Who owns guns?
A statistical, poll-based analysis of the modern gun owner, identifying which demographics own firearms based on gender, race, education, income, geographical location, relationship status, religion, etc. from the following national polls.
Gun owner demographics are a paint by number visualization of who the modern American gun owner is.
National polls are powerful media resources, and they put a face to a community, but relying solely on them is like saying a painting is comparable to a photograph in its depiction of reality.
But, statistically valid survey samples are the only means by which the American public can piece together a representative understanding of who owns guns in the U.S., why and to what extent. Government records simply cannot reflect this data.
If gun laws are at the forefront of political agendas and debates, it's a wild understatement to say it's integral to American democracy to understand who is being affected by these conversations, and just what percentage of the American public that is.
Only have time to skim? That's fine. Click the links below to jump to the key takeaways:
The majority of gun owners: put a face to a name
Saying the total amount of gun owners boils down to the number of liberal and conservative gun owners is an oversimplification. Gun owner demographics are broader than that, which should be self-evident.
They cover a spectrum of the general public, encompassing several ethnic, gender, religious, political, marital, geographic, socioeconomic, educational and family backgrounds.
But, there is a collective majority, according to the General Social Survey (GSS) report on U.S. gun ownership trends from 1972 - 2014, Gallup Poll aggregate data from 2007 - 2012 and a 2017 Pew Research Center survey of 3,920 U.S. adults (including 1,269 gun owners) on their attitudes and experiences concerning gun ownership in the U.S.
So, who is the quintessential "American gun owner"?
Well, according to those three nationally representative surveys and reports, it's married, Conservative Republican, non-hispanic white males who live in the rural South and have some college or high school education, who have typically grown up in a gun-owning household and now own more than one gun. Their friends typically own guns as well.
Now, that is one large brushstroke of an entire community, and it most certainly is not a truly cultural definition of the collective group.
A community is the sum whole of all categorical identities, not the indicative few.
Backtrack more than 2,000 years and think about what Aristotle said: "The whole is greater than the sum of its parts."
The American zeitgeist has never been siloed to one demographic or group - in fact, this nation prides itself on being a figurative melting pot or mixed salad.
Sociologists are shifting to a "mixed salad" metaphor to better express the idea that cultures can be contained in one area but maintain their respective "flavor" instead of being melted into one collective identity.
With that said, let's unpack all the numbers behind that statistical snapshot and see what's in America's gun-owning salad bowl.Click here to return to the top
Numerical analysis of gun owner demographics
Gallup poll aggregate data of gun owner demographics from 2007 to 2012 show that 45 percent of men reported being gun owners, while 15 percent of women reported being gun owners. That means men are three times more likely to own a firearm than women.
However, once other demographic factors of gun ownership are accounted for, according to the Gallup polls, men are five times more likely to own a gun than women.
The General Social Survey data from 1972 to 2014 shows a similar gender gap: 35.1 percent of men and 11.7 percent of women reported personally owning a firearm in 2014. There is a significant drop in the gender gap between the total amount of male and female firearms owners reported in the GSS between the peak year in ownership (1980) and 2014 in that data set.
But that's not because more women have become firearms owners, according to that data set, it's the opposite.
Less men own firearms.
In 1980, 50.3 percent of men and 10.1 percent of women reported owning a firearm, according to the GSS.
Granted, there is a 2015 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation that shows the number of female firearms owners are on the rise since the start of the new millennium.
Pew reported in 2017 that 39 percent of men said they personally own a firearm, as opposed to 22 percent of women, while 30 percent of all adults personally own a gun, according to their survey sample.
Be that as it may, but adult firearms ownership has dropped precipitously since historic peaks in the late '70s and early '80s, which is a perplexing phenomena due to rapidly ramped production and manufacturing statistics in recent years.
Here's a full analysis of gun sales and manufacturing from 1986 to 2014 that Alien Gear Holsters recently published.
According to the GSS, 30.5 percent of adults personally owned a firearm in 1985, with 22.4 percent reporting so in 2014. Population changes, multiple firearms owned per adult and socio-cultural factors may indicate a reason for that drop.
To add to that, 31 percent of households reported having a firearm in 2014, but in 1977 that number was 50.4 percent of households.
That's half of all U.S. households in the nationally representative sample.
The GSS attributes that drop in their data set partially to a decline in hunting as a staple of U.S. households.
In 1977, about 31.6 percent of respondents, their spouses or both said they hunt. That number is 15.4 percent in 2014.
Aside from household, modern Gallup poll data suggests telling statistics of modern gun owners.
According to their data on the percentages of personal gun ownership by subgroup (refer to the report for a full listing; all subgroup names listed below are pulled directly from Gallup's listings):
- Southern married men - 64 percent of them report personal gun ownership
- Married men - 53 percent
- Men over the age of 50 - 52 percent
- Men - 45 percent
- Non-southern white men - 45 percent
- Conservative Republicans - 42 percent
- Conservatives - 39 percent
- Married - 37 percent
- Protestants/Other Christians - 36 percent
- Unmarried men - 34 percent
- $30k to $74.9k household income - 33 percent
- $75k+ household income - 33 percent
- High school or less - 32 percent
- Attend church weekly - 32 percent
- Children under 18 - 32 percent
- Independents - 31 percent
- Moderate/Liberal Republicans - 31 percent
- Non-Southern unmarried men - 31 percent
- Some College - 30 percent
- No children under 18 - 29 percent
- Catholics - 25 percent
- Southern white women - 25 percent
- Southern married women - 25 percent
- Postgraduates - 24 percent
- Moderate Democrats - 24 percent
- Nonwhite - 22 percent
- Democrats - 22 percent
- Not married - 22 percent
- Less than $30k household income - 22 percent
- Blacks - 21 percent
- 18 to 29 years old - 20 percent
- Southern unmarried women - 20 percent
- Hispanics - 18 percent
- Married women - 18 percent
- Women over the age of 50 - 17 percent
- Women - 15 percent
- Women, 18 to 49 years old - 14 percent
- Unmarried women - 13 percent
- Non-Southern white women - 13 percent
- Nonwhite women - 12 percent
- Non-Southern unmarried women - 10 percent
The GSS reports East South Central as the geographic location with the highest percentage of adults living with a firearm in their household, 46.2 percent, but West North Central U.S. follows with 43.3 percent of adults living in a household with firearms.
Rural counties with no town population over 10,000 report 55.9 percent of adults live in households with firearms, contrasted by 14.8 percent of adults located in the central city area of the largest 12 metros reporting having lived in a household with firearms, according to the GSS.
Pew reports a majority of gun owners, approximately 66 percent, own multiple firearms, and 73 percent of gun owners stated they could never see themselves not owning a gun.
Balance all those numbers as you will. Look into different reports. Paint your own perception.
But what do surveyed folks have to say about guns?
Firearm activities and public policy survey results
Pew Research Center's survey analysis on American perception of firearms and public policy provides a window into national outlook.
According to their results, 74 percent of gun owners said owning a gun is essential to their freedom, as opposed 35 percent of non-gun owners saying the same.
Male gun owners tend to participate more than female gun owners in some gun-related activities like going to the range (58 percent of male gun owners saying they do so, 43 percent of the same female demographic), hunting (37 percent men, 28 percent women), watching gun-related videos/TV shows (43 percent men, 33 percent women) and visiting websites about guns, hunting and shooting (39 percent men, 28 percent women).
However, more female gun owners said they attended gun shows (27 percent as opposed to 22 percent of male gun owners), listen to gun-related podcasts/radio shows (12 percent women, 11 percent men) and participated in online gun forums (11 percent of female gun owners, as opposed to 9 percent of male gun owners).
Of the surveyed sample, which is nationally representative, 67 percent of gun owners cited protection as a major reason for owning a gun, 38 percent for hunting, 30 percent for sport shooting, 13 percent as part of a gun collection and 8 percent for their job.
There is some agreement, but a lot of differences, on gun legislation between the surveyed gun owners and non-gun owners in the Pew Research Center study, with a certain percentage of each of these two groups stating they strongly or somewhat favor the following issues:
- Preventing the mentally ill from purchasing guns: 89 percent of surveyed gun owners strongly or somewhat favoring this, 89 percent of non-gun owners saying the same
- Background checks for private sales and at gun shows: 77 percent of gun owners, 87 percent of non-gun owners
- Barring gun purchases by people on no-fly or watch lists: 82 percent of gun owners, 84 percent of non-gun owners
- Creating a federal database to track gun sales: 54 percent of gun owners, 80 percent of non-gun owners
- Banning assault-style weapons: 48 percent of gun owners, 77 percent of non-gun owners
- Banning high-capacity magazines: 44 percent of gun owners, 74 percent of non-gun owners
- Allowing concealed carry in more places: 67 percent of gun owners, 37 percent of non-gun owners
- Allowing teachers and officials to carry guns in K-12 schools: 66 percent of gun owners, 35 percent of non-gun owners
- Shortening waiting periods for buying guns legally: 53 percent of gun owners, 29 percent of non-gun owners
- Allowing concealed carry without a permit: 33 percent of gun owners, 12 percent of non-gun owners
Bipartisan ideals were split essentially the same on these matters in the Pew Research Center survey results, with Democratic or those who lean Democratic aligning with non-gun owner opinions and vice versa with Republican/leaning Republicans and gun-owner opinions.Click here to return to the top
Curious about some of those topics listed above? We've published in-depth summaries of some of them. Here is...