Nearly half of U.S. adults who do not currently own a gun say they could see themselves owning one in the future
Pew Research Center conducted this study to better understand Americans’ views of gun ownership. For this analysis, we surveyed 5,115 adults from June 5-11, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Gun owners in the United States continue to cite protection far more than other factors, including hunting and sport shooting, as a major reason they own a gun.
And while a sizable majority of gun owners (71%) say they enjoy having a gun, an even larger share (81%) say they feel safer owning a gun.
A Pew Research Center survey, conducted June 5-11 among 5,115 members of the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel, finds:
72% of U.S. gun owners say protection is a major reason they own a gun. That far surpasses the shares of gun owners who cite other reasons.
This view has changed only modestly since the Center’s major survey of attitudes toward gun ownership and gun policies in 2017. At that time, 67% of gun owners cited protection as a major reason they owned a firearm.
The demographics of gun ownership have changed little in recent years. Gun ownership is far more common among residents of rural areas (47%) than among people living in suburbs (30%) or urban areas (20%). Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (45%) are far more likely than Democrats and Democratic leaners (20%) to report owning a gun.
Few gun owners worry about having a gun in their home. Just 12% of gun owners say they worry about having guns in their home; 88% say they do not.
Sizable majorities say owning a gun makes them feel safer and gives them a feeling of enjoyment.
How non-gun owners feel about possibly owning a gun. About half of Americans who don’t own a gun say they could never see themselves owning one (52%) while nearly as many could imagine themselves as gun owners in the future (47%). These views are little changed from 2017.
Men who do not own a gun are far more likely than women non-owners to say they could see themselves owning a gun in the future (56% vs. 40%).
While a larger share of Republicans than Democrats say they own a gun, Republican non-owners also are more likely than Democratic non-owners to say they would consider owning a gun in the future (61% vs. 40%).
A narrow majority of Black non-owners (56%) say they could see themselves owning a gun in the future, compared with smaller shares of White (48%), Hispanic (40%) and Asian non-owners (38%).
Americans’ views on whether it is too easy to legally obtain a gun
A majority of Americans (61%) say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun in this country, while 30% say the ease of legally obtaining a gun is about right; 9% say it is too hard.
A Center report released in June found that 58% say gun laws should be stricter than they are today; 26% think they are about right, while 15% favor less strict gun laws.
There are demographic and partisan differences in opinions about whether it is too easy to legally obtain a gun:
Majorities of U.S. adults living in urban (72%) and suburban (63%) communities say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun.
Opinion among rural residents is more divided: 47% say it is too easy, 41% say it is about right and 11% say it is too hard.
Gun owners and non-owners
Non-owners are nearly twice as likely as gun owners to say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun (73% vs. 38%).
Republicans and Democrats
The partisan divide in opinions about the ease of legally obtaining guns in the U.S. is wider than the difference in views between gun owners and non-owners. An overwhelming share of Democrats (86%) say it is too easy to obtain a gun legally. About a third of Republicans (34%) say the same.
Gun ownership in the United States
The shares of adults who say they personally own a gun – or that someone else in their household owns a gun – has changed little in recent years. Roughly a third (32%) say they own a gun; another 10% say that while they do not personally own a gun, someone else in their household does.
Gender and race
Four-in-ten men say they own a gun, compared with a quarter of women.
And White adults are far more likely than Black, Hispanic or Asian adults to say they personally own a gun.
Reported gun ownership is much higher among adults living in rural areas (47%) than suburban (30%) or urban residents (20%).
Republicans and Democrats
Republicans, particularly conservative Republicans, are far more likely than Democrats to say they own a gun.
About half of conservative Republicans (51%) say they own a gun. That compares with 38% of moderate and liberal Republicans, 24% of conservative and moderate Democrats, and 16% of liberal Democrats.
Feelings about gun ownership
Gun owners express overwhelmingly positive sentiments about owning a gun, with sizable majorities saying it makes them feel safer and that they enjoy having a gun.
However, people who do not own guns but live in households in which there is a gun present are far less likely to voice positive sentiments.
While 81% of gun owners say owning a gun makes them feel safer, a smaller majority of non-owners in gun households (57%) say the same about the presence of a gun in the home.
About three-in-ten non-owners in gun households (31%) enjoy having a gun in the house; that compares with 71% of gun owners who say they enjoy owning a gun.
And a larger share of non-owners (27%) than owners (12%) worry about having a gun in the home.
There also are partisan differences among gun owners in their opinions about owning a gun. Republican gun owners are more likely than Democratic gun owners to say owning a gun gives them feelings of safety and enjoyment, while Democratic gun owners are more likely to say they worry about having a gun in the home.
Measuring gun ownership
Measuring gun ownership in the United States comes with a unique set of challenges. Unlike many demographic measures, there is not a definitive data source from the government or elsewhere on how many American adults own guns.
This survey, conducted June 5-11, 2023 on Pew Research Center’s American Trends Panel, asks about gun ownership using two separate questions to measure personal and household ownership. About a third of adults (32%) say they own a gun, while another 10% say they do not personally own a gun but someone else in their household does. These shares are little changed from surveys conducted in 2021 and 2017. In each of those surveys, 30% reported they owned a gun.
These numbers are largely consistent with rates of gun ownership reported by Gallup, but somewhat higher than those reported by the General Social Survey. Those surveys also find only modest changes in recent years.
The FBI maintains data on background checks on individuals attempting to purchase firearms in the United States. The FBI reported a surge in background checks in 2020 and 2021, during the coronavirus pandemic. The number of federal background checks declined in 2022 and through the first half of this year, according to FBI statistics.