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Gun Owners Increasingly Cite Crime as Reason for Ownership

Gun Owners Increasingly Cite Crime as Reason for Ownership

Story Highlights

  • 88% of U.S. gun owners, up from 67% in 2005, own for crime protection
  • Owning guns for sporting purposes has been steady over time
  • 31% of U.S. adults, 44% of households own guns

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Sharply more U.S. gun owners today than in the 2000s say they own a gun for protection against crime. Eighty-eight percent of gun owners cite crime protection as a reason they own a gun, compared with two-thirds giving this reason in 2000 and 2005 surveys.

Meanwhile, similar proportions of gun owners now versus in the past have a gun for hunting or target shooting.

Line graph. Reasons gun owners give for owning a gun. In 2021, 88% of U.S. gun owners say they own a gun for protection against crime, up sharply from 67% in 2005 and 65% in 2000. Seventy percent own a gun for target shooting, similar to the 66% of gun owners in 2005 and the 67% in 2000 who said this. Fifty-six percent say they own a gun for hunting, compared with 58% in 2005 and 59% in 2000.

The latest results are based on Gallup's annual Crime survey, conducted Oct. 1-19. Gallup last asked gun owners why they owned guns, using this question format, in 2005. At that time, roughly as many gun owners said they owned a gun for target shooting (66%) as for crime protection (67%), with fewer having guns for hunting (58%). But crime protection has now emerged as the dominant reason.

Polling was done shortly after the FBI's annual crime report documented a record one-year increase in the murder rate between 2019 and 2020, which may have made personal protection more salient in gun owners' minds than in past years. Gallup finds that Americans perceive increased crime in their area and in the U.S., more generally. While perceptions of increased crime are more common today than when Gallup asked about gun ownership in 2000, they are similar to what they were in 2005. Crime victimization rates are also similar today to what they were in 2000 and 2005, if not slightly lower.

The shift toward crime as the most likely reason for owning a gun likely occurred well before now. U.S. gun owners also primarily mentioned protection against crime when Gallup in 2013 and 2019 asked, in an open-ended format, why they owned guns. In the open-ended questions, owners mentioned reasons beyond protection or sporting activities, including that they have guns that are family heirlooms, use a gun as part of their job or are exercising their Second Amendment rights.

Nearly One-Third of U.S. Adults Own a Gun

Thirty-one percent of U.S. adults say they personally own a gun. Personal ownership has generally held around 30% since Gallup first measured it in 2000.

Another 13% of U.S. adults say a household member other than themselves owns a gun. At 44%, household gun ownership is down slightly from where it was in the early 1990s, when between 50% and 54% of Americans said they had a gun in their home or on their property. Household gun ownership has generally been in the low to mid-40% range since 1996.

Line graph. Trends in gun ownership among U.S. adults from 1991 to 2021. Currently, 44% of U.S. adults say they or someone in their household owns a gun. The percentage has generally been in the low to mid-40s since 1996. It was higher in the early 1990s, including 50% in 1991 and 54% in 1993. Thirty-one percent of U.S. adults today personally own a gun. This percentage has generally been around 30% since Gallup first measured it in 2000.

Gallup has consistently found personal gun ownership rates to be significantly higher among men, Republicans, political conservatives, upper-income Americans, and those living in rural areas and in the South than among those in other subgroups. In 2021, Republicans (50%) and political conservatives (49%) have higher ownership levels than any other groups.

Bottom Line

Although U.S. gun ownership has remained relatively stable over the past 20 years, crime protection has surged among gun owners as the reason they own one. The vast majority of gun owners now say they purchased a firearm to protect themselves against crime. While crime protection has been a commonly cited motivation for owning a gun in the past, it was nowhere near as dominant a reason as it is today, and not much more common than other reasons such as target shooting or hunting.

Americans' attitudes about gun ownership have become more permissive in the past year, with fewer now calling for stricter gun laws and a record low in favor of a ban on handguns.

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