Gun Ownership and Use in America

by Joseph Carroll, Gallup Poll Assistant Editor

Women more likely than men to use guns for protection

How many Americans personally own guns, and what do they use them for? A recent Gallup Poll* shows that 3 in 10 Americans personally own a gun; most gun owners say they use their guns to protect themselves against crime, for hunting, and for target shooting. Gun ownership varies by different groups in the country, with men more likely to be gun owners than women, Southerners and Midwesterners more likely than Easterners or Westerners, Republicans more so than Democrats, and older rather than younger Americans.

Gun Ownership

The poll, conducted Oct. 13-16, finds that 4 in 10 Americans report they have a gun in their homes, including 30% who say they personally own a gun and 12% who say another member of their household owns it. These results show essentially no change since this question was last asked in 2000. At that time, 27% of Americans said they personally owned a gun and 14% said another household member owned one.

Certain groups of Americans -- men, older Americans, Midwesterners, Southerners, Republicans, and whites -- are more likely than other groups to say they personally own a gun.

  • Nearly half of men (47%) report personal ownership, compared with just 13% of women.
  • Americans aged 18 to 29 are slightly less likely than those who are older to be gun owners. Only one in five 18- to 29-year-olds (21%) say they own a gun, while 32% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 31% of those aged 50 and older report ownership.
  • Roughly one in three Americans who live in the Midwest (34%) and the South (36%) say they personally own a gun. Ownership is lower among those residing in the East (22%) and the West (23%).
  • Forty-one percent of Republicans say they own a gun, compared with 27% of independents and 23% of Democrats.
  • One in three whites (33%) own a gun, while only about one in six nonwhites (18%) do.

Gun Use

The poll also shows that most gun owners use their guns for each of these three purposes: crime protection (67%), target shooting (66%), and hunting (58%).

These results represent essentially no change since the question was last asked in 2000. Because there is so little difference in results among the two polls, Gallup combined the data from its 2000 and 2005 surveys to provide a more detailed look at the reasons why different groups use guns.

Male gun owners are more likely than female owners to say they use a gun for hunting (63% to 45%, respectively) or for target shooting (68% to 59%), while female owners are slightly more likely than male gun owners to use a gun for protection (74% to 63%, respectively).

Gun owners aged 18 to 49, are more likely than those aged 50 and older to say they use a gun for hunting (65% to 52%) or for target practice (74% to 58%). There are essentially no differences between younger and older gun owners who use their guns for crime protection (67% among 18- to 49-year-olds and 64% of those aged 50 and older).

Republican and Democratic gun owners are almost equally likely to say they use a gun for protection against crime, 64% to 69%, respectively. However, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they use a gun for target shooting (71% to 53%) or for hunting (64% to 53%).

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 13-16, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 305 adults who personally own a gun, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±6 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 579 adults who personally own a gun, conducted Aug. 29-Sept. 5, 2000, and Oct. 13-16, 2005, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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