The first firearms began to appear on the battlefields of 14th century China, a few hundred years after Chinese monks accidentally discovered the explosive properties when combining sulfur, carbon, and saltpeter. These so-called hand cannons spread west over the next century until the Europeans created the matchlock, the first mechanically fired gun.
To identify the 50 most popular guns in the world, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of sources, including Wikipedia, to get estimates of global gun sales. Guns are ranked by sales, which are high estimates of production. The origin of each gun is the historic country of origin, where the gun was first created. Different models of the same gun released in different years are included in the gun sales estimates.
As of 2017, there were more than 1 billion firearms in the world, owned mostly by civilians, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. But that figure can be misleading. Over a third of all guns, an estimated 393 million, are in the United States, making the country the most armed population on the planet by a very long shot.
As such a global outlier, it should be no surprise that nearly half of the 50 most popular guns of all time originated in the U.S. — from the iconic Winchester lever-action rifle of the Wild West to the modern AR-15. (These are the most common guns in the U.S. Army.)
Seven of the of the most popular gun models of all time are Russian, including the Soviet-era simple and durable Marakov semi-automatic pistol, and the AK-47 assault rifle, which, along with its many derivatives and knockoffs, is the most popular gun model ever made with a total production run of about 150 million units since its inception in 1946.
Many of the other most popular guns of all time originated in Europe. Other guns that make this list have their origins in China, Japan, and Israel.
Out of the 50 most popular guns of all time, only the Glock semiautomatic pistol and Mossberg pump-action shotgun are current best-sellers in their category, according to GunGenius.com based on 2021 U.S. new gun sales data from GunBroker.com.
Some models on the list don’t exist anymore, such as the French and British muskets of the colonial period and many of the guns used and mass produced during the world wars. Thirteen of these firearm models may have sold as many as 10 million units or more. (Guns are among the weapons nations are sending Ukraine as it defends against Russia’s invading army. Here is how the U.S. is arming Ukraine.)
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