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.

Leave a Comment


All comments must follow the Pew Research comment policy and will be moderated before posting.


  1. Tom Minus3 days 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.

  2. Devon Velasquez1 week 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.

  3. Bill4 weeks 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.

  4. Joe Bing1 month 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?

  5. Todd Fahner4 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. Stuart2 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 LIBERTY2 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.

  6. jim6 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

  7. Bobby6 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. Kittymom5 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. Guest4 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. John2 months ago

          Well written! Thank you Lady!

        2. Dittimus2 months ago

          Thank you for writing this!

      2. Wink Windsor3 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.

  8. JEM6 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.

  9. Voice of Reality8 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. Mike7 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.

  10. Steve10 months 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 Reality8 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!!

  11. Russ11 months 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 P4 months ago

      The government isn’t the one doing these surveys.

  12. ken woolsey12 months 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. Paul11 months 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 D10 months 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. frank10 months 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. Sliver6 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.