Americans own an estimated 265 million guns, more than one gun for every adult, according to the most definitive portrait of U.S. gun ownership in two decades. The new survey estimates that 130 million of these guns are concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of adults, a group who have amassed an average of 17 guns each. A survey summary reported by the Guardian and the Trace estimates that the U.S. gun stock has increased by 70 million guns since 1994. At the same time, the percentage of Americans who own guns decreased slightly from 25 percent to 22 percent. The survey, conducted in 2015 by public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities, also found that the proportion of female gun owners is increasing as fewer men own guns. These women were more likely to own a gun for self-defense than men, and more likely to own a handgun only.
Women’s focus on self-defense is part of a broader trend. Even as the U.S. has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defense is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership. “The desire to own a gun for protection – there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country. It isn’t a response to actuarial reality,” said Prof. Matthew Miller of Northeastern University and the Harvard School of Public Health, an author of the study. The data suggest that gun ownership is driven by an “increasing fearfulness,” said lead author Dr. Deborah Azrael of Harvard. The survey also found a much higher estimate of annual gun thefts: 400,000 guns stolen per year, compared with 230,000 estimated in the National Crime Victimization Survey.