Answer to Map #49

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Answer: This week’s map was a choropleth in which each U.S. county was shaded in proportion to the per capita number of gun sellers registered in it.

Generally speaking, the counties with the most gun dealers per resident are those counties in which hunting is especially common—which is to say the counties of the Mountain West. That’s why you see such dark regions in states like Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming, all of which have lots of forests home to large animals.

A map of registered gun sellers is a useful map because it is one of the best ways to try to measure where people have the most guns. We would have liked to have shown you a choropleth of guns per capita, and we did accept any answer we received about where you would find the most guns. But this isn’t an easy statistic to figure out. Sometimes, you can find maps like this one on, which purports to show the most armed counties in the U.S. If you’re wondering: Stewart County, Tennessee; Fairbanks North Star Borough, Alaska; and Nez Perce County, Idaho. But that map gives no source whatsoever, and the truth is that we don’t quite know which are the best armed counties.

It should be noted that you can get some interesting, fairly reliable information about which countries have the most guns from the Small Arms Survey run each year by the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva. If you’re wondering: the United States (112.6 guns per 100 residents); Serbia (58.21 guns per 100 residents); and Yemen (54.8 guns per 100 residents).

But we do have pretty reliable data on gun sellers, which is what this week’s map used. There are three categories of gun sellers who register with the Bureau of Alcohol and Firearms: gun importers, gun dealers, and pawnbrokers. The data doesn’t include people who sell flare guns, gun manufacturers, or collectors of “curios and relics.” The total number is a lot: there are more than 65,000 licensed gun dealers in the U.S. That’s more than the total number of Starbucks and McDonald’s in the entire world, combined.

The county with the most gun dealers per capita is Loving County, Texas, which has only 86 residents and also happens to be the least populous county in the entire country. Since Loving County has one gun dealer, that’s the equivalent of 1,162 gun sellers per 100,000 residents. There are several counties, mostly sparsely populated ones, that have zero gun sellers. Of all the counties that do have registered gun dealers, the one with the fewest per capita is Kings County, New York (that is, the county that contains the borough of Brooklyn). The 2.6 million residents in the county are served by only eight registered dealers (0.3 gun sellers per 100,000 residents).

It’s important to note that you don’t necessarily need to buy a gun from a registered dealer. The Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act, passed by Congress in 1993, was named for James Brady, the White House Press Secretary under Ronald Reagan who was permanently disabled after being shot during the 1981 assassination attempt against Reagan. The “Brady Bill” required federally mandated background checks for people making purchases from gun dealers. But you don’t need to go through this process to buy a gun at a private sale or if you buy a gun at a gun show. Since gun shows by definition are not permanent sellers, there is no way the student who made this map could have included them.

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