There are more gun owners now than ever before. It’s not just my opinion, it’s a matter of scientific fact. This article is going to discuss some excellent research on gun owners including: demographics, how they use them, how often they carry, as well as much more.
We are going to cover a wide swath of gun research, and polling data from actual gun owners on their habits and use, as well as their demographic data. All primary sources will be linked in the article, so you can follow any topic you like in more detail.
Statistically speaking, the prototypical gun owner is a middle aged white male, earning between $30,000-$70,000, with at least one child. They are most likely conservative, and are more likely to live in the Midwest or South.
After reading a lot of research, it seems that statistically this is still true, but it is becoming less true by the year. Studies on gun ownership estimate that there are approximately one million new gun owners each year, and these folks are generally young, suburban, and less likely to hold conservative views. Let’s discuss the demographics of gun ownership in a little more detail.
U.S. gun owner demographics
- There are approximately 98,460,000 gun owners in the U.S. (source)
- 30% of U.S. adults say they personally own a gun, while a larger percentage, 43%, report living in a gun household. (source)
- Education: 27% High School, 34% Some College, 33% College Grad, 23% Advanced Degree (source)
- Location: 19% live in urban areas, 28% live in suburban areas, 46% live in rural areas (source)
- Race and Ethnicity: 48% of white men own a gun, 24% of white women own a gun, 24% of non white men own guns, 16% non white women own guns (source)
- Politics: 41% of gun owners are Republicans, 16% of gun owners are Democrats, 36% of gun owners are independents
- Women (17%), Democrats (16%) and Hispanics (15%) are the least likely to report personal gun ownership. (source)
- Republicans (45%), men (43%) and self-identified conservatives (40%) are the most likely key subgroups to say they personally own a gun. (source)
- Male gun owners first started shooting at age 12 on average (source)
- Female gun owners first shot a gun at age 17 on average (source)
- Average age of gun ownership for males is 19, females 27 (source)
There is quite a lot of information to unpack here. We can see that many of our previously held beliefs about white men, living in rural areas being common gun owners are still true, but I think it’s worth mentioning that white women, and people of color make up about half of all gun owners.
I also think it is interesting that gun owners represent a broad swath in terms of education and political beliefs. Sure, there are some high school grads who identify as Republican, but there are also tons of folks with advanced degrees who are independents, and everything in between.
We have to keep in mind that one in three U.S. citizens is a gun owner, so any attempt to stereotype such a large group is doomed to fail. Next we are going to discuss the types of firearms they own.
Types of gun ownership in the U.S.
- 66% of gun owners own more than one gun (source)
- 32% of gun owners own only one gun (source)
- 37% of gun owners own 2-4 firearms (source)
- 29% of gun owners own 5+ firearms (source)
- Gun Ownership by Type: 72% of gun owners own a pistol, 62% own a rifle, 54% own a shotgun (source)
- 40% of gun owners say they always have a loaded gun close at hand in their house (source)
We can see from these gun ownership stats, that there is a sizable population of gun owners who only own one firearm. These owners most often have this weapon for self defense, as we will see further on in the article.
We can also see that, just like Pringles, once you pop you just can’t stop. Many gun owners own more than one firearm, and they go on to accumulate more than five firearms. Now that we know a little about the types of owners, and how many guns they own, let’s talk about their attitudes and reasons for owning firearms.
Gun owner attitudes and reasons for ownership
- 67% percent of gun owners cite protection as the primary reason for owning (source)
- 38% cite hunting as the primary reason for owning (source)
- 30% cite sporting as the primary reason for owning (source)
- 13% cite gun collecting as the primary reason for ownership (source)
- 8% of gun owners own a weapon for job related reasons (source)
- 19% of gun owners belong NRA (source)
- 10% of gun owners are new gun owners as of July 2018 (source)
- 36% of American who don’t currently own a gun have considered purchasing one (source)
- 33% of American say they will never own gun (source)
- 52% of American say there should be stricter gun laws (source)
- 29% of gun owners say gun laws should be more strict (source)
- 62% of non gun owners want stricter laws (source)
After doing the research for this article, it seems that gun owners tend to cite personal protection as the primary reason for owning a gun. This is perfectly reasonable, but it is interesting, as violent crime rates have been going down steadily since the 1990’s. I don’t discourage people from being prepared, but I do wonder what has caused this change.
I found it interesting that roughly a third of Americans say they will never own a firearm, and almost the same amount of gun owners say that gun laws need to be more strict. I would not expect that many would answer those questions that way. Now let’s talk about gun owners use, and carry habits.
Concealed carry, open carry, and gun use
- Approximately 9 million U.S. adult handgun owners carry loaded handguns monthly, 3 million do so every day (source)
- 10% of gun owners carry all the time (source)
- 15% of gun owners say they carry some of the time (source)
- 31% of gun owners carry occasionally (source)
- 43% of gun owners never carry (source)
- The proportion of handgun owners who carried concealed loaded handguns in the past 30 days was 21% in unrestricted states, 25% in shall issue—no discretion states, 20% in shall issue—limited discretion states, 9% in may-issue states (source)
- 58% of men say they go to the gun range to practice (source)
- 43% of women say they go to the gun range (source)
- 28% of female gun owners hunt (source)
- 37% of male gun owners hunt (source)
- 70% of gun owners have taken gun safety course (source)
I’ve always suspected that the number of gun owners who regularly carried was quiet low, but I wouldn’t have thought it was as low as 10%. Nearly half of gun owners say they never carry a firearm.
If we examine the concealed carry bullet point, we see that as state permitting becomes less and less available, that concealed carry does in fact go down. In may-issue states, such as California, it is less than 10% of gun owners.
The biggest thing that stands out to me is how few gun owners actually go to the range and practice. Now, I recognize that some folks have property to shoot on, and don’t need to go to the range, but I would imagine that’s a small minority.
I am surprised 70% of gun owners have taken a safety course, but I imagine that is a state requirement, either to get a hunting license, or to obtain a concealed weapons permit. I think, as gun owners, we can all do better in seeking out training, and maintaining our proficiency. Especially if we cite protection as our reason for carrying. The last thing we are going to talk about is attitudes towards, and about gun owners.
Attitudes toward and about gun owners in the U.S.
- 72% of Americans say they have fired a gun (source)
- 60% of Americans say people in their community have positive a attitude towards gun owners (source)
- 79% of rural gun owners report positive views (source)
- 44% of Americans say they know someone who has been shot on purpose or accident (source)
- 23% of Americans, both gun owners and not, say that someone in their family has been threatened by guns (source)
- 7% of American say they have used a gun (brandish or shoot) to defend selves (source)
I think attitudes towards and about gun ownership is one of the biggest factors that influence gun legislation. I think there is a vast misunderstanding on both sides. It’s obvious from these stats that gun ownership is viewed more favorably in rural areas, where it is more common. In urban areas gun ownership is often associated with criminality, as a result of personal experiences by many.
If almost a quarter of Americans say a family member has been threatened with gun violence, it makes sense that a person might view them unfavorably.
This has been a dense article to get through, but I think there are some real nuggets of information that we need to highlight. First, gun owner demographics are becoming more and more diverse, and we are seeing huge increases in new gun owners.
We as a community need to continue to help one another out and ensure that we are receiving the proper training. Too often, I talk to folks that bought a gun for protection and they leave it locked up in a closet like a magical talisman to ward off evil. Obviously, this won’t work. We need training to use these tools effectively and lawfully. I’d encourage you to read this article that discusses how judges view the legality of most citizen firearms uses. Spoiler alert, most citizen firearm uses aren’t lawful.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the venerable Colonel Jeff Cooper, the father of modern combat shooting, “Owning a handgun doesn’t make you armed any more than owning a guitar makes you a musician.” Get out there and get some training!
Source: Jake Jackson, Tier Three Tactical