Some Uncomfortable Numbers About Guns in America

As the gun debate reaches a fevered pitch, from Washington to Twitter to Newtown and back again, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, here is some much needed context.

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What's so bad about Americans having all these guns? The murder rate is at an all-time low, right? Well, sort of. More like emergency medical treatment efficacy is at an all-time high. As the gun debate reaches a fevered pitch, from Washington to Twitter to Newtown and back again, in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shootings, here is some much needed context:


5 percent: America's population relative to the world population.

50 percent: Amount of the guns on Earth owned by Americans, CNN reports.

Decreasing: The number of Americans who own guns. John Sides posts the graph at right, based on data from Gallup and the General Social Survey, showing the decline.

Increasing: The number of guns those American gun owners have.

18 percentage points: Amount the share of households who own guns decreased from 1973 to 2010. Three decades ago, 50 percent of households owned guns, in 2010, just 32 percent do,, according to University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center.

65 percent: The portion of guns in America owned by just 20 percent of gun owners. When we debate gun control, there is the inevitable claim that gun ownership is a cherished tradition held by a vast portion of the country. For an example of this, here's a National Review editorial making that case Monday. But the portion of Americans who own a whole bunch of guns is actually pretty small.


47 percent increase: The change in the number of people wounded seriously enough by gunshots to require a hospital stay from 2001 to 2011. In 2001, 20,844 people suffered gunshot wounds that serious. In 2011, it was 30,759, The Wall Street Journal reports. But the murder rate is going down? Why is that? Because hospitals have gotten better at treating traumatic wounds.

13.96 percent: Share of gunshot wound victims who died in 2010.

2 percentage point decrease: The change in the share of gunshot wound victims who died in 2010 compared to just three years earlier. Data from previous years was measured differently, so is impossible to compare, the Journal says.

62: Number of mass murders in America since 1982.

Three-quarters: Portion of guns involved in mass murders that were obtained legally, Mother Jones reports. Semi-automatic handguns were by far the weapon of choice, followed by assault rifles.

Political implications

20 percent: Amount male ownership of guns has decreased since 1980. White males are a shrinking portion of the electorate. They are the clear targets of gun ads. Here's a Christmas ad for a .223-calibre Bushmaster, the carbine used in the Newtown school shooting, at right.

56 percent: Portion of white men who oppose stricter gun control laws, The Washington Post's Greg Sargent points out. And 53 percent of non-college educated whites oppose such laws.

10 percent: Portion of women who own guns.

54 percent: Portion of Americans who favor stricter gun control laws, according to a new ABC News poll.

59 percent: Portion of women who support stricter gun control laws, ABC finds.

60 percent to 39 percent: Americans in living in the West who support more gun control versus those in the West who do not. Support for more gun control has a pretty clear regional divide, with the South, as you might expect, being most hostile to new gun laws. Southerners opposed gun control by 50 percent to 46 percent. Midwesterners are split, with 49 percent wanting more gun control and 48 percent opposed to it. And in the Northeast, 67 percent want more gun control, while 31 percent don't. The South is by far the most violent part of the country, Kieran Healy points out at right.

1 million: The number of concealed-and-carry permit holders Florida will reach in the next few days.

52 percent: Americans who support a national ban on semi-automatic weapons.


0: Number of concrete things President Obama has done to keep guns off streets that White House press secretary Jay Carney could name in a press conference Monday.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.