US firearms makers produced more than 139 million guns for the commercial market over the two decades from 2000, including 11.3 million in 2020 alone, according to a new government report.
Another 71 million firearms were imported in the same period — compared to just 7.5 million exported — underscoring how the country is swimming in personal weapons that have stoked a surge in gun violence, murders and suicides, according to the Justice Department report.
The report shows that while Americans have made favourites of semi-automatic assault rifles seen in many mass shootings, they have bought en masse the increasingly cheap, easy-to-use and accurate semi-automatic 9mm pistols like those that most police use.
And, the report shows, authorities face a surge in unregistered “ghost guns” made at home with parts that can be bought online and produced with 3D printer, and pistols and short-barrelled rifles that are as powerful and lethal as the semi-automatic assault rifles used in mass shootings.
“We can only address the current rise in violence if we have the best available information and use the most effective tools and research to fuel our efforts,” said Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco.
“This report is an important step in that direction. The Department will continue to gather the data necessary to tailor our approach at the most significant drivers of gun violence and take shooters off the streets.”
The report came out after a shocking weekend showed how the vast surplus of guns has made its mark on US society.
In Buffalo, New York police say an 18-year-old white man driven by racist hate used an assault rifle to murder 10 black people; in Laguna Woods, California a man shot five people in a church frequented by Taiwanese with a 9mm pistol; and in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, more than 20 people were wounded in shootings in one evening in the downtown entertainment district.
Last week, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said the number of gun deaths in the US underwent an “historic” increase in 2020.
The US racked up 19,350 firearm homicides in 2020, up nearly 35 per cent from 2019, and 24,245 gun suicides, up 1.5 per cent.
The firearm homicide rate stood at 6.1 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, the highest for more than 25 years.
The CDC said the rise might be due in part to the stresses of the Covid-19 pandemic and poverty.
The gun industry has rocketed in two decades. In 2000, there were 2,222 registered active manufacturers. By 2020, the number hit 16,936.
Annual commercial gun production likewise surged: 3.9 million in 2000, hitting 11.3 million 20 years later. But that was down from the peak of 11.9 million in 2016.
Of those sold in 2020, almost exactly half were pistols, doubling their share of the market since 2000: the year 2020 saw 5.5 million pistols, and nearly a million revolvers, enter circulation.
Firearms made by official manufacturers must have serial numbers that allow them to be traced by law enforcement.
But officials are increasingly worried about home-made “ghost guns” that have no such markings and are increasingly used in crimes.
In 2021, the report said, officials recovered 19,244 such guns, compared to just 1,758 five years earlier.
The report is the first in a four-volume study of gun markets and illegal trafficking.