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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

  • Armed and Aimless: Armed Groups, Guns, and Human Security in the ECOWAS Region, edited by Nicolas Florquin and Eric G. Berman, May 2005 (also available in French).

    More information
  • A Fragile Peace: Guns and Security in Post-Conflict Macedonia, by Suzette R. Grillot et al., commissioned by UNDP and co-published with BICC and SEESAC, June 2004. Special Report No. 4

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  • Small Arms in Kyrgyzstan: A Small Arms Anomaly in Central Asia? by S. Neil MacFarlane and Stina Torjesen, February 2004. Occasional Paper No. 12 (also available in Kyrgyz)

    Download (1.17 MB)
  • In the Shadow of a Cease-fire: The Impacts of Small Arms Availability and Misuse in Sri Lanka, by Chris Smith, October 2003. Occasional Paper No. 11

    Download (1.01 MB)
  • Kosovo and the Gun: A Baseline Assessment of Small Arms and Light Weapons in Kosovo, by Anna Khakee and Nicolas Florquin, commissioned by the UNDP, June 2003. Special Report No. 3 (also available in Albanian and BCMS).

    Download (783.92 KB)
  • Demand, Stockpiles, and Social Controls: Small Arms in Yemen, by Derek B. Miller, May 2003. Occasional Paper No. 9 (also available in Arabic)

    Download (441.32 KB)
  • Small Arms in the Pacific, by Philip Alpers and Conor Twyford, March 2003. Occasional Paper No. 8

    Download (855.71 KB)
  • Politics from the Barrel of a Gun: Small Arms Proliferation and Conflict in the Republic of Georgia, by Spyros Demetriou, November 2002. Occasional Paper No. 6 (also available in Russian)

    Download (367.83 KB)
  • Stray Bullets: The Impact of Small Arms Misuse in Central America, by William Godnick, with Robert Muggah and Camilla Waszink, October 2002. Occasional Paper No. 5 (also available in Spanish)

    Download (258.78 KB)
  • Humanitarianism under Threat: The Humanitarian Impact of Small Arms and Light Weapons, by Robert Muggah and Eric Berman, commissioned by the Reference Group on Small Arms of the UN Inter-Agency Standing Committee, July 2001. Special Report No. 1 (summary in French also available)

    Download (688.22 KB)
  • Removing Small Arms from Society: A Review of Weapons Collection and Destruction Programmes, by Sami Faltas, Glenn McDonald, and Camilla Waszink, July 2001. Occasional Paper No. 2

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Other Publications

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