Kentucky, California and Texas currently top the nation in the number of people getting federal background checks in the process of acquiring a gun.
From January 1 to September 30, 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) conducted more than 2.3 million background checks on Kentuckians buying guns, along with checks on nearly 1.2 million Californians and roughly 1.1 million Texans. In Oregon, the scene of the latest mass shooting, 184,203 residents had undergone background checks through the end of September.
Under the Brady Handgun Violence Protection Act, passed in 1993, anyone seeking to buy a gun from a licensed dealer must complete a background check, typically conducted through the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System. So far this year, the FBI has completed more than 15.6 million background checks on Americans looking to get a gun.
The number of background checks is actually only a rough proxy of the number of guns being bought and sold in each state each year. Background checks aren’t required for private sales, and only six states plus the District of Columbia require gun registration, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. There is no federal registration.
As a result, there’s actually no way to know how many guns there are in the United States. One estimate by the Congressional Research Service put the total number of civilian firearms in the United States in 2009 at about 310 million, including 114 million handguns, 110 million rifles, and 86 million shotguns. As Vox.com points out, this means there’s roughly one gun per person in the United States.
Guns also outnumber cars and trucks. According to the Department of Transportation, 253.6 million cars and trucks (including commercial vehicles) were registered in 2012.
The following chart shows the states with the greatest number of federal background checks for gun sales from January 1 to September 30 of 2015:
America’s Most Heavily-Armed States?
|Number of firearm background checks through Sept. 30, 2015|
Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation/NICS
As the nation struggles to manage and prevent gun violence, a national “census” of guns might be a sensible first step to ground future debate.