How many firearms in total were owned by civilian population between 1836 and 1912 in USA (cumulatively, not simultaneously)?

The timeframe is what I would consider "Old West" timeframe, but starting with Colt's introduction of his firearm.

If there's no good statistics for total ownership, I am OK with an approximation by adding up all recorded sales to civilians + all recorded sales of military firearms (esp. after Civil War) to other parties.

Ideally, I would like a breakout between handguns and long guns, but that's not required.

  • I'm not sure even gun sales were recorded as much then as they are now. – American Luke May 10 '13 at 18:31
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    During the American Civil War they did inventories of the number of firearms so that could be used as a starting point. – liftarn Jun 10 '14 at 8:43
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    American Gun Makers will get you started, with a list of all of the American gun makers, starting in the 1700s. Sorry, no production figures are known for most of them. But some have summaries of the US Government production contracts. – Peter Diehr Jun 18 '16 at 17:13
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    Guns in America: A historical reader discusses Gun Production, starting on p. 30. It includes statistics for guns made at the Federal arsenals at Harper's Ferry and Springfield, 1795-1870, by decade. – Peter Diehr Jun 18 '16 at 17:21
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    There is a semi-abandoned site gun-data.com, where you can find pretty detailed numbers (by model/year/serial number) about the time period in question. Alas, the only data available there without passing CC number over an insecure channel is a "tour". – sds Feb 7 '17 at 22:32

There is a great paper (63 pages) where they go through how some of these numbers that you see, and how they are obtained. Basic conclusion is that there are no direct numbers for how many guns were in circulation. In fact due to laws in some cases it was illegal to list them in estates (common record to obtain this data). The toughest part about this is that it wasn't until 1934 that manufactures were required by the National Firearms act to serialize their firearms.

The estimates range from 14.7% to upwards of 70.6% of households had firearms at the time, but that still doesn't give you a count of how many firearms were out there it just "helps" narrow down how many households had them. I would suggest reading the paper to help get a better understanding here is an exert of the conclusion:

50% of male and female wealthholders owned guns in 1774 colonial America are the first carefully weighted national probate-based estimates for gun ownership in eighteenth-century America. If we exclude estates that have nosignificant itemization of personal property, 54% of male wealthholders have guns, as do 19% of female wealthholders. We also provide the first weighted regional estimates of colonial gun ownership: 69% in the South, 50% in New England, and 41% in the Middle colonies. Given that these counts are based on incomplete probate inventories, unless nudity was also widely practiced,1 56 these gun counts are likely to be substantial underestimates.

Source: http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1489&context=wmlr

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  • These estimates seem to be based on probate records. Does the study estimate the distribution of population the records cover. It seems that those with detailed wills may represent a higher portion of wealthy individuals then the 'common' household. – justCal Feb 11 '17 at 1:10
  • That's one contention brought up. That based on some of the numbers and the spread of population some numbers like 14.7% simply can't be true but the understanding is that most people who had estates were from some form of wealth and a lack of information is not necessarily proof of the negative but rather has to be interpreted as just lack of information and therefore makes it tougher to gather appropriate numbers. – EvanM Feb 11 '17 at 2:12
  • Other studies tried to extrapolate the data by assuming that based on probate records firearms were as common of an item as books or clothes but those have obvious flaws as well. Basically the conclusion is "good luck", however the common belief is that the numbers in these studies are more than likely low in their estimates. – EvanM Feb 11 '17 at 2:13

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