At What Age Do Americans Get Their First Guns?

As the age at which American adults ought to be able to buy firearms is being discussed in the wake of Buffalo and Uvalde, I want to point to some data on the age at which Americans actually get their first guns.

TL:DR (1) For respondents who say they currently or have ever owned a gun, the average age is 22. (2) Men acquire their first gun at age 19 and women at age 27, on average. (3) 37 percent of those who currently or have ever owned guns first got their own gun when they were under 18 years of age.

The data comes from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns. I doubt these numbers have shifted much in the past 5 years, but if you know of more recent data on this point, please let me know in the comments or by using the contact form or email me.

Pew Question: How old were you when you acquired your first gun?

Although Pew did not ask what motivated people to acquire their first gun, they did ask, “At what age did you first get your OWN gun.” For those who say they currently or have ever owned a gun, the average age is 22, which [as someone who never shot a gun until I was in my 40s] I find to be fairly young.

Broken down by gender, Pew finds that men acquire their first gun at age 19 on average, and women at age 27 on average. The dynamics of socialization into guns continue to differ considerably for men and women.

Looking outside the main report, we see that 37 percent of those who currently or have ever owned guns first got their OWN gun when they were under 18 years of age.

These data do not support a particular policy position on this issue. But policy should be informed by and take account of empirical reality. I find many people who rightfully want to “do something” about the problem of gun violence don’t have a good idea of how gun ownership works in everyday life for the tens of millions of non-problematic gun owners in America.

2 thoughts on “At What Age Do Americans Get Their First Guns?

  1. re: “For those who say they currently or have ever owned a gun, the average age is 22, which I find to be fairly young.” I guess it depends heavily on where you are asking the question.
    I grew up in NYC but spent summers in New York state in the Catskills. Many of the boys had their own .22s at 12 because you could do small game and varmint hunting at that age. They would often have a hunting rifle, (.30 cal ) by the time they were 16 which was the age for big game hunting, i.e. deer and bear.
    I personally owned a .30 cal hunting rifle at 16 and a lever action .22 at 17. In NYC I belonged to a junior rifle club which did smallbore target shooting but we did have an annual hunting trip in November which 20-25 of of us would go and a good number, half maybe, had their own hunting rifle. I do not remember any age restrictions but I do know that it was possible for a 16yo to go to a store and buy a .22 and I think you could do it younger though I am not sure. Again this was the 1960’s – a very different time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Rich – Great point. In my editing of this from earlier posts I took it out of the context in which it originally appeared, which is me talking about how I grew up entirely outside of gun culture and never shot a gun until I was in my 40s. THAT’S why 22 seemed young to me. I’ve added a parenthetical to clarify. So, thanks for catching that, and more importantly for sharing your experiences which were very different than my own.

      Like

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