70 million more firearms added to US gun stock over past 20 years, study says

70 million more firearms added to US gun stock over past 20 years, study says
Credit: Greg St. Martin

The estimated number of privately-owned guns in America grew by more than 70 million—to approximately 265 million—between 1994 and 2015, and half of that gun stock is owned by only 3 percent of the population, according to a comprehensive national survey co-led by Northeastern University.

The survey, conducted in collaboration with Harvard University, is the first nationally representative survey of firearm ownership and use in more than a decade, according to Matthew Miller, professor of health sciences and epidemiology at Northeastern.

"This is the first survey in over a decade to assess why people own , how many guns they own, and what their attitudes about guns are," Miller said.

Long guns, such as rifles and shotguns, make up the majority of the U.S. gun stock. But the study found that handguns represent the majority of new guns acquired over the past 20 years, making up 42 percent of the total civilian-owned gunstock in the U.S., compared to one-third two decades ago. Although the percentage of adult gun owners in America has slightly declined—22 percent in 2015, compared to 25 percent in 1994—because of population growth, in 2015 there were approximately 10 million more U.S. gun owners (55 million) than there were in 1994 (45 million). The researchers report that gun owners each own, on average, more guns today (five) than they did two decades ago (four).

"Gun ownership has become modestly more concentrated," Miller said, noting that while the median gun owner owns two guns, 8 percent of all gun owners own 10 or more guns and these owners account for about 40 percent of the gun stock. Miller stressed that this finding should not distract from the broader observations in the study that approximately one in every three Americans—including one in three children—currently live in homes with firearms, which, he emphasized, we know places all household members at elevated risk of injury and death, especially from suicide.

Miller underscored that the survey shows a dramatic shift in the motivations for . Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of all gun owners surveyed—and 76 percent of handgun owners—reported that protection was one of their primary reasons for ownership. Miller said these findings are in stark contrast to the mid-1990s, when the last comprehensive survey to assess reasons for gun ownership, the 1994 National Firearm Survey, found that 46 percent of gun owners cited protection as the principal reason for gun ownership (the majority cited recreation, such as hunting or target shooting).

"What's seems to have changed over time is the type of guns U.S. civilians own and the reasons they own them," he said.

The researchers also asked owners about how they acquired their guns. Of respondents who said they acquired their most recent gun in the past two years, approximately 80 percent said they purchased them, while the rest said they got them as gifts, through inheritance, or by other non-purchase ways. Of those who purchased their guns, three-quarters said they bought them at a store, while the rest said they acquired them through purchase from a family member, friend, gun show, pawn shop, or online.

The researchers noted that the study can help inform public health, public safety, and public policy discussions around guns and gun transfers.

"It's a building block for any kind of public health assessment to reduce gun-related violence," Miller said. "It's inconceivable to do something about, say lung cancer, without knowing who smokes, how much they smoke, and why they smoke. It's been over a decade since we've had a good survey measure of why [people] own guns in this country, what types of guns they own, and how often they purchase or otherwise transfer guns to one another."

Consistent with past surveys, the researchers' findings indicate that gun owners overall are disproportionately male, white, non-urban, and from the South. Some differences, however, emerged in this new survey when comparing owners of only handguns or long guns to those who own both. For example, the researchers found that respondents who owned only handguns were just as likely to live in urban environments as rural ones, and to be demographically more diverse compared with owners of long guns.

Other findings:

  • 5 percent of gun owners reported having disposed of a gun in the past five years, with 35 percent of those owners indicating that was by sale to a family member or friend.
  • 2.5 percent of those surveyed reported having had a gun stolen within the past five years, accounting for an estimated 250,000–550,000 guns per year
  • 70 million guns changed hands over past five years, the majority of which through purchase
  • Female gun owners were more likely than male gun owners to report owning any gun for protection

The findings are based on a survey in November 2015 of 3,949 adult Americans, sampled so as to allow nationally representative estimates. The complete findings will be published next year by the Russell Sage Foundation.


Explore further

Almost one in three US adults owns at least one gun

Citation: 70 million more firearms added to US gun stock over past 20 years, study says (2016, September 26) retrieved 19 August 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2016-09-million-firearms-added-gun-stock.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
14 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 26, 2016
Its funny how they portray people with 'an arsenal' as being somehow more dangerous. Somebody please tell them you can only shoot 1 gun (or maybe 2 but not as well) at a time.

Guns are tools. You need the right tool for the job. You dont hunt turkey with a .22 nor do you protect your home with a duck gun.

Sep 26, 2016
Different kinds of guns are appropriate for various activities. For example, a classic double barrel shotgun that is good for shooting trap or skeet may be too heavy to take on an all-day rabbit hunt. An AR-15 may make a pretty good varmint gun but it isn't a good rifle for hunting deer (in fact, it may not even be legal in some states because the bullet is too small). A large handgun (.45 caliber) would be reasonable if you are concerned about bears while fishing, but it might be too large for easy concealment in licensed concealed carry applications.

This article was written as if all guns are the same. They're not. I expect the next stupid survey from these people will be written about cars, as if they're all the same too. This is ridiculous.

Sep 26, 2016
Its funny how they portray people with 'an arsenal' as being somehow more dangerous. Somebody please tell them you can only shoot 1 gun (or maybe 2 but not as well) at a time.


It's a question of context, and who the guns are actually for.

A guy with an arsenal is a great target for criminals - one gig and you can arm a whole gang of criminals by looting some prepper's homemade barracks - or the gun "collector" himself might sometimes be looking to arm a gang for a personal army or a cult, or domestic terrorism.

According to the numbers, there's about 5.6 million of these hoarders around the US.

Sep 26, 2016
A guy with an arsenal is a great target for criminals
Youre from somewhere in eurodisneyworld arent you?

1) Gun owners with many guns by and large have gun safes.
2) Gun owners by and large have guns.

Each makes it harder to victimize them.

Gun statistics are very difficult to use for comparisons but let me state the obvious; making guns illegal will only increase the market for illegally imported guns. Guns are much easier to smuggle than drugs because they arent perishable and they dont smell..

Warehouses around the world are full of full-auto weapons looking for buyers; and full-auto guns are easier to manufacture than semi-auto guns.

"The 22 Kalashnikov-style assault rifles and nine machine guns were described by police from the National Crime Agency as "mass casualty weapons". They were intercepted in an operation led by the NCA after being smuggled from eastern Europe to France and across the Channel in a motor boat which docked in Kent last August."

Sep 26, 2016
This article was written as if all guns are the same. They're not.


I think you're projecting something that isn't actually in the article.

And the case for 10 or more guns gets a little sketchy any way you put it.

Each makes it harder to victimize them.


In theory.

making guns illegal will only increase the market for illegally imported guns.


Jumping to conclusions?
Guns are much easier to smuggle than drugs because they arent perishable and they dont smell..


They do however respond well to metal detector and have a distinct shape on x-ray imaging, so getting crates and crates full across the borders discreetly tends to be a problem. The more immediate problem is the half a million guns that go missing every year and end up on the black market anyhow.

Sep 26, 2016
and they dont smell..


Actually, they kinda do. At least the smokeless gunpowder does register on chemicals detectors as a common explosive, and old Soviet surplus ammunition tends to be unstable anyhow.

Sep 27, 2016
How many of 40-odd shooters each weekend in Chicago or Stockton were legal gun owners? Why when they are caught the first time with illegal firearms aren't they given 10 years in jail? Some of these goofballs get less than a year.

Sep 27, 2016
Eikka, who are you to tell anyone how much of what they can own? If someone wants to collect firearms, what's wrong with that?

I have a family that is very much in to shooting sports. If we cared to, we could easily find cause to own a dozen firearms or more. I know other families that DO own "arsenals." Who cares? They're not breaking laws. What difference does it make?

Are you going to tell people not to own nice cars because they might get stolen and used to commit crimes?

That line of thinking doesn't work either.

Sep 27, 2016
Jumping to conclusions?
I gave you only 1 of many many examples.
They do however respond well to metal detector and have a distinct shape on x-ray imaging, so getting crates and crates full across the borders discreetly tends to be a problem
How many trucks, shipping containers and drug tunnel warehouses are routinely x-rayed I wonder?

" CBP also identifies about 5 percent of all incoming seaborne
containers as high risk, and it inspects those containers with X-ray or gamma-ray "

-Oh.

Sep 27, 2016
Actually, they kinda do. At least the smokeless gunpowder does register on chemicals detectors as a common explosive, and old Soviet surplus ammunition tends to be unstable anyhow
Right you are. But this only leads us back to whether making guns illegal creates a market or not.

"A major problem facing law enforcement agencies especially in the Caribbean and Central American countries is the illegal importation of firearms and ammunition. The importation of illegal firearms poses a great risk to Caribbean and Central American countries. These countries have seen a dramatic increase in gun related crimes in the past few years. Our canines are being utilized at airports, ferry terminals, cargo shipping ports and cruise ships, as well as assisting local police departments in home searches and traffic stops to detect the presence of firearms and ammunition."

-And dogs would only be used in checking about 5% of all LEGAL import containers.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more