Special Report

The World's 50 Most Popular Guns of All Time

Firearms likely first appeared in combat in China in the 14th century. From then on, those so-called “hand cannons” began to spread across the globe, to all points westward. Within about a century, the matchlock, the first gun that could be fired mechanically, had been developed in Europe, and soon close-quarters combat became a much less necessary part of war. (also see: the 22 guns that helped fight the Civil War.) Since then, tens of thousands of different unique types of guns have been produced, some targeted for a niche market or price point, others simply not catching on or fading quickly into technological obscurity. But today, there exist some guns that, due to their design or historical significance, have been bought by the millions, and counting. 

In order to find the world’s 50 most popular guns, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed a variety of sources to get estimates of global gun sales. We ranked guns by estimated lifetime sales. 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. 

In 2017, the world passed the estimated 1 billion firearms in circulation figure, and that figure has only grown in the following five years. Most of these weapons are owned by civilians, according to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey. 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. 

Seven of the of the most popular gun models of all time are Russian, including the Soviet-era simple and durable Makarov 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. (Also see: the 17 guns Americans used to help fight WWII.)

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.

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. 

Here are the top 50 most popular guns of all time

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