New Study Finds 72 Percent of U.S. Adults Have Fired a Gun

Pew's new gun study explores the relationship between America and its firearms with insights into the behaviors and motives of gun owners.
New Study Finds 72 Percent of U.S. Adults Have Fired a Gun

The Pew Research Center released data, June 22, from their study, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns.” The study on gun culture examines Americans, their experiences with and views on gun ownership.

Pew Research reports, “Americans have broad exposure to guns, whether they personally own one or not. At least two-thirds have lived in a household with a gun at some point in their lives. And roughly seven-in-ten — including 55 percent of those who have never personally owned a gun — say they have fired a gun at some point.”

Gun Owner Diversity

White men are more likely to be gun owners — 48 percent own a gun — but a quarter of white women and nonwhite men (24 percent each) own guns. Of nonwhite women, 16 percent own a firearm.

About four-in-ten U.S. adults say they live in a gun-owning household

Urban vs. Rural. Pew Research reports a “vast urban-rural divide across regions.” Here are the numbers:

  • 46 percent of adults living in rural areas own a gun
  • 28 percent of adults living in suburban areas own a gun
  • 19 percent of adults living in urban areas own a gun

Yet the cultural divide between urban and rural isn’t there if gun owners in suburban and urban areas are combined. In that case, the numbers break nearly even:

  • 46 percent of adults living in rural areas own a gun
  • 47 percent of adults living in suburban and urban areas own a gun

In any study, as in this one, the definition of “rural” varies. According to the United State Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, “because the U.S. is a nation in which so many people live in areas that are not clearly rural or urban, seemingly small changes in the way rural areas are defined can have large impacts on who and what are considered rural.”

Gun Owner Lifestyles and Motives

This study’s emphasis on America and its longstanding relationship with guns offers insights into the behaviors and motives of gun owners, making the report unique. Often gun surveys are solely focused on the support of or opposition to gun policy.

Most gun owners cite protection as a major reason for owning a gun
Key takeaways include:

49 percent of gun owners say that all or most of their friends own guns, so nearly half who own firearms live in communities and sub-cultures where gun ownership is the norm.

One-in-ten Americans who do not own a gun say that all or most of their friends own guns.

Among those who grew up in a gun-owning household, men first fired a gun when they were, on average, 12 years old; while women of gun-owning households first fired a gun, on average, at age 17.

Two-thirds of gun owners cite protection as the No. 1 motivator to own a gun. Hunting was cited as a major reason for gun ownership by 38 percent of those surveyed.

Ninety-five percent of all gun owners believe that talking to children about gun safety is essential, followed by 66 percent who say all guns should be kept in a locked place when there are children living in the home.

Gun Owners and the National Rifle Association (NRA)

For those who follow gun policy and the NRA’s influence on gun-related issues, the Pew study on gun culture isn’t likely to uncover new trends or affiliations that aren’t already understood. As one might expect, Republicans have a higher rate of membership to the NRA at 24 percent compared to 11 percent of gun-owners who are both Democrats and belong to the gun advocacy group.

Forty-four percent of all adults say the NRA has too much influence over gun legislation, while 40 percent say the Virginia-based group has the right amount.

Pew’s full study on gun culture has been made available on its website. It can be downloaded here. To access additional charts and data points covering gun policy, gun ownership and its relationship to political-party affiliation and gun violence, take a look at the research center’s full article.

 Featured Photo: Some years ago, Wired magazine profiled a book titled “Chicks with Guns.” In this collection of portraits, each image captures an American woman with her firearm. The quotes in that profile and the images that accompany them do well to capture what Pew has highlighted in its study on gun culture: the complex, yet longstanding relationship Americans have with guns. Photo: Lindsay McCrum


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