The Characteristics of Gun Owners

The latest survey of American gun-owners looks at the culture they live in.
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(Photo: guruXOX/Shutterstock)

(Photo: guruXOX/Shutterstock)

Americans still love their Second Amendment, it seems. According to a new survey, nearly 30 percent of adults in the United States own guns, with the most common gun-toters being married, white men ages 55 and up.

The results fall in line with recent previous surveys of American gun ownership, even down to the "married" commonality. As Gallup noted in its 2013 poll:

The reasons behind the relationship between marital status and gun ownership are not obvious, though it could be that marriage rates are higher among other subgroups that tend to own guns, such as older Americans and those who are politically conservative. Married people may also have greater financial resources to own a gun.

Why do certain people choose to own guns? Why do others choose not to? Surveyors have tried to answer this in different ways, with famed statistician Nate Silver notably correlating gun ownership with political party affiliation. But in this most recent survey, conducted in 2013 but published yesterday in the journal Injury Prevention, public-health researchers from Columbia University and Boston University correlated gun ownership with the culture surrounding an individual. Almost one in three gun-owners answered "yes" to at least one of four questions researchers considered markers of living in a "gun culture": Would your social circle think less of you if you didn't own a gun? Would your family think less of you if you didn't own a gun? Does social life with your family involve guns? Does social life with your friends involve guns? In contrast, only six percent of non-gun owners lived around a gun culture, according to the study.

Almost one in three gun-owners answered "yes" to at least one of four questions researchers considered markers of living in a "gun culture."

Laws may also matter a lot to gun ownership. The proportion of people who own guns varies vastly by state, the researchers found. Only five percent of Delawareans own at least one gun, for example, while 58 percent of Arkansans do. And, not surprisingly, people living in states with laxer gun laws were 31 percent more likely to own a gun than people living in states with stricter laws.

These answers, in turn, are steps toward bigger picture policy questions on gun ownership in America. They show that those interested in changing rates of gun ownership—whether by decreasing them or increasing them—might do well to aim at state-level lawmaking, or at the cultural forces that bring friends and family together around firearm sports.

Quick Studies is an award-winning series that sheds light on new research and discoveries that change the way we look at the world.

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