Although I’ve addressed U.S. gun ownership levels previously, I realize that I have done so by looking at percentages of individuals and households rather than numbers. Given changing population sizes (the all important denominator), percentages are usually the relevant indicators.
But sometimes you want to know the actual number, so I am posting this to have these numbers handy when people ask. (How I calculated these numbers after the photo illustration.)
Minimum estimates for 2019 are:
# of Individuals in the United States who own guns: 76,414,161.
# of Households in the United States that have guns: 47,892,051
# of People in U.S. Households that have guns: 125,956,094
The political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is both frustrating to and badly misunderstood by many of its critics (as I highlighted recently in response to PBS Frontline’s program on the NRA).
According to Barnard College political scientist Matthew Lacombe, much of the legislative strength of the NRA is due to its ability to politically mobilize guns owners on its behalf. And key to that political “weaponization” has been the cultivation of “gun owner” as a social identity in the first place. (An identity I reflected on from my own perspective in my previous post.)
Here I discuss his recently published article, “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners: The National Rifle Association’s Cultivation, Dissemination, and Use of a Group Social Identity.” Unfortunately the article is not available open access, but if you would like a copy for educational purposes, let me know.
Whenever someone asks me, “Are you a golfer?” I offer a canned response: “No, but I play golf.” I resist the label golfer. To embrace it seems to heighten expectations in an uncomfortable way.
The same can be said of the label gun owner. Do I own guns? Yes. Is being a gun owner central to my identity? Not really.
In fact, the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report on “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” highlights differences in the centrality of owning guns to people’s identities. About half of gun owners say being a gun owner is very (25%) or somewhat (25%) important to their overall identity, and half say it is not too important (30%) or not at all important (20%).
Source: Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” (2017).
It’s no secret that the coronavirus led to an unprecedented rise in gun background checks in March 2020. I posted about the coronavirus supplanting Barack Obama as the greatest gun salesman in US history, and reiterated this in a brief interview with Axios recently.
An interesting nuance in this overall pattern, however, is the ratio of handguns to long-guns sold. As reported by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (H/T The Trace!), “The ratio of handguns to long-guns sold now stands at a record 1.84, the highest ratio since the introduction of the NICS checks in late 1998.”
When I launched this blog in February 2019, I noted that no one had (yet) systematically studied people who are gun curious. The Pew Research Center’s 2017 report, “America’s Complex Relationship With Guns,” offers some important leads, though.
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.
In April, I gave the lunchtime talk at the National Firearms Law Seminar in Indianapolis. More than anything I’ve written or said, “Gun Culture 2.0, or How a Liberal Professor Became an Armed American” offered a very personal perspective on how I got into guns and the study of gun culture. I also discussed some of the many lessons I have learned on my journey so far.
Thanks to John Correia (and Jon Macek) of Active Self Protection, a video of my talk exists, and thanks to Robin Lindner of RLI Media, that video is ready for the world to see.
Leave a comment to let me know your story or your reactions to my story of gun curiosity.
How many guns are there in the United States today? No one really knows, but research conducted by the Geneva, Switzerland based Small Arms Survey provides the best guesstimate for 2017:
Civilian-held Firearms: 393,347,000
Military-owned Firearms: 4,535,380
Law Enforcement Firearms: 1,016,000
TOTAL FIREARMS ESTIMATE (2017): 398,898,380