Armed to the Teeth – Gun Ownership in America - Live Work Travel USA|Live Work Travel USA

Armed to the Teeth – Gun Ownership in America

It’s not surprising that gun violence in the U.S. is much higher than in any other rich country in the world. There is just a huge number of firearms in the hand of American civilians, because it’s very easy to purchase a gun. New York journalist and author Stephen J. Dubner from was looking into this topic a bit further in one of his latest podcast episodes. He found out that the actual numbers of gun related homicides decreased and is currently at about 11,000. On top of the list are still 20,000 gun related suicides. Sadly, the amount of mass shootings with guns picked up over the years and we all see it in the news every time it happens. Not just in America, but all over the world. And still, it’s easy to blame America’s shootings on its loose gun laws.

For non-Americans it can be difficult to understand why Americans are not really willing to make any changes to gun control. It’s a part of the Second Amendment and grants everyone the natural rights of self-defense, resistance to oppression, and the civic duty to act in concert in defense of the state. In other words it helped to balance striking power between the general population and the government back in the days. Americans are very proud of their freedom and the gun law is part of that freedom. Democrats and Republicans have slightly different opinions about gun control, but they agree on one thing: The freedom to own a gun in America is a constitutional right that should not be touched. And quite frankly, it would be very difficult to prevent bad people doing bad things, because they’ll always find a way to get a gun or other kind of weapon to do harm.

Armed to the Teeth

Compared to other countries in the world, American civilians are armed to their teeth with over 270 million guns in their hands. Looking at the numbers that’s almost one gun for every American. However, that doesn’t mean every American really owns a gun. It’s 47% of all households that report to own at least one gun. The reason why Americans purchase firearms are protection against crime, target shooting and hunting.

Guns Are Big Business in America

Guns are also big business in the US and the National Shooting Sports Foundation as well as the National Rifle Association (NRA) are lobbying for political campaigns against stricter gun laws. This 31 billion dollar industry (based on 2011 numbers) is doing everything possible to maintain American’s right to buy guns with very little or no need for permits and licenses. Sales are getting pushed by spreading fear about potential law changes that would make it more difficult to buy guns. There are also lots of statistics floating around that communicate guns are primarily used for protection and that other weapons like knives are also used in homicides.

Stand Your Ground Laws

270 million guns. That’s about 88 guns per 100 residents – a much higher gun ownership ratio than in countries like Yemen. For an expat coming to America, that can be quite scary, especially with “Stand Your Ground” laws in place in most US states. Stand Your Ground laws aka. Shoot First laws allow individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves, if it’s justified, to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. Unfortunately some people are under the misconception that they can shoot anybody who acts suspiciously on their property, if they feel threatened without facing any consequences. There are plenty of deadly examples where innocent people got shot because a home owner thought they were intruders like Brandon Zeth, who was fatally shot 5 times by a homeowner in Pennsylvania in January 2012 when he banged on the home’s door. Zeth thought he was in front of his girl friend’s house when he died. The homeowner thought he was an intruder.
It’s also likely that spouses will turn on each other with guns, if these are present in the household. Chances of that are more likely than having to defend yourself against an intruder. The list of examples is long.

On the other side of the debate are lots of real self-defense cases, where firearms saved people from being mugged, robbed or raped. A survey of felons revealed that 3 out of 5 felons wouldn’t break into a home when they knew the homeowner has a gun. Some assaults can also be prevented just by showing you’re armed.

Who Can Buy a Gun in the US?

Unfortunately literally everybody, no matter what mental state they’re in, can purchase a gun in America. Sometimes as easy as grocery shopping. However states like Connecticut have stricter rules in place and will perform a background check and require a permit before you can buy a gun. But still, some shooters that have made it into the news lived a very normal life before they became killers, so they wouldn’t have raised any red flags when buying a gun. Often times, the gun was already in the killers home, because it belonged to his parents and was easy accessible or it was inherited.

Expats just have to adapt to the presence of guns in the American society, because it’s not going to change anytime soon. Everybody needs to decide for themselves whether to buy a gun or to stay away from them. In regards of safety I wouldn’t see America as more dangerous to live in than in other countries with stricter laws. The amount of firearms in America don’t necessarily mean that it’s more dangerous to live there. The odds of being killed by a gun might be higher than in other countries, but so are the odds of being saved by somebody with a gun.

I just wish that kids wouldn’t be exposed to so many shooting activities here in the States, be it video games, paint ball, lasertech, etc. That was one thing that I noticed after moving to the US: Parents don’t seem to have any issues with letting their little kids play shooting games in arcades. I see so many Dads who are having a blast with their kids as young as 3 years old, shooting “bad guys” in video games with pretty realistic looking guns. Guns are just part of the American society.

I created this infographic with some more facts & figures about gun laws in America. If you would like to share your opinion or give me some feedback, please comment below.


Photo credit: Fotolia © Stephanie Frey


7 Responses to “Armed to the Teeth – Gun Ownership in America”

  1. Alfred R says:

    If America would only take lead from other countries…

    Dan, if your time permits, try researching on “Gun Laws” in Japan (even having a can of pepper spray is illegal). And as any foreigner, including Americans, would agree with – Japan is one of the _safest_ countries to live. You could actually be walking alone in the vicinity of your neighborhood, and the chances to being mugged are close to NIL.

    Just for my curiosity, I may find time to browse through Gun Laws of the following countries:

    Well, as I do mention to friends or acquaintances, in spite of advances in this country, Americans still live in the Wild Wild West.

    • Dan says:

      I agree, it does feel like the Wild Wild West here sometimes. The link you shared is interesting. Thank you for that.
      I grew up 20 minutes from the Austrian border and it also felt safe at all times. My home town was very small though, but I could walk around in the middle of the night without having to fear for being mugged.

  2. Slim934 says:

    As an American who takes the entire Bill of Rights seriously, it is refreshing to see a European who has kept an open mind to this topic. I have had this discussion with visiting German/French students before and their mentality in general has been utter close-mindedness to the whole concept of civilian personal armament.

    A note though on a few of the stats, specifically the one referring to firearms as a big business and linking them to the NRA. Before I continue though I should point out that it is not really accurate to call the NRA the lobby of gun industry. It is not. That duty belongs to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which lobbies directly on their behalf. The NRA largely depends on direct contributions from members, as well as donations from more wealthy members, or pro-bono work by attorneys. There are exceptions to this, such as when the NRA partners with a manufacturer to create a limited edition NRA edition of some firearm. But NRA money primarily comes from small donors in the form of monthly, yearly, or lifetime memberships to the organization.

    Also, the NRA is not a particularly powerful lobby with respect to spending levels. The last I checked the NRA (when looking at total spending) was not even in the top 50 of lobbies in the US. It came in around number 80 the last time I checked.

    The 31 billion dollar firearms industry number is slightly misleading also, because within the context of this story it implies that most of that is on the civilian end. This might be true, but I find this highly suspect. The reason being that the largest firearms manufacturers are the primary servicers of the Military and Police. Beretta, Colt, Smith & Wesson, Glock, Sig Sauer, Sturm Ruger, a huge chunk of all their money comes directly from the military or the police who field their weapons. Private individuals buy a lot this is true, but that 31 billion gross is not a full indicator of private buying habits.

    “Stand Your Ground laws aka. Shoot First laws allow individuals to use deadly force to defend themselves without any requirement to evade or retreat from a dangerous situation. You could basically shoot anybody who acts suspiciously on your property, if you feel threatened and will probably not face any charges.”

    This is probably the least accurate section of the article. SYG does NOT mean you can openly kill some one because you feel threatened. There are defined legal standards for what is considered justifiable lethal force. Simply feeling threatened is not legitimate, one must argue that this was the case in court. This was just as true before SYG as after. The PRIMARY purpose of SYG was actually to prevent prosecutorial abuse.

    Before SYG, it was a common tactic during trials in a post self-defense situation (outside of the home)for the prosecution to argue (even if the defendant was being actively attacked by the person he killed) that the simply fact that he had SOME avenue of escape was enough to show that the defendant was WANTED to kill his assailant. Legitimate cases of self-defense could be overturned because the prosecutor could argue “well you still could have run away, so you should have.” which is a totally absurd proposition to anyone who understands how human beings actually react in violent encounters or to people who are cognizant of the success rates of actually running away from your attacker vs. retaliating with a firearm.

    On a final note, I would like to point out that the consensus on disarmament is not nearly as solid as many would believe. The Secretary General of Interpol recently suggested civilian armament after the Westgate massacre in Kenya. Granted, he is an American but still I seriously doubt he would utter such a statement in his capacity as secretary if he did not have atleast some international backing.

    Overall thought a very good post, much better in fact than most Americans who write on the issue and choose not to do any digging of the facts.

  3. Zhou says:

    Hi Dan,

    Great article. I’m an American expat who lives in China (where gun ownership is completely illegal). Now that I’m out of the states, the gun issue has taken on so many more layers and conflicting opinions within my own head. I’m both pro-gun and anti-gun at the same time! Living in a gun free environment is very nice but the American system works ok too. I can’t make up my mind!!!! I’m from Detroit, one of the most dangerous places in America, so I’ve seen the advantages and the horrors of guns up close and personal.

    One of the strangest and hardest things to explain is how easy it is to get a gun in the states and that I own a gun. Just go to your local ‘has everything’ store, buy a shotgun and ammo, pay, walk out. Everyone just looks at me like I’m insane.

    I’m also always surprised at how willing my British friends are to get into a fist fight. They’re always talkin’ trash. Americans are much more civil when boozin’ because you never know who’s got a gun.

    • Dan says:

      Good point regarding the trash talk and boozin’. Gun ownership might add to being extra cautious before you insult somebody or provoke a fight. There are pros and cons as it is with so many things.

  4. Mishel says:

    That was a pretty even handed article! My German husband still finds my gun ownership views to be incomprehensible. 🙂

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