Thursday, August 30, 2007

Guessing through their teeth.

We've had a lot of fun with the recent study claiming that there were 90 guns for every 100 Americans. Now let's point out the truth: That number has got to be waayyyy low. Think about it: How can they make any reasonably accurate estimate? Guns are pretty durable artifacts; they don't just dry up and blow away after X number of years. (I have 120-year-old relics that are still in excellent shape and quite shootable.) Hardly any record-keeping at all was required for firearms in this country prior to 1968, so anyone claiming to know a total number of weapons extant by extrapolating from current sales or production figures is talking through her hat at best or, to use the scientific term, just making stuff up.

As most readers know, one of my hobbies is collecting old military rifles. Maybe a quarter to a third of my rifles show the importer markings required by the Gun Control Act of 1968. This means the remainder found their way into the country by a variety of means before that date. Some may have been imported by big surplus houses like Bannerman's, some may have come in via the dufflebags of returning GIs, and some may have come in individually thanks to tourists. Any attempt to make a meaningful guess as to how many guns like this are in the country is just that; a guess.

My other love, old S&W revolvers, would be just as hard to count using current sales numbers as any kind of marker. The mean date of manufacture for revolvers in my collection is 1968, the year the current system of Federal Firearms Licenses and their attendant sales restrictions came into practice. Prior to that date, there was no requirement to keep retail-level records of guns sales. Some of these guns have never had the slightest attention paid to them by the government at all, having gone from the manufacturer into the mail, from the mail into the owner's sock drawer, and from the owner's estate into a private collection. Once again, any claim to know how many of these old guns linger out there is idle speculation that can't be dressed up as science no matter how starched the lab coat in which we outfit it.

No doubt this study made someone feel better, but its statistical underpinnings make Birnam Wood look deeply rooted. This is why gun confiscation schemes are always so funny. Not only do we not know where they all are, we have no idea how many to look for. I hate to break it to the more idealistic folks that think some kind of magic complete gun ban would somehow solve anything, but this genie is well and truly out of the bottle. You might as well try rounding up sand.

25 comments:

Cybrludite said...

No doubt this study made someone feel better, but its statistical underpinnings make Birnam Wood look deeply rooted.

Nice! If you weren't three states away, I'd propose to you over that bit of erudite snark! :-D

Don Gwinn said...

It made me feel better. Michael Moore used to claim that the Canucks had us beat on a per-capita basis, and I always had this feeling that just couldn't be right (and that if it was, we'd better Do Something About It.)

Jay G said...

Call me paranoid, but I wouldn't want to talk publicly about guns I had that were off the radar.

Then again, I lost all my guns in a tragic boating accident just last week...

Tam said...

If I was secretly hoarding top-break Smiths for the apocalypse, I'd be more secretive. I'm just using my relatively innocuous collection to make a point...

Anonymous said...

So, 90 guns per 100 Americans is low. How low, do you figure? Should that figure be doubled? Tripled? Yeah, I understand you'd be doing no better than whoever spent time on the study, accuracy-wise. :)

Anonymous said...

I too think that the figure of 90 guns per 100 Americans is low. Thanks to a mil-surp addiction I personally own nearly that many. I'm sure my father owns at least 20 and my baby brother at least 10. Lil' sis owns 4. Hell, my 12 year old nephew already has a 20 gauge and a .243.

homebru said...

Funny that you should mention sand.

In almost all of the old Saturday matinee Western movies, once the good guy caught up with the boss bad guy (BBG), they would each hide behind a different boulder and begin shooting. When the twenty-three shot revolver of the BBG finally went empty, he would look at the pistol with disgust and then throw it in the general direction of the good guy.

How many hundreds (dare I say thousands?) of old twenty-three shooters are laying around America's Southwestern deserts, waiting to be recovered?

And could this explain the large numbers of gun bloggers in Arizona, Utah, and other hot, dry places?

Jay G said...

Sorry, Tam, I wasn't intending my point be made at you, merely in general.

I'm also a wee bit more paranoid, living in the Sheeple's Republik of Massafuckingchusetts as I do...

I think that (in theory, I don't have any experience with the practice, of course) having guns "off the grid" is not just a great idea but should be mandatory.

I just get itchy when folks detail the hows and whys of how guns can be "off the grid" is all. It's not meant nor intended to be a knock at you, not in the least.

If anything, it's my seething rage that we should even have to THINK about tiptoeing on this subject, given the "shall not be infringed" business and all...

1894C said...

JayG,


A-Yup! To your sentiments, +1

1894C, Also in MA.

GeorgeH said...

I remember in the late '50s and early '60s gun dealers were selling No.4 Enfield spike bayonets as tent pegs for $1.00 ea. and if you bought 4 they would throw in an Enfield to pound them into the ground with.

Interarms, among others brought in surplus weapons by the tens of millions.

Matt G said...

"I hate to break it to the more idealistic folks that think some kind of magic complete gun ban would somehow solve anything, but this genie is well and truly out of the bottle. You might as well try rounding up sand."

And, once you've gathered up some, try pounding it...

Anonymous said...

I wonder if that "90 per 100" stat includes black powder guns.

Tam said...

Antique black powder or modern reproductions? How about inline muzzle loaders?

Does my T/C Encore count if I put the 209/50 barrel on?

Do I count my new replica P1853 Enfield but not my old Mauser 71?

How do they know?

PN NJ said...

Here's a link to the original report:

First part of link

http://www.smallarmssurvey.org/files/sas/

Last part of link

publications/yearb2007.html

See Chapter 2 for more information on how they estimated civilian firearms.

Will said...

I suspect ammo controls/bans, etc, would be an effective route for govt control of guns. Especially for impacting the effectiveness of the "reset button". Not overnite, but would increase over time. The typical gun owner (hunter,plinker,target shooter) normally doesn't stockpile ammo. One or two twenty rnd cartons per centerfire rifle would be normal, I think. When I was a kid, my father and his friends bought ammo prior to deer season, fired some at the range to check the gun(s) and went hunting. Don't think they even brought the remainder home, just left it at the cabin. There was always some laying around the cabin, all tarnished and corroded. I don't recall any ammo at home, except a small amount for my .22 rifle.
Only people with those EBR's, and a few other categories, tend to buy ammo in bulk. That tends to get consumed on a regular basis. Unless things have changed dramatically in the past 30-40 yrs,this may be a real vulnerability.
Any thoughts on this?

Anonymous said...

I know most are too embarassed to discuss that most reprehensible of 'hidden' guns, but one expert I know feels there are un-registered machine guns in private than there are registered. The reasons are pretty much the same as what Tam has posted and we're not talking about converted AK's and Tec9's, but stuff that was brought back after WWI and during 1942, even before 1968 from Vietnam. They are out there, but no one wants to talk about them because they are so radioactive -- career wise and in the legal sense.

I believe there are far more hidden away than what many want to believe.

All The Best,
Frank W. James

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

I tend to agree, the numbers are badly skewed. It might just be impossible to make a valid count, even with a wide margin of error.

I'm Ok with that.... very Ok.

A thought.... the generally accepted (so I heard, for what it's worth) percentage of American households with firearms is 50-60%. Of those millions of gun owning households, how many own just one weapon? How about just two?

The bulk of the people I know well enough to know if they own firearms, own way more than one or two. Most ADMIT to owning at least half a dozen, and most would not admit to all they have.

My bestest buddy , who's super secret gun cave I helped build, has an M-1 hidden away he thinks even I know nothing about.

They say the Yugoslav's pour motor oil in their flower beds at night.... so the guns won't rust.

I suspect more could be said about what Americans have squirreled away.

In addition..... firearms are just way too easy to build. From scratch. Out of just about anything. This thought alone could make a heckuva book!

Don Gwinn said...

The older I get, the more I realize how naive I've been about what people own. And that's all I've got to say about that.

Who is..... Carteach0? said...

Case in point..... a wonderfully kind old neighbor we had, at a time I am not sure of, in a place I can't seem to recall......

Brought me out a very nice old Winchester .22 auto to examine. A real beauty of a model 63.... with a threaded muzzle. Of course I asked, and of course he had one.... purchased from a hardware store many, many decades before I was born.

If the sweet old gent is still alive, I suspect he's still quietly thinning the squirrel herd around his garden..... very quietly.

Desertrat said...

Some four-ish years back, I browsed through the BATF website. I found a chart which gave the previous ten years' annual numbers of guns sold into the US market: Average about five million per year.

So, since Clinton took office, roughly, that's 5 million/yr times 15 years, additional rifles/shotguns/handguns added to the US inventory.

Let's keep up the good work!

Art

Anonymous said...

If there are that many gun owners out there, why do any anti gun laws exist at all?

Desertrat said...

"If there are that many gun owners out there, why do any anti gun laws exist at all?"

Becasue the sort of politician who believes in "Goodies to the People" as a path for election also believes the BS about the efficacy of gun control.

And so the gun-owning farmer votes for the politico who promises better farm parity prices--and that politico also believes in gun control.

Art

Tam said...

"If there are that many gun owners out there, why do any anti gun laws exist at all?"

I didn't say there were that many gun owners, just that there were that many guns.

DirtCrashr said...

I'm in Californoodilia and not even gonna say anything, there - I didn't say nuthin'...
How many guns fit between 2x4 studs and behind sheetrock (is blue-board better?), and do you need to pour motor oil on your walls if you already have a good vapor-barrier and pink insulation?

dr mac said...

I guess they did it the same way the Weather Channel lists the origin of hurricanes from 1890.