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During an appearance on PBS’s Amanpour & Company, Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke discussed Walmart’s recent decision to stop the sale of ammunition that can be used in assault rifles and to ask customers to not openly carry firearms in its stores.
The decision came in the wake of an Aug. 3 mass shooting at an El Paso Walmart, where a gunman killed 22 people.
O’Rourke, a former congressman from El Paso, called Walmart’s decision "a great example of corporate responsibility" and a "step in the right direction."
"But if we wait for this kind of corporate responsibility across the country given the number of gun shows and gun dealers and gun stores, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives," O’Rourke said. "There are 390 million guns out on the streets of a country of 329 million people. We have to take decisive action and it has to come from our government."
Is O’Rourke right on his figures about the number of guns in the country? The last time PolitiFact looked at these numbers, it was estimated that there were roughly 310 million civilian-owned guns in the United States.
Chris Evans, a spokesman for O’Rourke, pointed to a report published by the Global Small Arms Survey in May 2019 that found there are more civilian-owned firearms in the United States than in any other country.
The Small Arms Survey, an operation at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, found that there were more than 393 million civilian firearms holdings in the United States, as of June 2018.
The group’s estimates are developed using a variety of data sources and its work is considered by experts to be the most comprehensive research that exists on private gun ownership globally.
In the United States, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives publishes annual reports about the number of firearms that have been manufactured, exported and imported. It also looks at the number of federal licenses issued to manufacturers.
But a spokesman for the agency said it does not have an aggregate figure for the total number of guns in circulation.
A 2012 report from the Congressional Research Service estimated that in 1996 there were 242 million civilian-owned firearms; in 2000 there were 259 million; and in 2009 there were 310 million.
The figure for 2009 was significant, as it marked the first year that the number of civilian-owned firearms surpassed the nation’s total population, according to the Washington Post.
Evans pointed to reporting from the Washington Post on the latest Small Arms Survey report, an article titled: "There are more guns than people in the United States, according to a new study of global firearm ownership."
The Washington Post found that, using the estimate from the Small Arms Survey, there are enough civilian-owned firearms in the United States "for every man, woman and child to own one and still have 67 million guns left over."
At the end of June 2018, when the estimate was published, the United States’ population was roughly 327 million. Today, it is more than 329 million.
Globally, researchers with the group estimate that 85% of the 1 billion firearms in global circulation are in civilian hands — that’s 857 million guns. Of the remaining guns, roughly 13% are in military use and 2% are owned by law enforcement agencies.
The number of firearms around the world has increased substantially, largely due to an increase in civilians purchasing guns, researchers found.
The number of civilian-owned guns worldwide grew from 650 million in 2006 to 857 million in 2017.
The United States makes up the bulk of all civilian-owned firearms.
"Even after adjusting for population, it is clear that the United States far outnumbers other countries," reads a release from the group. "The United States has 4% of the world’s population, but its civilians hold almost 40% of the world’s firearms."
O’Rourke said, "There are 390 million guns out on the streets of a country of 329 million people."
The latest study of civilian-owned firearms in the United States supports this statement. We rate this claim True.
Email interview with Chris Evans, spokesman for O’Rourke, Sept. 5, 2019
Small Arms Survey, Annual Report 2018, May 2019
Washington Post, "There are more guns than people in the United States, according to a new study of global firearm ownership," June 19, 2018
Washington Post, There are now more guns than people in the United States, Oct. 5, 2015
Small Arms Survey, Global Firearms Holdings, June 2018
PolitiFact, Does America own 42 percent of the world's guns?, March 5, 2018
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