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Guns In America, By The Numbers

President Obama announced executive actions Tuesday, intended to curtail gun violence. But if history is any guide, the president's effort may have the unintended effect of boosting gun sales — 2015 was a banner year.

"After San Bernardino, our business went up probably 50 percent," John Lamplugh, who has run gun shows in Maryland and Pennsylvania for more than three decades, said, referring to the recent shooting in California. "It's either two things: They're scared and need to protect [themselves]. Or they're afraid that [the government is] going to take it from them. There's the two things that drive our business."

According to the Congressional Research Service, there are roughly twice as many guns per capita in the United States as there were in 1968: more than 300 million guns in all.

Gun sales have increased in recent years. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. gun-makers produced nearly 11 million guns in 2013, the year after the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. That's twice as many as they made in 2010.

"There's a gun for every man, woman, and child, more or less," says Deborah Azrael of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center.

But that doesn't mean every man, woman and child has a gun. The number of armed households has actually declined to about 1 in 3. So an ever larger number of guns is concentrated in a shrinking number of homes:

One of Obama's executive actions would try to expand background checks and improve background check processing. According to the FBI, 23 million background checks were performed in 2015, nearly three times the 8.5 million performed in 2000.

Researchers say a decline in hunting is partly responsible for the shrinking number of households with a gun. Gun ownership rates remain higher in rural areas. And there is considerable variation from state to state. Fewer than 6 percent of households in Delaware and Rhode Island have guns, compared with more than 50 percent in Arkansas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

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Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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