July 5, 2017

Among gun owners, NRA members have a unique set of views and experiences

Three-in-ten U.S. adults say they currently own a gun, and of that group, 19% say they belong to the National Rifle Association. While the demographic profile of NRA members is similar to that of other gun owners, their political views, the way they use their firearms and their attitudes about gun policy differ significantly from gun owners who are not members of the organization.

A majority of gun owners (61%) are Republicans or lean to the Republican Party, but NRA members skew even more heavily to the political right than other gun owners. Roughly three-quarters (77%) of gun owners who say they belong to the NRA are Republicans or lean Republican, while only 20% are Democrats or lean Democratic. Among gun owners who do not belong to the NRA, by contrast, 58% are Republicans and 39% are Democrats. And among Republican gun owners, NRA members are much more likely than nonmembers to describe their political views as very conservative (29% vs. 18%).

Gun owners who say they belong to the NRA tend to own more guns, on average, than gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA: About half (52%) say they own five or more guns, compared with 24% of non-NRA members (38% of nonmembers say they own only one gun). NRA members also hunt and shoot with more frequency than gun owners who aren’t NRA members: 50% say they go hunting often or sometimes, compared with 30% of nonmembers; 66% of NRA members go shooting often or sometimes, versus 49% of nonmembers.

NRA members are also significantly more likely than other gun owners to say they have a gun that is loaded and easily accessible to them at all times (53% vs. 34%). And, among handgun owners, NRA members are twice as likely to say they carry a gun with them outside of their home all or most of the time (44% vs. 22%). They are also more likely to say they have taken a gun safety course at some point – 84% of NRA members have done this, compared with 67% of gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA.

Beyond the different ways in which they use their firearms, guns seem to have more personal salience for NRA members than for other gun owners. Nearly half (45%) of NRA members say owning a gun is very important to their overall identity; only 20% of non-NRA members say the same. And members of the NRA are nearly unanimous in their view that owning a gun is essential to their personal freedom: 92% of NRA members say this, compared with 70% of nonmembers.

Given their different partisan leanings, it’s not surprising that NRA members and nonmembers don’t always see eye-to-eye when it comes to gun policy. In general, Republicans and those leaning Republican tend to be less supportive of policy proposals that would restrict gun ownership and more supportive of policies that would expand gun rights than Democrats and those leaning Democratic.

But even after controlling for partisanship, there are significant differences in policy views between Republican gun owners who say they belong to the NRA and those who don’t. About half (52%) of Republican gun owners who belong to the NRA, for instance, say gun laws in the U.S. should be less strict than they are now; 33% of Republican gun owners who don’t belong to the NRA share this view.

When it comes to specific policy proposals, the largest gap between the two groups is on the question of whether to institute background checks for private gun sales. Among Republican gun owners, 52% of NRA members favor this proposal, compared with 75% of nonmembers. There are also significant gaps on proposals to ban assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines and to create a federal database to track gun sales, with NRA members much less likely to support each proposal.

When it comes to expanding gun rights, Republican NRA members are much more likely than Republican nonmembers to say they would support shortening waiting periods for buying guns and allowing people to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

But there are also some areas of agreement between the two groups. Among Republican gun owners, large majorities of NRA members and nonmembers alike favor barring gun purchases by people on federal no-fly lists and the mentally ill, and they also favor expanding concealed carry laws in more places and allowing teachers and school administrators to carry guns in K-12 schools.

To be sure, the NRA has been an active voice in debates over many of these policy proposals. And the public is divided when it comes to the amount of influence the NRA has over guns laws in the U.S.: While 44% of all adults say the NRA has too much influence over gun legislation, 40% say it has the right amount of influence. Relatively few (15%) say the NRA has too little influence.

For their part, NRA members are largely satisfied with the amount of influence the organization has over U.S. gun laws. About six-in-ten (63%) say the NRA has the right amount of influence and 28% say it has too little influence. Only 9% of NRA members say the organization has too much influence over gun laws. Among non-gun owners, 50% view the NRA as too influential.

When it comes to flexing their own political muscle, NRA members are much more active than gun owners who do not belong to the NRA. Some 46% of gun owners in the NRA say they have contacted a public official to express their opinion on gun policy, including 24% who have done so in the past 12 months. Far fewer gun owners who do not belong to the NRA have reached out to a public official regarding gun policy: 15% have ever done this, and just 5% have done this in the past 12 months.

Topics: Lifestyle, Political Party Affiliation, Gun Policy

  1. Photo of Kim Parker

    is director of social trends research at Pew Research Center.


  1. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    I assume any pole conducted by the PEW center followed a rational protocol but I see problems with this one. I don’t believe the NRA makes their membership list available to others and there is no national list of gun owners. This means the participants were self-identified. Given the politically and emotionally charged positions surrounding the ownership of guns, I have trouble accepting this.
    I would never tell anyone over the phone that I owned any guns and a recent article in a popular shooting periodical advised gun owners to deny ownership if asked by their doctors. I’m sure their are also anti-gun advocates who would claim to a pollster that they were gun owners just to make the ‘problem’ seem more aggregious.

  2. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    To offer the results of a poll in percent form without disclosing the actual number of NRA or non-NRA members or individuals’ political affiliation makes this poll suspect. As mentioned by others, the results differ from actual available data from the NRA and from our beloved federal agencies. It appears therefore that there is a clear agenda by PEW and places this poll alongside other fake news.

    1. John Gramlich2 weeks ago

      Hello, thanks for writing. The number of poll respondents and the complete methodology of the survey are available publicly here: pewsocialtrends.org/2017/06/22/g…

  3. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    I suspect this poll is bogus. Most NRA members that I know will tell a stranger to go pound sand if a stranger asks them about their firearms. We know the liberal media lies and will manipulate data to make us look bad.

  4. Al Saibini2 weeks ago

    People who support restricting people on the “terrorist” watchlist have no idea how the watchlist is populated. Felons have been ADJUDICATED. People on the watchlist are added by anonymous bureaucrats and there is no publicly available means of getting off the watchlist if you’ve been placed on it by mistake. Given that Senator Ted Kennedy was on the the watchlist at one time, the reliability of the watchlist is questionable at best.

    1. Anonymous2 weeks ago

      You are absolutely correct. The list is populated by unnamed bureaucrats following an unknown policy with zero accountability. My 9 y/o nephew was on it, possibility from having traveled with his parents who provided health services to 3rd world areas. It took 4 years to get his name off the list.

  5. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    While I don’t own a firearm I do live in an area of California near Jackson CA and I see a lot of NRA stickers on peoples vehicles. The thing about firearm ownership is stats show that the ones who are conservatives do indeed vote are active in their community, churches etc. and just do not commit firearm violence.

    Chicago has the strictest firearm laws in the nation last time I checked yet over this past 4th of July period something like 100 people in Chicago were murdered by someone with a firearm. I guarantee you none of the killers were NRA members!!

    But its the stats given in this PEW piece that just don’t make sense. Loosed Horse, Jim Jimmers have done a good jobs pointing out the flaws in the stats.

  6. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    Most poll have found that they UNDER report gun ownership by about 35%. Most estimates of gun ownership is just over 100 million. That said the % look right. 39% of the NRA are democrats. I think we ALL agree that NRA members are better educated on gun safety and gun rights. That (as stated earlier) they are confusing cause and effect.

  7. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    More than 40 years ago the Democratic Party decided to include gun control as a plank in the party platform. You don’t suppose that has something to do with party alignment of gun owners, do you?

  8. Loosed Horse2 weeks ago

    Hmmm. The numbers are suspect.

    The US Census estimates there were 249,454,153 adults (18 or older) in the US in 2016. Pew says 30% of those are gun-owners.

    That’s 74,836,249. Pew also says that 19% of gun-owners are NRA members.

    That’s 14,218,887. Over 14 million NRA members, not even counting non-gun-owning NRA members. So, that’s a problem.

    The NRA claims (only) 5+ million members. So…

    How are we supposed to have confidence in a poll when one of its few numbers that can be independently checked–number of NRA members–is off by a factor of at least 2.6?

  9. Jim Jimmers2 weeks ago

    The NRA claims a membership of 5 million, mostly adults. The latest census data says there are just under 250 million adults in the United States. That’s 2%, not 19%. Either your data set is skewed or people lied on the poll, maybe both. This is why polling like this is unreliable.

  10. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    You do not join the NRA unless you are well informed on the issues. So it makes sense that the NRA members would have a better grasp of the real reason for many of the gun control schemes.

    We know they will not in any way shape or form accomplish the stated goals and in most cases would not have even pretended to have impacted whatever terrible crime that got people to support it.

    For example the anti gun crowd wants to destroy due process and allow the government to have to power to simply put your name on a list and you lose your gun rights. Of course they word it as people in the terrorist watch list, without mentioning that anyway can be put on the list even Ted Kennedy once found himself on the list.

    The gun grabbers claim they want this because of the pulse nightclub shooting, the problem is that he was not on the list in fact NONE of the Muslim terrorists that have done shootings here were on the list. So clearly the real motive here is to be able to control your access to firearms. As everyone knows its not about guns its about control.

    1. Jack Lemay2 weeks ago

      Ted Kennedy was NOT on the no-fly list. He was stopped in a case of mistaken identity, and was allowed to continue when he produced ID.

      So, apparently, NRA members are not always “well informed on the issues”.

      You are entitled to your own opinion. You are not entitled to your own set of facts.

      1. The Idiot Savant2 weeks ago

        You sir, are not entitled to your own “facts.”

        This list was a “No Fly” list in every criteria that matters (remember they were not going to let him fly) except in calling it a “watch list.” And this NRA member is exceedingly well-informed on the issues. See the article attached by link.


        This was not a case of simple mistaken identity. Someone who had an alias similar to his (this article says the same, others cite the moniker Ted or T.) was placed on the watch list for terrorists for an unknowable reason (do you still have the right to know the nature of the accusations against you and face your accusers? According to the government you do not regardless of the Bill of Rights). Had any member of the government done any due diligence, identifiers other than a “soundex” would be used; such as DOB, address, SS#, etc, to limit such errors.

        SENATOR Kennedy was unable to get through to the lower level employees and was only able to board the plane after talking to supervisors, who can be extrapolated to have either recognized him (lucky he was famous) or viewed his credentials issued to him as a sitting U.S. Senator, or both. This avenue would NOT have been available to the average someone whose name was “scooped up” and placed on such a list by a faceless, nameless bureaucrat. This happened to him on 5 occasions within about a single month. One need only familiarize themselves with other stories such as a five year old child (an obviously well-trained and seasoned terrorist) as well as others, one the age of two (see nytimes.com/2008/09/30/business/…), Journalist Stephen Hayes, Daniel Brown (an active duty marine reservist in UNIFORM returning from combat in Iraq – see upi.com/No-fly-list-keeps-Marine…) and numerous others.

        If you are like me, and the other 250 million adult Americans, when you purchase your tickets, you regularly find that such tickets are non-refundable, as is many parts of a travel itinerary. Even if you manage to navigate the obstacle course of being accused without due process after missing your flight, you in many cases have forfeited your bookings and inconvenienced your destination (whether family, friends or not). This without the courtesy or right of foreknowledge that, yes indeed, you have been accused and can expect to be deprived of your rights (travel is a right) and property (the money you paid) absent expected due process because of said accusation. However, even if informed in advance so you could conceivably take measures to correct such errors, you have no avenue to know the “what” or “why.” Thus, presumably, you could provide proof that you were never there, were somewhere else, have witnesses to such effect, produce documents or offer any defense one might offer, other than being left to hang in the winds of uncontrollable bureaucracy pondering your mysterious and wretched fate.

        In the following archived article, we find more information on Senator Kennedy’s descent into Wonderland.


        It took SENATOR Kennedy, with a staff of numerous employees, presumably one or more at least government lawyers, over 3 weeks to get thru the maze of red tape, even with inside contacts and access to Tom Ridge, the then Secretary of Homeland Security. Imagine the plight of the unwashed rabble.

        This belied the glaring fact that if so many can erroneously find themselves on such a list, how effective is it? If everyone is guilty, then no one is innocent, or it that no one is in fact guilty?

        The NYT article referenced here also recounts the ACLU lawsuit of 7 persons who were unable to complete their travel because they had no avenue to answer the secret accusations against them, and no recourse to remove their names. They were simply sacrifices to government in all its glorious power.

        All this sums up as follows. As an NRA member and a civil libertarian, and a former police officer, when we are inundated with pleas as barely disguised propaganda under the moniker of “common sense,” when compromise is a demand to surrender rights won by endless blood and treasure, when we are told we possess privileges as opposed to human rights, when liberals respond with barely concealed contempt awash in error and snark, when polls and studies are produced rife with inaccuracy and supposition, we do not wish to acquiesce to the tender mercies of unrestrained and unfeeling government and its useful “followers” who tell us to surrender and trust, hoping for the best. Such was never the American way, nor the way that has led millions to die for what this country was meant to represent. Your contempt for rights, and your fellow citizens sickens me.

        “Protecting the rights of even the least individual among us is basically the only excuse the government has for even existing.” – Ronald Reagan (Speech during “Operation Cablesplicer”, February 10, 1969)

  11. 99necron12 weeks ago

    define mental illness: anxiety is a tempory illness experienced by 70%+ of the population.

  12. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    your numbers are way off, do you think the people who said they did not have a fire arm are being honest? I would tell you no

  13. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    I’m betting the disparity in the responses is because NRA members are better informed on the issues facing gun owners.

    NRA members understand that backgrounds checks at gun shows and for private sales have only one purpose – to conduct surveillance on law-abiding gun owners.

    NRA members reject the notion that gun owners are no better than sex-offenders thus deserving of federal registration

    NRA members understand well that bans on semiautomatic firearms and standard capacity magazines are just schemes to make firearm ownership less practical and less attractive.

    NRA members know that the government is more than willing to redefine what constitutes “mental illness” in order to further political aims.

    NRA members are smart enough to know that waiting periods only apply to the first firearm someone purchases. If you already possess a firearm, the “heat of passion” argument favoring waiting periods goes away. Thus, waiting periods are just means of harassing prospective gun owners.

    Among gun owners, NRA members are better equipped to determine what is “good gun policy,” and what is not.

  14. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    I think you’re missing some context, most ALL shooting competition in the US is administered by the NRA, as NRA membership is required to compete. So if you shoot 3-Gun, then you more than likely own 3-6 firearms and belong to the NRA. Also the NRA is the ONLY source for insurance for most ranges but to get their rates and coverages all members of a club need to be NRA members too. You are mixing cause and effect in your conclusions.

    1. Daniel Lewis2 weeks ago

      Not all shooting competition requires NRA membership, it might feel that way since they donate money and buy advertisements at the shoots but no one has ever asked me for my NRA membership information. And why is the NRA there selling memberships inside the grounds if everyone has to be a member to even get there?

      I can not speak for every shooting sport of course but I shoot ATA and sure the NRA is involved but its not mandatory.

      1. Anonymous2 weeks ago

        Youre 100% right. But think your club buys your insurance through the NRA, so all active members must also join the NRA. Most people sadly just ignore this rule. It only get’s enforced is something unfortunate happens.

  15. Anonymous2 weeks ago

    I would comment on your use of “the” mentally ill, but I prefer you examine it instead.

    Harold A. Maio khmaio@earthlink.net