America has several distinctions with regard to the ownership and use of guns. There are almost 400 million guns in the U.S — 1.2 per person — which is by far the most among all nations. By contrast, Canada’s figure is .34 per person. Gun violence levels in the U.S. are equally staggering. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 45,041 gun deaths last year. Slightly more than half of these were suicides.
These statistics are among the reasons for the heated debate among Americans about who should be able to own guns, what type of guns people should be allowed to own, and whether people can carry guns in public. These debates have been further fueled recently by a large number of mass murders. Some of these involved young children.
A large portion of Amerians believe that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution allows them to freely own as many guns as they would like, and that they should be able to wear these guns in the open. As the Amendment reads, ”A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Advocates for some level of regulation of gun buyer checks and gun ownership rules read the words differently. Some do not think an Amendment that is over two centuries old should be applied to gun ownership in the 21st Century.
Gun sales, which were already high by almost any standard, jumped at the start of the pandemic. Based on data from the FBI’s Firearm Background Check Database, there were 3,740,688 firearm background checks completed that month compared to 2,644,851 in March 2021, a 41% increase. Firearm background checks are often used as a proxy for trends in gun sales, although the FBI notes that they are not a one-to-one comparison, with estimates for 2021 gun sales being roughly half the background check estimates. Worry about how the pandemic might affect violent crime in the U.S. was likely a cause for this increase. The period was also near the start of civil unrest across much of the country.
There were 38,876,673 firearm background checks completed last year. That was down slightly from 39,695,315 in 2021. Those two years are well above any previous year since the FBI started collecting data.
A change in the pattern of rising background checks — and by most reports, gun sales — happened recently. Checks have dropped very sharply in 2022 compared to 2021. There have been just over 18.2 million in the first seven months, down from 25.1 million in the same period last year.
Gun sales do not appear to be related directly to state populations. Kentucky, with a fairly small population of 4.46 million residents topped all states in firearm background checks through the first seven months at 2,419,871. California, with the largest state population at 39.35 million, posted a modest 812,650 background checks in the same period. 24/7 Wall St. looked at each state through the prism of both gun background checks as a proxy for gun sales — and population.
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