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The $34 Billion Question

The $34 Billion Question

20-year-old acquaintance, who is now working on an undergraduate degree in applied statistics, asked me why Joe Biden’s plan to force America’s gun owners to register and pay fees for their AR-type rifles and “high-capacity” magazines doesn’t make sense. He asked this sincerely, as I have known him since he was 10 years old, before adding that a professor told him it would be very simple to do this, since the 1934 National Firearms Act already mandates it for machine guns and suppressors.

This person is mathematically minded and not yet an ideologue, so it made sense to begin with the math.

Americans now own nearly 20 million semi-automatic AR-type rifles. They also own over 150 million pistol and rifle magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Therefore, at $200 each, which is what the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) now charges for such registrations, I asked him how much that would cost America’s millions of gun owners.

“Wow, $34 billion,” he said.

“Now, as you’re a statistician, what do you estimate would be the rate of compliance?”

His face twisted up as he pondered this.

34 Billion


I told him Beto O’Rourke claimed America’s gun owners would simply do as they are told. O’Rourke, whom Biden said would be his “gun-control czar,” was asked by CNN’s Alisyn Camerota a year ago, “You expect mass shooters to follow the law?” Beto paused before replying, “Our fellow Americans will follow the law, yes.”

This young man, however, wasn’t so sure. “Determining compliance, even with small regulations, is notoriously difficult,” he said.

It was then helpful to touch on the fact that freedom-loving citizens are adamantly opposed to registering their guns with the government; after all, history teaches us plainly, and with repetition, that gun registries lead to confiscation.

As he mulled that over, it was time for some more statistics.

firearm productionAccording to the ATF’s Annual Firearms Manufacturing and Export Reports (AFMER), as well as the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC), in 2018, 11.4 million firearms were produced or imported into the United States (less exported firearms). From 1990 to today, according to the NSSF, an estimated 19.8 million AR-type rifles have been sold in the U.S. These rifles are now very commonly owned. In 2018, for example, about half (48%) of all rifles produced and imported (again, less exports) were the very AR-type rifles the mainstream media likes to erroneously call “assault weapons” and that Biden would like to make Americans register and, through bans and confiscations he calls “buybacks,” give up.

An interim estimate, according to NSSF statistics, indicates that about six million total firearms were produced in the United States in 2019. Of those guns, about 3.6 million were pistols and revolvers, 2 million were rifles and 480,000 were shotguns. In 2019, there were also approximately 3.3 million firearms imported into the United States, which included 2.3 million pistols and revolvers, 301,000 rifles and 678,000 shotguns.

With these figures in mind, I asked this young statistician what percentage of these guns were made in the U.S.

“About two out of three,” he said.

“Right. For some time now, about two-thirds of the guns sold in America are made in America. Not many hard-metal manufacturing industries can say that. This also means we are not dependent on other nations for our arms.”

To put this in perspective, from 1991 to 2019, nearly 214 million firearms have been made available to the U.S. market; in fact, according to reports from the ATF and the Congressional Research Service data, there are now an estimated 434 million firearms in civilian possession in the U.S. In 2018 alone, for the U.S. consumer market, the NSSF estimates that American ammunition manufacturers produced an estimated 8.7 billion rounds for all calibers and gauges.

Now, I explained, also realize that between January and October 2020, there were a record-breaking 17.2 million background checks for the sale or transfer of guns in the U.S. So, with 19.8 million AR-type rifles now in circulation, and, given that this rifle type (if it can be defined as a category) is and has been the most-popular rifle sold in America for years, these semi-automatic rifles are clearly commonly owned and therefore protected from government bans, according to the U.S. Supreme Court’s D.C. v. Heller (2008) decision.

“Well, they didn’t teach me all that,” he said.

Also realize, I said, that from 1991-2018, as more people have bought guns and as concealed carry has become much more available and popular across America, the U.S. violent crime rate decreased by 51.3%, according to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting program. This number likely rose in 2020, as the defund-the-police movement emboldened criminals and made people in some neighborhoods more vulnerable, but the fault with that isn’t with America’s 100-million-plus gun owners; rather, it is at the feet of those who blame our freedom and our men and women in blue for the actions of a small, criminal class.

This young wannabe statistician was now thoroughly baffled. He knew he couldn’t bring those numbers and that perspective into one of his college classrooms—not if he hoped to get an “A” in the course. He said he wanted to consider these statistics, and to travel around America more to understand what’s really going on when politicians, like Biden, say they want to make citizens register, or to outright ban, a massively popular class of firearms.

I told him to next ask the bigger questions, such as who is really committing crimes and if the guns they are using are legal. I told him he’d find that there are, to put it simply, two gun cultures in America. A massive, law-abiding and very diverse gun culture that celebrates freedom, self-reliance and responsibility. And a much, much smaller criminal culture that almost exclusively uses illegal guns. If America is to become even safer, our laws and law-enforcement resources need to be focused on this second group. 

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