Results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey

A summary of results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey was posted to the SSRN site back in July. I confess to missing it the first time around because I thought it was the same National Firearms Survey that was fielded by scholars at Northeastern and Harvard Universities this year (results from which about firearm purchasing during the COVID pandemic I commented on recently).

It turns out this is a separate National Firearms Survey, fielded by William English, a political economist at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. I’m quite intrigued by the existence of this survey because I have never heard of William English in the field of gun studies and there is nothing in his scholarly background that indicates he would do work in this area.

To say this is certainly not a criticism of William English. People would have said the same about me 10 years ago, also. He seems to be an outsider to the field and I hope that will allow him to bring fresh perspectives to it.

Highlights of the survey from the SSRN paper include:

32% of American adults own a firearm

As with the other 2021 National Firearms Survey, this person gun ownership rate is closer to my estimate of gun ownership rates (33-37%) than other surveys like the General Social Survey. Both of the National Firearms Surveys of 2021 use opt-in participation from pre-existing panels, and this may help explain the more accurate estimates.

Of course, the estimate may also reflect an increase in the percentage of American adults who own guns due to the recent gun buying spree.

Gun owners are demographically diverse

57.8% of gun owners are male and 42.2% female.

34.3% of whites own firearms (constituting 82% of all gun owners).

It appears that a plurality but not a majority of gun owners today are white men.

Among racial minorities, 25.4% of Blacks own guns (10.6% of all gun owners), 28.3% of Hispanics own guns, and 19.4% of Asians own guns (3.6% of all gun owners).

30.2% of gun owners have owned an AR-15 style rifle

That’s some 25 million people. This is the first survey that I can recall that asked about ownership of this particular rifle. The results confirm its popularity.

48% of gun owners have owned 10+ round magazines

As gun rights advocates say, these are “standard” capacity magazines for many guns today.

56.2% of gun owners carry a handgun for self defense

At least in some circumstances. 26.3% are estimated to carry in public under a concealed carry regime.

31.1% of gun owners have used a gun in self-defense

Of these, 55.9% have done so more than once.

As is often observed, in the vast majority of these cases (81.9%) the gun is not fired. 25.2% of DGUs took place in the home and 53.9% outside the home but on their property.

The majority involve a handgun (65.9%) rather than a shotgun (21.0%) or rifle (13.1%).

Interestingly, just over half of the DGUs (51.2%) involved more than one assailant.

14 thoughts on “Results from the 2021 National Firearms Survey

      • I have an idea. Work backwards.

        If you know how many people DIE or are injured from defensive gun uses, then you determine the risk of death or injury. That could give you a figure.

        We could even use some gun crimes as a baseline. Like armed robbery. How many times does an armed robbery actually HAVE to shoot somebody vs how many times the person complies and hands over the money.

        We could also use verified DGUs to get some sort of baseline.

        I’m not an academic so maybe i am way off on this. But if say 1 in 5 gunshot wounds is fatal , then we should expect 4 injuries by DGU for every death by DGU right ? Assuming the sample size is large enough I mean.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Steven Andersen – I like the creative thinking, but I think data limitations are the problem. We have some idea of the number of justifiable homicides there are, as well as data on DGUs from the National Crime Victimization Survey, but everything I hear is that most DGUs do not involve discharging a firearm. How do you capture THAT, even working backwards. It’s hard.


  1. The fact that this was an “online survey” means it is not a “representative sample” of the general population. At best, it is a sample of people who had access to the Internet and were willing and able to participate in the survey. It also assumes those people were honest about their gun ownership and defensive uses — a dubious idea at best as noted by Professor Gary Kleck et al. Because of that last issue it is likely that gun ownership and defensive gun uses are under reported.


    • If you click the link to my estimate of gun ownership rates you will find m take on underreporting. Kleck himself has used surveys to determine DGU numbers so I don’t think he dismissed data like this out of hand. It is an online opt in survey, with limits like any survey, but it is more than your “at best” characterization if you read the survey’s methodology.


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