Much has been said about America's love affair with guns. Still, it is hard to overstate the size and intensity of the romance.

There is a very special relationship between a man and his gun, Franklin Orth, a former executive with the National Rifle Association, said in 1968, an atavistic relation with its deep roots in prehistory, when the primitive man's personal weapon, so often his only effective defense and food provider, was nearly as precious to him as his own limbs.

U.S. citizens own approximately 270 million guns, which averages out to about 90 guns per every 100 people, the highest such ratio in the world, according a 2007 report by the Switzerland-based Small Arms Survey. Other surveys have put the estimate at 300 million guns.

According to the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System, or NICS,  14,033,824 background checks were processed on would-be gun buyers in 2009. Of those people checked, less than .005 percent were denied the weapon.

This data shows, according to, that law abiding American citizens are the ones buying guns and that criminals are getting their guns elsewhere.

The NRA has been saying much the same thing for years, a view encapsulated in the oft-repeated adage, Guns don't kill people. People kill people.

Still, it cannot be denied that a great many guns in the United States are being used for violent purposes. In 2008, there were 16,272 murders in the U.S, and approximately 400,000 crimes committed using firearms, according to the FBI.

Many of those murders and crimes were performed by the criminals who are getting their guns elsewhere.

But, as the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention points out, there are more suicides by guns than homicides, and 83 percent of gun-related deaths in homes are from suicide.

Moreover, according to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, about 500,000 guns are lost by, or stolen from, legal gun owners every year, and another 30,000 go missing from gun dealer inventories.

Those data suggest that the elsewhere is not so far away.

According to a 2008 report by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, firearms enter the illegal market because of robberies, or because a gun dealer fails to do proper background checks or sells a gun under the table or to a strawman - that is, a legal purchaser buying for someone who would not pass a background check.

Guns may also enter the black market through sales by non-licensed dealers at gun shows; such dealers are not required to perform background checks under federal law, the Mayors' report said, referring to the gun show loophole that several lawmakers have been trying, unsuccessfully, to close.

Noting that all states are under federal gun laws, the Mayors' report said that many states go further with additional requirements, such as background checks on all gun show sales, mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns to police, and state gun dealer inspections. These states, the report said, are always among the lowest in guns exported to other states and used in crimes.

The Mayors' report said that ATF trace data on where guns used in crimes originate in regards to buyer and seller throw light on the problem of lax gun laws in certain states and the effect on gun crimes in all states.

Georgia, Virginia, Florida and Texas supply the most interstate crime guns - that is, weapons bought in those states and used in crimes in other states. Based on population, 10 states -- West Virginia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kentucky, Alabama, Virginia, Georgia, Indiana, Nevada, and North Carolina - supply interstate crime guns at a rate two and a half times the national average, the Mayors' report said.

ATF trace data shows that 42,450 guns crossed state lines before being recovered in crimes in 2007, about 30 percent of all guns used in crimes that year. ATF identified the origin state for 34,127 of these guns. Just ten states accounted for 57 percent of those guns identified.

The Mayors' report confirmed an 'Iron Pipeline' through which guns from states in the Southeast are trafficked into the hands of criminals in Mid-Atlantic and Northeast cities along Interstate 95.

The report also found that states with high export rates of guns, have less crimes committed with imported guns, strongly suggesting that ready access to crime guns reduces the need for crime gun imports.

The key finding of this report is that states that supply crime guns at the highest rates have comparatively weak gun regulations. This association strongly suggests that gun traffickers favor these states as sources, the Mayors' report said.