Who Are The Gun Curious?

The U.S. population breaks down roughly in thirds –

  • Current Gun Owners: 27 to 33%
  • Not Currently But Possible Gun Owners: 33 to 39%
  • Not Now and Not Ever Gun Owners: 30 to 36%

Americans are politically divided by the issue of guns. But as with other “culture wars,” the fighting is often undertaken by elites, while the muddled masses watch from the sidelines, often with disbelief or revulsion at the true believers screaming past each other.

Many stuck in the middle are what I call the “gun curious.” I meet them all the time when I talk about guns. They come from all parts of my social network: ER doctors, IT people, HR consultants, non-profit leaders, professors, students.

Although no one has (yet) studied the gun curious systematically, the Pew Research Center’s excellent 2017 report, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns,” offers as good a starting point as any. (Full disclosure: I consulted with Pew on the design of the survey.)

Instead of simply asking respondents whether or not they currently own a gun, the Pew Research Center wisely also asked currently gunless respondents whether they had owned guns in the past and whether they could see themselves owning a gun in the future.*

Pew finds that 36% of the currently gunless could see themselves owning guns in the future.

Source: Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns,” http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2017/06/22/the-demographics-of-gun-ownership/

Once we add the +/-3% margin of error,** the U.S. population breaks down roughly in thirds:

  • Current Gun Owners: 27 to 33%
  • Not Currently But Possible Gun Owners: 33 to 39%
  • Not Now and Not Ever Gun Owners: 30 to 36%

Here we start to see the gun curious. Let’s burrow a bit deeper.

Pew also reports that 15% of the currently gunless have owned guns in the past. That is 10% of the total U.S. adult population. These past gun owners are much more likely than those who have never owned a gun to see themselves possibly owning guns in the future (71% compared to 49%).

Moreover, some part of that third of the U.S. adult population who could never see owning a gun may change their mind in the future. If I had been asked a question about gun ownership any time before 2010, I would have answered (emphatically) NO and NEVER.

Last, not all current gun owners are hard core. Half of gun owners reported that being a gun owners is very or somewhat important to their overall identity, and the other half responded that it was not too or not at all important.

According to the Pew report, about one-quarter of current gun owners agree with the statement, “I could see myself not owning a gun at some point in the future.” This is especially true among those for whom being a gun owner is not central to their identity.

So I would say that the gun curious middle of the American population is broad but their softer voices often don’t get heard in our hardened public debates about guns. This blog is for them.


*There is good reason to believe that a portion of those who deny owning guns in surveys actually do own guns, but that is a discussion for another day.

**It is actually +/-2.8% at a 95% confidence level, but I rounded to 3% for the sake of simplicity. Read more about margin of error as applied to election polling, but generally applicable to sample-based survey.

5 thoughts on “Who Are The Gun Curious?

  1. I always assume gun ownership is underreported by some unknowable amount in these surveys as some gun owners are sufficiently paranoid about gun confiscation that they will lie on any such survey.


  2. Its weird, but my gun owner identity has been in some ways case-hardened by the anti-gun rhetoric. If you asked me ten years ago about guns, I would have probably answered intellectually. I lived in Honolulu for 14 years and was awarded an honorary membership in the Hawaii Rifle Assn. based on an essay I put in the paper but during that time, I rarely thought about guns (and didn’t have any) even though I grew up with them. So emotionally, guns were a rousing “meh”.

    Moving to New Mexico and being in a town with a great range got me back into shooting. Being active in the gun culture for the last few years has made me a lot more sensitive to the overt goofiness of the pro and anti gun arguments and as is probably painfully obvious to readers of David’s blogs, I don’t shy from the discussion.

    Keep it going, David. These blogs are interesting and fun.


    • There is a political scientist out there working on a project showing that the NRA created the identity “gun owner” for political purposes over the course of the 20th century. To the extent that this is true, I just said (to myself), of course it is true because the growing efforts to regulate guns over the course of the 20th century made it necessary. That plus stigma and ingroup/outgroup dynamics explain alot.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Pingback: What Percentage of Americans Own Guns? Minimum Estimates | Gun Curious

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