Estimating Law Enforcement Firearms (Research Note 24)

Aaron Karp
Research Note

Small arms held by law enforcement agencies, while highly visible to the public, are relatively few in number in global terms.

Estimating Law Enforcement Firearms, a Research Note from the Small Arms Survey, shows the latest law enforcement firearms estimations for selected countries.  It also discusses the principles and methodology for making these estimations, and reflects on differences in practices and culture relating to firearms.

Of the roughly 875 million firearms worldwide, law enforcement holdings account for some 25 million. By comparison, there are approximately 200 million military and 650 million civilian guns.

Given the lack of comprehensive data for many countries, the estimate of law enforcement weapons is based on the number of law enforcement personnel, and what is known about how they are armed.

The Research Note’s findings include (2012):

  • China is believed to have the highest total number of firearms held by law enforcement agencies, (1.95 million); an average of 0.7 weapons per officer.
  • England and Wales, where only five per cent of constables are armed, have a ratio of 0.3 firearms per officer.
  • Serbia, by contrast, has two firearms for every law enforcement officer.
  • In the United States, there are 1.5 firearms for every law enforcement officer. The Federal Fish and Wildlife Agency is among the most heavily armed, with 5.9 weapons per officer. State and local police officers, on the other hand, have access to an average of 1.3 official firearms each.

In many cases, law enforcement officers carry privately owned firearms, as back-up weapons for example; and these are not be included in these estimates.

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Keywords: Law enforcement Stockpiles