Sur­vey: Half of firearms be­long to 3% of U.S. adults

Baltimore Sun - - NATION - By Christo­pher Ingraham

Just 3 per­cent of U.S. adults own half of the na­tion’s firearms, ac­cord­ing to the re­sults of a Har­vard-North­east­ern sur­vey of 4,000 gun own­ers.

The sur­vey’s find­ings sup­port other re­search show­ing that as over­all rates of gun own­er­ship have de­clined, the num­ber of firearms in cir­cu­la­tion has sky­rock­eted. The im­pli­ca­tion is that there are more guns in fewer hands than ever be­fore.

The top 3 per­cent of U.S. adults own, on av­er­age, 17 guns apiece, ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey’s es­ti­mates.

The sur­vey is use­ful to re­searchers be­cause it asked re­spon­dents not just whether they own guns, but how many and what types of guns they own. This makes for one of the clear­est pic­tures yet of Amer­i­can gun own­er­ship, show­ing the con­cen­tra­tion of most guns in the hands of a small frac­tion of U.S. adults.

The study found that 22 per­cent of U.S. adults say they own a firearm. This is lower than the per­cent­ages re­ported in some other re­cent sur­veys, such as those by the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, 31 per­cent, and Gallup, 28 per­cent.

Based on the per­cent­age of peo­ple own­ing guns and the num­ber of guns that re­spon­dents re­ported own­ing, the sur­vey es­ti­mates that 265 mil­lion guns are in cir­cu­la­tion, or more than one for every adult. This is lower than other es­ti­mates, which put the num­ber of guns in cir­cu­la­tion at 300 mil­lion or more.

The Har­vard-North­east­ern sur­vey was con­ducted anony­mously via an on­line panel. The re­searchers told The Guardian news­pa­per that they did not re­ceive any push-back from re­spon­dents about the ques­tions.

The find­ing that the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of firearms are owned by a small num­ber of adults isn’t par­tic­u­larly sur­pris­ing. Sim­i­lar pat­terns of con­cen­tra­tion are seen with many other con­sumer goods and ser­vices, from al­co­hol to health care.

The re­searchers who con­ducted the study say that most gun own­ers cite a need for pro­tec­tion from other peo­ple as a pri­mary rea­son to own guns.

“WhenI look at our sur­vey, what I see is a pop­u­la­tion that is liv­ing in fear,” Deb Azrael, a Har­vard re­searcher and one of the study’s lead au­thors, told the non­profit news or­ga­ni­za­tion The Trace. “They are buy­ing hand­guns to pro­tect them­selves against bad guys, they store their guns ready-to-use be­cause of bad guys, and they be­lieve that their guns make them safer.”

This shows a sig­nif­i­cant shift from the 1990s, when most gun own­ers said they owned firearms pri­mar­ily for hunt­ing and tar­get shoot­ing.

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