Patterns of Gun Ownership in the United States

The events in Newtown, Connecticut, give us all pause.  It has led me to examining data on gun ownership beginning with the 2010 General Social Survey conducted every other year by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.  In all some 3,207 respondents were asked in 2010 whether they owned a gun, and if so, whether they owned a rifle, shotgun or a “pistol”. I will use the more-common term “handgun” for “pistol.”

Let us begin with some basic information on patterns of gun ownership.  Many surveys like Gallup report figures for “gun” ownership without differentiating among the various kinds of guns people possess.  We might imagine a group of “sportsmen” who own rifles and shotguns but not handguns.  There are also people who own only a handgun,  people who own both handguns and long guns, and people who own no guns at all.

Two-thirds of the households report owning no guns at all.   Only six percent of Americans, or 18% of gun owners, possess just a handgun. Eleven percent of households own only a long gun, with preferences about equal for either a rifle or a shotgun or both.  A majority of handgun owners also have both a rifle and a shotgun in their possession.   Here is a reorganized version of the data above that divides American households into three categories — people who own only long guns, people who own only handguns, and people who own both.

About a fifth of American households own a handgun while a quarter own a rifle or shotgun.  Only three out of ten handgun owners do not also own a long gun.  The reverse combination is more common; 44% of long gun owners do not own a handgun.