You’ve heard the statistics before: Americans have more guns per head than any nation on earth – along with gun violence rates that are dramatically higher than other rich, developed countries.
But these big-picture facts can be misleading. Not every American is packing heat and gun violence is intensely concentrated in small neighbourhoods.
Here’s a look at the dramatic concentration of America’s guns – and America’s violence:
American civilians own at least 265m firearms, which gives Americans the highest rate of per capita firearm ownership in the world, with about one gun for every American.
Yemen comes in a distant second, with about 55 guns for every 100 people, according to data from the 2007 Small Arms Survey.
But surveys show that gun ownership in America is actually highly concentrated. Only 22 to 31% of Americans adults say they personally own a gun.
Rates of personal and household gun ownership appear to have declined over the past decades – roughly two-thirds of Americans today say they live in a gun-free household. By contrast, in the late 1970s, the majority of Americans said they lived in a household with guns.
Most of America’s gun owners have relatively modest collections, with the majority of gun owners having an average of just three guns, and nearly half owning just one or two, according to a 2015 survey by Harvard and Northeastern researchers, which gave the most in-depth estimate of Americans’ current patterns of gun ownerships.
But America’s gun super-owners, have amassed huge collections. Just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m firearms – half of America’s total gun stock. These owners have collections that range from eight to 140 guns, the 2015 study found. Their average collection: 17 guns each.
After the Las Vegas shooting, officials said the killer had 23 guns in his hotel room, and another 19 at home. Some Americans asked, shocked, why one person purchasing so many guns had not set off any red flags.
Part of the answer is that owning more than 40 guns is actually fairly common in the United States: there are an estimated 7.7 million super-owners, which might make it difficult to flag a mass shooter building an arsenal from enthusiastic collectors and gun enthusiasts piling up different kinds of guns for hunting different kinds of game, a selection of handguns for self-defense, and various accessories for the popular, customizable military-style rifles that enthusiasts have compared to lethal Lego sets for grown men.
“Why do you need more than one pair of shoes? The truth is, you don’t, but do you want more than one pair of shoes? If you’re going hiking, you don’t want to use that one pair of high heels,” Philip van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, explained last year.
Super-owners were less diverse than gun owners overall, with super-owners more likely to be male, less likely to be black or Hispanic, and more likely to own a gun for protection, researchers said.
While Americans have a constitutional right to have a gun in their homes for self defense, an increasing number of Americans also appear to be armed on a regular basis outside their homes. A newly released study found that three million Americans carry loaded handguns with them on a daily basis, and nine million Americans do so on a monthly basis. Most of those choosing to carry are men.
These statistics rely on survey estimates because there’s no official, national count of how many guns Americans own – or even what the grand total of civilian gun ownership is. This is why estimates range from 265m in the 2015 study to above 400m (Yes, gun ownership in America is so private that there’s a 100m gun gap between different estimates).
More than 38,000 Americans were killed with guns last year, according to preliminary statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Both gun suicide and gun homicide have risen in recent years, although America’s rates of gun homicide still remains dramatically below what they were in the early 1990s.
Gun suicides make up the majority of gun deaths, more than 20,000 each year. But violent gun injuries represent an even larger toll: more than 60,000 people are shot each year and survive, according to CDC estimates.
In 2015, the most recent year with detailed data on fatal gun deaths, there were more than 36,000 overall firearm deaths, including 22,000 gun suicides and 13,000 gun homicides. That same year, according to The Counted, a Guardian project tracking police killings, more than 1,000 Americans were shot to death by the police.
More than 700 gun murders each year are related to domestic violence. An Associated Press analysis of official crime data between 2006 and 2014 found an average of 760 Americans were killed with guns each year by spouses, former spouses, or dating partners.
The vast majority of these domestic violence victims were women, and about 75% were the current wives or girlfriends of the people who killed them. These numbers, based on murders that were reported to the FBI as related to domestic violence, are likely an undercount of the total, and do not include children or bystanders killed during a domestic violence shooting.
There are also stark racial, economic and geographic disparities in the toll of America’s gun violence epidemic. Experts say violence is a kind of regressive tax, falling most heavily on the country’s poorest neighborhoods and most vulnerable people.
More than 25% of America’s gun homicides in 2015 happened across census blocks that contain just 1.5% of the country’s total population.
While gun control advocates often say it is unacceptable that Americans overall are “25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries”, people who live in these neighborhood areas face an average gun homicide rate about 400 times higher than the rate across those high-income countries.
More than half of America’s gun homicides were clustered in just 127 cities and towns, which together have less than a quarter of the nation’s population.
Researchers have found that America’s gun violence is concentrated not just geographically, but also within social networks.
Some researchers suggest that the risk of violent victimisation may spread from person to person like a virus, meaning that particular networks of people, not whole neighborhoods or racial or other demographic groups, are most at risk.
In Oakland, California, analysts found that networks of just 1,000 to 1,200 high-risk people, about .3% of Oakland’s population, were involved in about 60% of the city’s murders.
In New Orleans, just 600 to 700 people, less than 1% of the city’s population, were involved in more than 50% of fatal incidents.
In Chicago, analysts working with police department data found that, over a six-year period, 70% of non-fatal shootings and 46% of gun homicides happened within a sprawling social network that included just 6% of Chicago’s total population.