June 4, 2013

A minority of Americans own guns, but just how many is unclear


More than a third of Americans say they or someone in their household owns a gun.

There are by various estimates anywhere from 270 million to 310 million guns in the United States — close to one firearm for every man, woman and child. But in point of fact, only a minority of Americans own guns.

Gun ownership is one of the hardest things for researchers to pin down (as the Pew Research Center’s Michael Dimock, among others, discusses here). A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February found that 37% of households had an adult who owned a gun — 24% said they owned a gun, and 13% said someone else in their household did.

The Pew Research Center’s results generally track with the General Social Survey: When the GSS asked last year if people had a gun in their home or garage, 34% said they did.

Though other surveys (such as this one from Gallup) have found somewhat higher self-reported ownership rates, by and large they indicate that less than half of Americans own a gun.

The Pew Research and GSS surveys both have found declining gun-ownership rates over time. In 1973, for example, when the GSS first asked about gun ownership, 49% reported having a gun or revolver in their home or garage. Read more



Category: Daily Number

Topics: Gun Control

  1. Photo of Drew DeSilver

    is a senior writer at Pew Research Center.

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  1. Jeff2 months ago

    today’s American is ignorant of the constitution which gives us the right to dissolve government when government is no longer sustaining liberty. how can you dissolve a government without arms? our own founders says that the tree of liberty must be refreshed every 100 years with blood and rebellion. they gave us the second amendment as a way of funding and freeing up another revolution should the government turn from freedom and become oppressive. it’s clearly what they meant but you have to watch the liberals. they will kill children in the womb, and out..harvest their parts then decry guns as evil. more people are saved by guns than killed by them. cops will not be there when a 6 foot 5 hatchet wielding man wants into your house to raid the drug cabinet.

    1. g.g2 months ago

      “how can you dissolve a government without arms?”

      Maybe with disobedience on a massive scale? What is the government going to do, imprison everyone?

      1. Bruce1 month ago

        That is the point at which the government will send in their people with guns to eliminate the dissidents. Populist opinion does not matter if it does not toe the line of those in power.

        If you have watched the news at any point in your lifetime, you would have already seen how this works. Otherwise, take a look at a non-revisionist history book (if you can find one).

        1. Mike C1 week ago

          The Soviet Union fell mostly bloodlessly. Each country formed different alliances led by different parts of the the social structure. Yes, the corrupt leaders did send in the military and lives were lost, but not in shoot-outs. Their were very few weapons used in the uprisings. The military mostly turned against the leaders because their human nature made them identify with the people more than the governments they knew were failing everyone and living for personal greed.
          The weight of the people tore down the Berlin wall, not the shells from a tank.
          It wasn’t a victory of Capitalism over Communism, it was a government of privilege and self-interest that didn’t care about the people being overcome by the majority. Capitalism in the US has reached a point where the tiny privileged few own all the wealth and pay a corrupt government to vote the way they benefits them. It doesn’t matter who you elect, they all become employees of the same elite.
          The people lose either way and get spun up into a frenzy over minor political differences between the two parties. This keeps them busy arguing over trivial things and allows the system to thrive.
          We need to stand together to get the money out of politics and to have more wealth in the middle classes to fund small businesses which are the engine rooms of prosperity for any economy, not the massive uncaring corporations.
          When was the last time that a peaceful revolution by the majority of the people in a country was put down by military force?

  2. karen2 months ago

    In the southern states of the us people carry guns and I think there are less shootings–I grew up on the south side of chicago—the poor people in the city with no jobs will get guns and shoot people–I know this is the worst economy that i have lived in —in 60 yrs–my parents saw worse–there is a way to help the economy with obama and soros it will stay this crappy–hopefully the next president is ELECTED and is AMERICAN–with 18 trillion in debt all of these crooks should bring back the missing and stolen money so our kids can live–they have made it as racial as it was in the sixties –more of a plan to destroy–the bad guys will have the guns -people need to know when someone has mental issues that would help so they dont get guns It is all as sickening as it can get dont bother the guy that wants to protect his family he is not shootingI have 8 grand kids I never liked guns and now i do

    1. john2 months ago


      What do you mean by next president being “American”? EVERY president is an American, and must be by law.

  3. Tom Minus3 months ago

    Minority is misleading because over 1/3 of American adults in context of firearms ownership is huge.

    Many people like myself, answer no to any question regarding my private life. There are a lot of people like me who feel it is none of your business weather I own or do not own anything.

  4. Devon Velasquez3 months ago

    Caller – “Do you have a firearm in your home?”

    Me – “Hell no, never would think about that. That’s just nonsense”

    Who the hell would admit they had a firearm in their home? These surveys couldn’t be anymore inaccurate. Nobody I know who own firearms would ever admit they owned a firearm for painfully obvious reasons. They especially wouldn’t admit to some stranger over the phone. That’s idiotic. Would you admit you had a million dollars in your home to some stranger over the phone? Last I heard in our city alone firearm sales have gone through the roof especially sales on ammo. Concealed carry permits have also doubled in just the past four years. There’s been other research done that has concluded much of the same trend across the nation and yet according to the FBI firearm related homicides have actually been declining over the past couple of decades, not increasing. It’s right there on their own website. So, that being said nice try. Given that almost every family member, friend and close neighbor I know packs heat it would be hard pressed to believe that 1) Firearm ownership is on a decline and 2) Anyone would actually admit to owning a firearm to a complete stranger over the phone.

    And let’s not forget all those reports that firearm sales across the nation has been on an incline. I’d rather trust the sales, than some skewed and clearly inaccurate survey which clearly has a larger error margin than being reported.

  5. Bill4 months ago

    “A Pew Research Center survey conducted in February found that 37% of households had an adult who owned a gun — 24% said they owned a gun, and 13% said someone else in their household did.” (Quoted above from this article)

    Question: Does PRC account for the possibility of crossover? Is it possible some of the 13% are in the same household as some of the 24%?

    If it is, then assuming that 37% of total households have guns would be in error.

  6. Joe Bing4 months ago

    A telephone interview based poll about gun ownership is going to be about as accurate as a poll which asks the question: Do you keep large amounts cash, gold or jewels hidden in your home?

  7. Todd Fahner7 months ago

    Looks to me like since Obama took office more people didn’t want to admit to owning a gun. Does anyone actually think less people own guns in 2010 than in 1990. I don’t think so. LOL

    1. Stuart5 months ago

      Guns sales have gone up, but the majority have been to existing gun owners. There are now between 270-310 million guns in private hands. Only a small minority of these guns have been used in the commission of a crime, or defending property. Most have been used in family and marital disputes, and suicides.

      1. OAKof LIBERTY5 months ago

        “Most have been used in family and marital disputes, and suicides.”

        Unless I misunderstand your comment and please correct me if I do, most of these weapons are probably sitting in a closet or gun safe somewhere not hurting or threatening anyone and certainly not getting up by themselves and shooting anyone.

        1. Mike C1 week ago

          I’ll paraphrase. Most of the time that these guns are used they are used in family or marital disputes and suicides. Only a small minority of use of these weapons has been in the commission of a crime or in the defense of property.
          I suspect you DO understand Stuart’s intent and are intentionally quoting his inaccurate wording to mislead.
          If I understand your comment correctly, most of these weapons serve no purpose as they are never used and are just sitting in a closet or gun safe. Sounds like a waste of money to me and a pretty good reason to not purchase a weapon.

  8. jim9 months ago

    Gun r a good thing in the right hands guns won this country and will keep this country. guns feed my family and protect my family. in the wrong hans it can be bad. put its the finger not the gun peole need to know that.if everyone would carry a gun there would be less crimes cause the bad guys would think before they act.thank you for reading this

  9. Bobby9 months ago

    Every human being I know on a personal level owns multiple guns. And I’m from the north east. Guns are a part of american culture. Always will be. Get over it. Ps) I’m a liberal. And I’m gay.

    1. Kittymom8 months ago

      I guess what really stumps me is why you would need multiple guns for protection. I have never seen or heard of anyone being able to shoot more that one gun at a time! Well maybe 2 if you are Annie Oakley or Buffalo Bill. Could someone please explain this to me. I have never owned a gun and I have made it to being a senior citizen, Imagine that. The boogie man has not come to get me yet. So all of you out there shaking in your shoes because they are so SCARED. I really feel sorry for you. You are not FREE, you are just to be pitied that you cannot live a normal life like people in all civilized countries that do not allow all the citizens to own guns.

      1. Guest7 months ago

        Sure, Kittymom, I’ll explain it to you.

        It has nothing to do with fear. Do you wear your seatbelt because you drive in terror of being in a car wreck, or keep a fire extinguisher in the kitchen because your hands tremble in fear the whole time you’re cooking? Of course not. I have fire extinguishers in my kitchen, bedroom, basement, and garage, but I don’t live in fear of fire and have reached senior status myself without ever having a fire. I’m just sensibly prepared for it, JUST IN CASE.

        So here’s why I own more than one firearm:

        I own a .22LR pistol for target practice because ammunition for it is cheap.

        I own a 9mm pistol for home defense, with a large capacity magazine (17 rounds). My older female hands and arms can handle it easily, but it packs a reasonable punch and while it doesn’t have the stopping power of a .45, it would probably do the job, even if there were multiple home invaders – at least until I could reach my shotgun.

        I own another 9mm smaller pistol for concealed carry because it isn’t as heavy and fits into a pocket holster when I go walking.

        I own a .380 caliber smaller pistol originally acquired for concealed carry, but it jams and I don’t trust it. I’ll get rid of it at some point. Just haven’t gotten around to it.

        I own a .22LR rifle for varmint and small game hunting and, again, target practice.

        I own a .30-30 collector’s rifle handed down to me from my father. It’s never been shot, but it would be suitable for hunting deer, if need be.

        I own a shotgun for home defense.

        If I hunted, I’d probably have a couple of different shotguns and at least a couple of different rifles for different types of game.

        If I lived in Baltimore and owned a shop or other property I wanted to protect, I’d probably own one AR-15 for each family member old enough to shoot it well.

        Guns are like shoes. You know the saying about shoes, right? How many pairs do you need? The answer is always, one more pair than I have.

        You need more than one pair, because each pair serves a different purpose. Besides, some of them you buy just ’cause you LIKE them, even if you have another pair in the closet that would work just as well.

        Hope that clears it up for you.

        1. John5 months ago

          Well written! Thank you Lady!

        2. Dittimus5 months ago

          Thank you for writing this!

        3. Tracey2 months ago

          Im curious. What area do you live in if you don’t mind me asking. It sounds very dangerous to be equipped with so many guns. I’m from South Africa, which has the highest crime rate in the world, so I understand the need for protection. But I had no idea America had nearly as big a problem with it. In SA you will be attacked at some point and have a high chance of being shot. In broad daylight, in the streets, surrounded by people at a shopping center. I have been attack a total of eight times. Two of which were armed robberies. I also understand the desire to collect guns. I’m a woman who would love to afford to collect shoes. It’s an addiction that we try to use to fill a hole. But never really does. Although shoes aren’t as dangerous. Glad you aren’t a hunter. We are running out of wildlife for you all to shoot.

      2. Wink Windsor6 months ago


        You are right, for personal protection you only need one firearm. Usually a pistol.
        But if there is a hunter in the home he will own a shotgun and probably two, one in 12 gauge and another in a smaller gauge for small game and upland hunting.
        Then for deer or big game he will own a rifle with a scope. Possibly he or she will own a muzzleloader also.
        If the same homeowner shoots skeet or clays they will need yet another type specialized shotgun. And a small caliber rifle for target shooting and plinking. So people who own multiple guns aren’t fearful of anything, your post shows how distanced you are from reality.
        BTW before you preach to me about hunting do you own a cat Kittymom? House cats kill over 1 BILLION birds per year, song birds and gamebirds, not counting the number of rabbits they kill on the nest.

  10. JEM9 months ago

    Guess no one thought that maybe the numbers might be down because this government has gotten so ridiculous that the law abiding gun owner is no longer willing to subject themselves to the ridicule and preposterous legislation being imposed so they’ve just decided we won’t answer that question any more. Tell you what. When you tell me exactly how much is in your bank account, Mr. Government Representative and how you got it, I’ll tell you how many guns I own.

  11. Voice of Reality10 months ago

    Numbers game?
    Everyone in my family owns some sort of firearm. None of us has ever answered yes to any pol for fear that person is casing our property for a criminal act. Firearm ownership is a personal thing and it’s no ones business but our own. It is comparable to asking a husband if he has ever kissed another girl while married..the answer is always no.
    It is a fact though that in Alaska there is nearly 100% gun ownership and the average Alaskan has five weapons. In Indiana it is estimated that 60% of the population of legal age own a weapon. Special note. The AARP and NRA are the peoples voice, vigorous voters and Grandpa is not a terrorist..

    1. Mike10 months ago

      I seriously doubt that nearly 100% of Alaskans own guns. I’m in Alaska quite often for work and have about a dozen friends who live in Anchorage, and none of them own a gun… Perhaps you’re talking about Alaskans who live outside the larger population areas. Larger cities generally have a lower percentage of gun owners, and Anchorage is the 63rd largest city in the USA. I think 50-60% gun ownership would be a more realistic figure.

  12. Steve1 year ago

    What kind of a moron would answer this survey truthfully, unless you are one of the ones who own no guns? Even the non-owners might have reason to obfuscate for THEIR own reasons.

    1. Voice of Reality10 months ago

      Reply to Steve.
      The same moron that leaves money on the kitchen table with unlocked doors.
      One better- he tells everyone he doesn’t trust banks and keeps all his money and gold at home!!

  13. Russ1 year ago

    I believe the number is going down because people don’t want to tell the government that they own guns.
    The amount of guns bought in 2013 were the most guns ever bought in history.
    There are a ton of new gun owners.

    1. Peter P6 months ago

      The government isn’t the one doing these surveys.

  14. ken woolsey1 year ago

    I am wondering what percentage of the 70% of adults who support striking children as an acceptable form of discipline are also gun owners or members of NRA

    1. Paul1 year ago

      What does it matter if they own guns or are in the NRA? I know folks that own guns that never raise a hand to their children, and the same goes for the folks I know that don’t own any guns. The vice is versa as well. Owning a firearm doesn’t mean you support physical discipline of children.

    2. C in the D1 year ago

      I am wondering what percentage of people who use illegal drugs are also liberal or voted for Obama?

      Oh wait, that’s completely irrelevant to the article… As is your comment.

    3. frank1 year ago

      Studies show that individuals who use pot, cocaine, alcohol, meth, heroin etc. have almost ten times (i.e., almost 1,000%) the magnitude of abusing children and breaking significant laws (stealing, assaulting etc.). It has been conclusively demonstrated that more than 85% of violent crime is associated with drug and alcohol abuse.

      1. A. Sliver9 months ago

        And your comment is relevant how? It’s relevant to Paul and C in the D’s comments, but not the subject at hand, which is gun ownership.