An Introduction to Guns


America has a complicated relationship with its guns–perhaps best illustrated by the fact that we don't even know how many we own, and some of us are determined to keep it that way. The federal gun law enacted in 1986 prohibited the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms from creating a central database of gun transactions. Those who oppose government regulation of firearms see any sort of database or count as a potential first step toward licensing, which they see as an infringement upon an individual's right to keep arms.

Estimates on the number of guns in America come from public surveys that are then extrapolated for the population as a whole. There are believed to be about 300 million guns in America, roughly one-third each of handguns, rifles and shotguns. Efforts at gun control, dating to the 1930s, have largely failed. In 1968, Franklin Orth, a legendary National Rifle Association executive, explained that America has a deep connection with its guns. “There is a very special relationship between a man and his gun,” said Orth, “an atavistic relation with its deep roots in prehistory, when the primitive man’s personal weapon, so often his only effective defense and food provider, was nearly as precious to him as his own limbs.”

For generations, scholars have cogitated over the “militia/frontier ethos” and “hunting/sporting ethos” that are generally cited as the genesis of America's voluminous gun ownership. The use of guns in the commission of crimes has mirrored the broad trends of American crime statistics. Gun use in crime reached unprecedented levels in 1993 and 1994, when 1.3 million Americans each year faced assailants wielding firearms. Crime statistics indicated a precipitous decline in the use of firearms in crime during the late 1990s and early years of this decade–mirroring the overall crime decline in America. The resources below include a wide range of ideologies on gun ownership.

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