Who Owns Guns In America, And Why

Fewer than one in five American gun owners surveyed by the Pew Research Center say they actually belong to the organization

National Rifle Association members listen to a speech at the NRA convention Friday, May 20, 2016, in Louisville, Ky.


Registration begins Thursday for the annual meeting of the National Rifle Association, which is at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in downtown Dallas.

It’s open to NRA members and their families. The association will host appearances by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

The annual meeting will be a weekend-long demonstration of the NRA's advocacy of gun rights. Hundreds of exhibitors will show off guns and gear at the exhibit hall. And there are events focused on women and youth.

However, fewer than one in five American gun owners surveyed by the Pew Research Center say they actually belong to the organization. The report published last year details Americans' attitudes about guns, firearm regulation and the influence of the NRA.

On KERA's "Think," Juliana Menasce Horowitz, Pew's associate director of research, talked with host Krys Boyd about who actually owns guns in America, why they have them and how gun ownership tracks with attitudes about crime, politics and freedom.


67 percent of gun owners surveyed said there were guns in their household growing up.

Horowitz: This is something that is very much part of American culture. One of the things that we see is that a lot of Americans have exposure to guns whether they currently own one or not, or grew up with a gun in the household. A majority of Americans say that they have fired a gun at some point, including many who've never owned one, because people go shooting or hunting with friends and family members. So exposure to guns goes beyond owning one or having lived in a household with one. But those who grew up with one are more likely to be current owners.


44 percent of adults surveyed personally know somebody who's been shot — either accidentally or intentionally.

Horowitz: Many gun owners themselves say that they know people who have been shot. We did a series of focus groups and one of the things that we heard about was accidental shootings, and of course, not all of them result in serious injuries. But the experiences with guns really varied. Many Americans have very positive experiences, and many have had very negatives experiences, including about a quarter of Americans who say that they themselves or someone in their family has been threatened with a gun at some point in their lives.


57 percent of adults surveyed said they did not have a gun in their household. But 36 percent who didn't own guns said they might consider getting one in the future.

Horowitz: The main reason that gun owners give for owning a gun is for protection. But other reasons include things like sports shooting and hunting and for collection. This really varies depending on the type of gun owner, particularly between men and women. Men and women who own guns are equally likely to say that protection is a major reason for owning, but women are more likely to say that's the only reason why they own guns. So female gun owners are less likely to be participating in sports related to guns, like hunting and shooting than male owners are.


Men are about twice as likely than women to own guns, according to the survey.

From the report: Nearly 40 percent of men surveyed said they personally own a gun versus 22 percent of women. Thirty-six percent of gun owners surveyed were white; 24 percent were black and 15 percent were Hispanic.


Men surveyed who grew up with guns in their household on average first shot a gun at age 12. For women surveyed who grew up with guns, the average age was 17.

Horowitz: Men and women are equally likely to say they grew up with guns in their household, but their experiences growing up with guns are very different. Men who grew up with guns are more likely to say that when they were children that they went hunting or shooting than women are. Some of it might be related to interest; it's possible that boys who grew up with guns in the household are more interested in doing these activities. We heard comments from women who currently own guns who said that growing up, there were guns in their household, but their fathers or their grandfathers wouldn't take them hunting or shooting but would take their brothers or their male cousins.


Half of all gun owners surveyed said guns are somewhat important to their identity.

Horowitz: Those who say this is the case are more likely to be engaged in activities related to guns. In addition to saying they own guns for protection, they're more likely to say they read magazines related to guns and they watch TV shows related to sports shooting and hunting. Male gun owners are more likely to be participating in those activities and be immersed in that culture, which is mostly tied to sports shooting.

We asked people whether their friends own guns, and we found that male gun owners are more likely to have a social network of people who also own guns. This could be tied to the idea that a lot of the activities that they do with their guns are hunting and sports shooting and are things that can be done socially, whereas female gun owners are not participating in those social activities as much.

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