Guns are deeply ingrained in American society and the nation’s political debates.
The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the right to bear arms, and about a third of U.S. adults say they personally own a gun. At the same time, in response to concerns such as rising gun death rates and mass shootings, President Joe Biden has proposed gun policy legislation that would expand on the bipartisan gun safety bill Congress passed last year.
Here are some key findings about Americans’ views of gun ownership, gun policy and other subjects, drawn primarily from a Pew Research Center survey conducted in June 2023.
Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to summarize key facts about Americans and guns. We used data from recent Center surveys to provide insights into Americans’ views on gun policy and how those views have changed over time, as well as to examine the proportion of adults who own guns and their reasons for doing so.
The analysis draws primarily from a survey of 5,115 U.S. adults conducted from June 5 to June 11, 2023. Everyone who took part in the surveys cited 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.
Additional information about the fall 2022 survey of parents and its methodology can be found at the link in the text of this post.
Measuring gun ownership in the United States comes with unique challenges. Unlike many demographic measures, there is not a definitive data source from the government or elsewhere on how many American adults own guns.
The Pew Research Center survey conducted June 5-11, 2023, on the 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 have changed little 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 NORC’s 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.
About four-in-ten U.S. adults say they live in a household with a gun, including 32% who say they personally own one, according to an August report based on our June survey. These numbers are virtually unchanged since the last time we asked this question in 2021.
There are differences in gun ownership rates by political affiliation, gender, community type and other factors.
- Republicans and Republican-leaning independents are more than twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners to say they personally own a gun (45% vs. 20%).
- 40% of men say they own a gun, compared with 25% of women.
- 47% of adults living in rural areas report personally owning a firearm, as do smaller shares of those who live in suburbs (30%) or urban areas (20%).
- 38% of White Americans own a gun, compared with smaller shares of Black (24%), Hispanic (20%) and Asian (10%) Americans.
Personal protection tops the list of reasons gun owners give for owning a firearm. About three-quarters (72%) of gun owners say that protection is a major reason they own a gun. Considerably smaller shares say that a major reason they own a gun is for hunting (32%), for sport shooting (30%), as part of a gun collection (15%) or for their job (7%).
The reasons behind gun ownership have changed only modestly since our 2017 survey of attitudes toward gun ownership and gun policies. At that time, 67% of gun owners cited protection as a major reason they owned a firearm.
Gun owners tend to have much more positive feelings about having a gun in the house than non-owners who live with them. For instance, 71% of gun owners say they enjoy owning a gun – but far fewer non-gun owners in gun-owning households (31%) say they enjoy having one in the home. And while 81% of gun owners say owning a gun makes them feel safer, a narrower majority (57%) of non-owners in gun households say the same about having a firearm at home. Non-owners are also more likely than owners to worry about having a gun in the home (27% vs. 12%, respectively).
Feelings about gun ownership also differ by political affiliation, even among those who personally own firearms. Republican gun owners are more likely than Democratic owners to say owning a gun gives them feelings of safety and enjoyment, while Democratic owners are more likely to say they worry about having a gun in the home.
Non-gun owners are split on whether they see themselves owning a firearm in the future. About half (52%) of Americans who don’t own a gun say they could never see themselves owning one, while nearly as many (47%) could imagine themselves as gun owners in the future.
Among those who currently do not own a gun:
- 56% of men say they could see themselves owning a gun one day; 40% of women say the same.
- 61% of Republicans and 40% of Democrats who don’t own a gun say they would consider owning one in the future.
- 56% of Black non-owners say they could see themselves owning a gun one day, compared with smaller shares of White (48%), Hispanic (40%) and Asian (38%) non-owners.
Americans are evenly split over whether gun ownership does more to increase or decrease safety. About half (49%) say it does more to increase safety by allowing law-abiding citizens to protect themselves, but an equal share say gun ownership does more to reduce safety by giving too many people access to firearms and increasing misuse.
Republicans and Democrats differ on this question: 79% of Republicans say that gun ownership does more to increase safety, while a nearly identical share of Democrats (78%) say that it does more to reduce safety.
Urban and rural Americans also have starkly different views. Among adults who live in urban areas, 64% say gun ownership reduces safety, while 34% say it does more to increase safety. Among those who live in rural areas, 65% say gun ownership increases safety, compared with 33% who say it does more to reduce safety. Those living in the suburbs are about evenly split.
Americans increasingly say that gun violence is a major problem. Six-in-ten U.S. adults say gun violence is a very big problem in the country today, up 9 percentage points from spring 2022. In the survey conducted this June, 23% say gun violence is a moderately big problem, and about two-in-ten say it is either a small problem (13%) or not a problem at all (4%).
Looking ahead, 62% of Americans say they expect the level of gun violence to increase over the next five years. This is double the share who expect it to stay the same (31%). Just 7% expect the level of gun violence to decrease.
A majority of Americans (61%) say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun in this country. Another 30% say the ease of legally obtaining a gun is about right, and 9% say it is too hard to get a gun. Non-gun owners are nearly twice as likely as gun owners to say it is too easy to legally obtain a gun (73% vs. 38%). Meanwhile, gun owners are more than twice as likely as non-owners to say the ease of obtaining a gun is about right (48% vs. 20%).
Partisan and demographic differences also exist on this question. While 86% of Democrats say it is too easy to obtain a gun legally, 34% of Republicans say the same. Most urban (72%) and suburban (63%) dwellers say it’s too easy to legally obtain a gun. Rural residents are more divided: 47% say it is too easy, 41% say it is about right and 11% say it is too hard.
About six-in-ten U.S. adults (58%) favor stricter gun laws. Another 26% say that U.S. gun laws are about right, and 15% favor less strict gun laws. The percentage who say these laws should be stricter has fluctuated a bit in recent years. In 2021, 53% favored stricter gun laws, and in 2019, 60% said laws should be stricter.
About a third (32%) of parents with K-12 students say they are very or extremely worried about a shooting ever happening at their children’s school, according to a fall 2022 Center survey of parents with at least one child younger than 18. A similar share of K-12 parents (31%) say they are not too or not at all worried about a shooting ever happening at their children’s school, while 37% of parents say they are somewhat worried.
Among all parents with children under 18, including those who are not in school, 63% see improving mental health screening and treatment as a very or extremely effective way to prevent school shootings. This is larger than the shares who say the same about having police officers or armed security in schools (49%), banning assault-style weapons (45%), or having metal detectors in schools (41%). Just 24% of parents say allowing teachers and school administrators to carry guns in school would be a very or extremely effective approach, while half say this would be not too or not at all effective.
There is broad partisan agreement on some gun policy proposals, but most are politically divisive, the June 2023 survey found. Majorities of U.S. adults in both partisan coalitions somewhat or strongly favor two policies that would restrict gun access: preventing those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns (88% of Republicans and 89% of Democrats support this) and increasing the minimum age for buying guns to 21 years old (69% of Republicans, 90% of Democrats). Majorities in both parties also oppose allowing people to carry concealed firearms without a permit (60% of Republicans and 91% of Democrats oppose this).
Republicans and Democrats differ on several other proposals. While 85% of Democrats favor banning both assault-style weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, majorities of Republicans oppose these proposals (57% and 54%, respectively).
Most Republicans, on the other hand, support allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools (74%) and allowing people to carry concealed guns in more places (71%). These proposals are supported by just 27% and 19% of Democrats, respectively.
Gun ownership is linked with views on gun policies. Americans who own guns are less likely than non-owners to favor restrictions on gun ownership, with a notable exception. Nearly identical majorities of gun owners (87%) and non-owners (89%) favor preventing mentally ill people from buying guns.
Within both parties, differences between gun owners and non-owners are evident – but they are especially stark among Republicans. For example, majorities of Republicans who do not own guns support banning high-capacity ammunition magazines and assault-style weapons, compared with about three-in-ten Republican gun owners.
Among Democrats, majorities of both gun owners and non-owners favor these two proposals, though support is greater among non-owners.
Note: This is an update of a post originally published on Jan. 5, 2016.