Since the Second Amendment was adopted in 1791, firearms have been a central part of America’s identity. And with U.S. gun sales recently hitting record highs, there is little reason to believe that will change anytime soon.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, more than 250 million new firearms were manufactured in, or imported to, the U.S. between 1986 and 2019. Of those, more than half hit the market in 2009 or later. Now, estimates by the Firearm Industry Trade Association put the number of civilian-owned firearms in the U.S. at around 434 million, or 1.7 for every adult – making the U.S. the only country in the world with more civilian-owned guns than people. (Here is a look at which Americans own the most guns.)
Using data from the ATF’s 2021 report Firearms Commerce in the United States, 24/7 Wall St. identified the number of new guns that were either manufactured domestically or shipped to the U.S. each year since 1986, the earliest year of available data. American-made guns that were sold overseas are not included in totals.
Every year since 2012, over 10 million new guns have hit racks in the United States. The number of new guns peaked in 2016 at 16.3 million – 11 million of which were manufactured domestically, and the remaining 5 million were imported. For context, the number of new guns on the market never exceeded 10 million between 1986 and 2012, and it was below 5 million for most of those years.
Firearm manufacturing and import data reveals how American tastes have changed over the last several decades. In most years from 1986 to 2009, rifles dominated domestic firearm production. However, that changed in 2010, when pistols – not including revolvers – overtook rifles in domestic production and have held the top spot every year since, with the exception of 2015. (Here is a look at America’s top pistol companies.)
For most years between 1986 and 2019, handguns – a category that includes both pistols and revolvers – were the most popular foreign-made firearm type with American shooters. And when it comes to demand for American firearms abroad, rifles, shotguns, revolvers, and pistols have each ranked as the most popular exported firearm type in at least six of the last 34 years.
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