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Crime Victims More Likely to Own Guns

Crime Victims More Likely to Own Guns
by Riley Brands and Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • 33% of victims vs. 28% of nonvictims own guns
  • Pattern holds, taking into account gender, fear of crime

WASHINGTON, D.C -- Americans who have been recent crime victims report higher rates of gun ownership than those who have not been victims, according to an analysis of aggregated data from Gallup Crime surveys. Thirty-three percent of U.S. adults who have been recent victims of assault, theft or property crimes own a gun, compared with 28% of those who have not been victims -- a statistically significant difference.

Gun Ownership Among Americans by Crime Victimization Status
Gun ownership
%
Crime victim in last 12 months 33
Nonvictim in last 12 months 28
GALLUP Annual Crime Surveys, 2000, 2005, 2007-2011, 2013-2016

As part of its annual Crime survey, Gallup asks Americans whether in the past 12 months they personally have been the victim of a number of crimes, including burglary, property theft, assault and vandalism. In most years the survey has also asked Americans whether they personally own a gun, including in 2000, 2005, 2007-2011 and 2013-2016. The analysis is based on a combined 11,165 interviews from those surveys. Overall, an average of 17% of Americans reported being the victim of at least one of the crimes in those polls, and 29% said they personally owned a gun.

Although it is not possible to know from the survey questions whether the crime prompted the individual to buy a gun or if the person owned a gun before the crime occurred, the modest yet significant relationship between recent crime victimization and gun ownership is clear. Also, because the survey asks only about crime victimization in the last 12 months, it is possible many people victimized by crimes in the more distant past bought a gun in reaction to those crimes. Thus, the analysis may understate the relationship between crime victimization and gun ownership.

Past Gallup analysis has shown that men are far more likely than women to own a gun -- in fact, gender is the strongest predictor of gun ownership. For both men and women, gun ownership is higher among crime victims than nonvictims. Specifically, 48% of men who have experienced a recent personal or property crime own a gun, compared with 43% of men who have not been victimized. Meanwhile, 19% of female crime victims own a gun, compared with 14% of all other women.

Gun Ownership by Gender and Crime Victimization Status
Gun ownership
%
Men
Crime victim in last 12 months 48
Nonvictim in last 12 months 43
Women
Crime victim in last 12 months 19
Nonvictim in last 12 months 14
GALLUP ANNUAL CRIME SURVEYS, 2000, 2005, 2007-2011, 2013-2016

Gun ownership overall is also much higher among those living in towns or rural areas (39%) than those living in suburbs (28%) or cities (22%). Suburban and rural crime victims show higher gun ownership rates than their nonvictim counterparts, but this is not true among urban residents. To some degree, tougher restrictions on gun ownership in many cities may make it harder for crime victims to obtain guns.

Gun Ownership by Place of Residence and Crime Victimization Status
Gun ownership
%
Live in big/small city
All 22
Crime victim in last 12 months 22
Nonvictim in last 12 months 23
Live in suburb of big/small city
All 28
Crime victim in last 12 months 39
Nonvictim in last 12 months 26
Live in town/rural area
All 39
Crime victim in last 12 months 47
Nonvictim in last 12 months 38
GALLUP ANNUAL CRIME SURVEYS, 2000, 2005, 2007-2011, 2013-2016

Even Accounting for Fear, Crime Victims More Likely to Own Guns

Being a crime victim can understandably motivate someone to purchase a gun, but so can the fear of becoming a victim, even for those who have not been victims. The relationships between crime fears and gun ownership are complex, largely because subgroups who are more likely to own guns, particularly men, are also much less likely to say they are afraid of crime.

Nevertheless, crime victims are more likely than nonvictims to own guns when fear is taken into account. Among those who are afraid of crime -- based on self-reports of being afraid to walk alone at night near where they live -- gun ownership is six percentage points higher among crime victims (27%) than among nonvictims (21%). And among those who are not fearful of crime, gun ownership is eight points higher among victims than nonvictims, 40% to 32%.

Gun Ownership by Fear of Crime and Crime Victimization Status
Gun ownership
%
Fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 27
Nonvictim in last 12 months 21
Not fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 40
Nonvictim in last 12 months 32
Crime fear based on response to question: "Is there any area near where you live -- that is, within a mile -- where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?"
GALLUP ANNUAL CRIME SURVEYS, 2000, 2005, 2007-2011, 2013-2016

The patterns hold by gender as well: Taking into account fear of crime and gender, gun ownership is at least marginally higher among crime victims than among nonvictims.

Gun Ownership by Fear of Crime and Crime Victimization Status, Among Men and Women
Gun ownership
%
Men fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 44
Nonvictim in last 12 months 36
Men not fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 51
Nonvictim in last 12 months 45
Women fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 16
Nonvictim in last 12 months 14
Women not fearful of crime
Crime victim in last 12 months 23
Nonvictim in last 12 months 15
Crime fear based on response to question: "Is there any area near where you live -- that is, within a mile -- where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?"
GALLUP ANNUAL CRIME SURVEYS, 2000, 2005, 2007-2011, 2013-2016

A separate statistical analysis that takes into account the influence of several factors related to gun ownership -- including gender, marital status and place of residence -- shows that crime victimization has a unique effect on gun ownership. Although gender is the strongest single predictor of gun ownership, being a crime victim is one of the more important factors in likelihood to own a gun.

Bottom Line

Although the analysis demonstrates a statistically significant relationship between crime victimization and gun ownership, it cannot answer why the relationship exists. An obvious explanation is some of those who have been a crime victim purchase a gun as a reaction to that event. The Gallup data do not explore when the gun purchase was made in relation to when the crime occurred, so it is not possible to know to what extent this explains the relationship.

It does not appear that those who live in higher-crime areas, and who therefore may be more likely to become a victim, are also more likely to own guns. Gallup's Crime surveys show urban residents are much more likely than rural residents to report being crime victims, 20% to 15%, but rural residents are far more likely to own guns. The data do suggest, though, that crime victimization has a greater effect on gun ownership among suburban and rural residents than among urban residents.

Nor does fear of crime explain the relationship, because gun ownership is higher among victims than nonvictims when fear is held constant. It is possible some other unmeasurable psychological, cultural or situational characteristics could be related to both one's likelihood of buying a gun and one's vulnerability to being a crime victim.

In 2013, Gallup asked gun owners why they keep a weapon. The majority, 60%, cited personal safety or protection. More broadly, Americans tend to believe that having a gun in the home or carrying concealed weapons would do more to keep people safe than to put them at risk of harm.

U.S. gun policy has come under increased scrutiny in recent decades, driven partly by mass shootings but also by the high rate of gun-related homicides. For crime victims, the threat of victimization is no longer a possibility but a reality. Crime victims' desire to protect themselves may explain why many gun owners do not favor stricter gun laws, and why gun owners as well as nonowners are reluctant to back outright bans on guns.

Historical data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on aggregated telephone interviews from Gallup's annual Crime survey, conducted each October. The analysis is based on a random sample of 11,165 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.

For results based on the sample of 1,667 adults who had personally been the victim of a crime in the past 12 months, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. The crimes included in the survey are having their house or apartment broken into, having money or property stolen, having a car stolen, having property vandalized, having money or property taken by force, being mugged or physically assaulted, and being sexually assaulted.

For results based on the sample of 9,498 adults who had not personally been the victim of a crime in the past 12 months, the margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point at the 95% confidence level.

All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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