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Civilian Inventories

Most of the world's 1,013 million small arms are firearms in civilian hands, which total approximately 857 million. They range from crude craft-made hand guns to collectible antiques and state-of-the-art automatic rifles. Civilian ownership is the fastest-growing category, as consumers buy more guns, while military and law enforcement holdings remain more stable and some of their weapons gradually shift into civilian hands.

Ownership laws and practices vary dramatically from country to country and region to region. The most reliable information about civilian ownership comes from official registration reports. But these are incomplete everywhere, missing unregistered weapons. Many countries, moreover, do not require registration, so they have no way of directly measuring civilian ownership.

The most comprehensive information on public gun inventories comes from polling and surveys. Unlike official registration data, which only covers legally owned firearms, polling can potentially reveal the approximate total of all guns in civilian hands. Because it relies on voluntary responses to very sensitive questions, however, even polling lacks great reliability. Detailed polls on gun ownership have been conducted in several countries, including Bahamas, Canada, Estonia, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Russia, Somalia and the United States. The largest survey project on firearms examined household ownership in 31 countries in 2004–05. Another examined individual ownership in 28 European countries in 2013.

Small Arms Survey Publications

  • Estimating Global Civilian-held Firearms Numbers, by Aaron Karp. Briefing Paper, June 2018 (also available in Arabic). See also the Annexe with data by country/territory.

    Download (1.07 MB)
  • Estimating Civilian Owned Firearms, September 2011. Research Note No. 9, Armed Actors (also available in Catalan and Spanish).

    Download (415.3 KB)
  • Small Arms in Brazil: Production, Trade, and Holdings, by Pablo Dreyfus, Benjamin Lessing, Marcelo de Sousa Nascimento, and Júlio Cesar Purcena, a joint publication of Viva Rio, ISER, and the Small Arms Survey, September 2010. Special Report No. 11

    Download (5.43 MB)
  • Arms in and around Mauritania: National and Regional Security Implications, by Stéphanie Pézard with Anne-Kathrin Glatz, June 2010. Occasional Paper No. 24 (also available in French)

    Download (1.23 MB)
  • Supply and Demand: Arms Flows and Holdings in Sudan, December 2009. HSBA Issue Brief No. 15 (also available in Arabic)

  • Firearm-related Violence in Mozambique, a joint publication of the Ministry of the Interior of Mozambique, the World Health Organization—Mozambique, and the Small Arms Survey, June 2009. Special Report No. 10

    Download (2.49 MB)
  • The Central African Republic and Small Arms: A Regional Tinderbox, by Eric G. Berman with Louisa N. Lombard, December 2008 (also available in French).

    More information
  • Small Arms in Rio de Janeiro: The Guns, the Buyback, and the Victims, by Pablo Dreyfus, Luis Eduardo Guedes, Ben Lessing, Antônio Rangel Bandeira, Marcelo de Sousa Nascimento, and Patricia Silveira Rivero, a study by the Small Arms Survey, Viva Rio, and ISER, December 2008. Special Report No. 9

    Download (980.37 KB)
  • The Drift Back to War: Insecurity and Militarization in the Nuba Mountains, August 2008. HSBA Issue Brief No. 12 (also available in Arabic)

  • Blowback: Kenya's Illicit Ammunition Problem in Turkana North District, by James Bevan, June 2008. Occasional Paper No. 22 (Executive Summary also available)

    Download (2.34 MB)
  • Allies and Defectors: An Update on Armed Group Integration and Proxy Force Activity, May 2008. HSBA Issue Brief No. 11 (also available in Arabic)

  • Quoi de neuf sur le front congolais? Evaluation de base sur la circulation des armes lLégères et de petit calibre en République du Congo, by Robert Muggah and Ryan Nichols, published with the UNDP–Republic of the Congo, December 2007. Special Report No. 8

    Download (813.81 KB)
  • Small Arms in Burundi: Disarming the Civilian Population in Peacetime, by Stéphanie Pézard and Nicolas Florquin, a study by the Small Arms Survey and the Ligue Iteka with support from UNDP–Burundi and Oxfam–NOVIB, August 2007. Special Report No. 7 (also available in French)

    Download (2.97 MB)
  • La République Centrafricaine: une étude de cas sur les armes légères et les conflits, by Eric G. Berman, with the support of UNDP, July 2006. Special Report No. 6

    Download (626.16 KB)
  • How Many Weapons Are There in Cambodia? by Christina Wille, July 2006. Working Paper No. 4

    Download (329 KB)
  • Islands of Safety in a Sea of Guns: Gun-free Zones in South Africa, by Adèle Kirsten et al., January 2006. Working Paper No. 3

    Download (1.19 MB)
  • Demanding Attention: Addressing the Dynamics of Small Arms Demand, by David Atwood, Anne-Kathrin Glatz, and Robert Muggah, January 2006. Occasional Paper No. 18 (also available in French and Spanish)

    Download (1.8 MB)
  • Securing Haiti’s Transition: Reviewing Human Insecurity and the Prospects for Disarmament, Demobilization, and Reintegration, by Robert Muggah, November 2005. Occasional Paper No. 14 (also available in French)

    Download (793.71 KB)
  • The Use and Perception of Weapons Before and After Conflict: Evidence from Rwanda, by Cécelle Meijer and Philip Verwimp, October 2005. Working Paper No. 2

    Download (465.11 KB)
  • Gun-running in Papua New Guinea: From Arrows to Assault Weapons in the Southern Highlands, by Philip Alpers, June 2005. Special Report No. 5

    Download (826.08 KB)
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Other Publications

  • Hepp, U., et al. 2010. Suicide trends diverge by method: Swiss suicide rates 1969–2005. European Psychiatry, Vol. 25, No. 3 April, pp. 129–35.

    More information
  • Dobat, Armin S., Diermar Heubriock and Joachim Stoeter. 2006. Waffenbesitz und waffenmissbrach in Deutschland. Kriminalpolitik, December, pp. 724-728.

  • Gould, Chandré and Guy Lamb, eds. 2004. Hide and Seek: Taking Account of Small Arms in Southern Africa. Pretoria: Institute for Security Studies.

    More information
  • United Nations Crime and Justice Network. 1999. United Nations International Study on Firearms Regulation.Collection of national reports on domestic private gun ownership. Vienna: United Nations

    More information
  • Thorp, Sir Thomas. 1997. Review of Firearms Control in New Zealand. Wellington: Report of an Independent Inquiry Commissioned by the Minister of Police.

    More information
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Further Resources

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