenda. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Whenever the gun debate comes up, someone will often ask how many guns we’re talking about, exactly. And the answer isn’t easy or clear for a number of reasons. Most outlets have relied on a mysterious (and persistent) “300 million” estimate that’s been flat for years, even as gun sales spiked during periods in the Obama Administration.

The Weapons Man blog was curious, so they attempted to estimate how many guns there were in the United States.

It starts with that mythical “300 million” number, which appears in media like the New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR. It’s also promoted by groups like the Violence Policy Center and, both of whom are anti-gun groups.

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Weapons Man ran the numbers and is estimating that there are between 412 million and 600 million legal guns in the United States.

Their methodology is pretty straightforward. They start with the ATF’s Access 2000 (A2K) system, which allows manufacturers to opt-in and create a record for every gun they sell. That debuted in 1999.

They then factor in resales and private sales, as well as police and other law enforcement sales, along with NIC checks and controlling for the problems that come with using NIC checks just to estimate how many guns are out there.

They arrive at a number that’s admittedly incomplete, but probably closer to reality and certainly more up-to-date than that one number that’s floating around.

Patrick is a content editor for Rare.
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