Men are three times more likely than women to personally own guns, representing one of the largest demographic differences in gun ownership, according to an analysis of Gallup polls from 2007 to 2012. Gun ownership also varies significantly by region, with Southerners more likely to own guns than those living in other regions of the United States. Marriage is also a strong predictor of gun ownership.
These findings are based on aggregated data from six separate Gallup polls that asked about gun ownership -- one each year from 2007 through 2012. The analyses presented here are based on interviews with more than 6,000 U.S. adults.
Across those six data sets, an average of 30 percent of Americans said they personally own a gun. Another 14 percent did not personally own a gun but live in a household with someone who does. The results presented here focus mainly on personal gun ownership, though the demographic patterns are similar among the larger group of Americans living in gun households.
In addition to gender, Southern residence, and marital status, personal gun ownership also varies significantly by age, race, and political ideology.
- Non-Hispanic whites (33 percent) are significantly more likely than nonwhites (22 percent) to own guns. Hispanics (18 percent) in particular show below-average gun ownership. Twenty-one percent of blacks own a gun.
- Younger Americans (20 percent) are much less likely to own guns than older Americans. There are only minor differences among adults 30 and older by age group (ranging between 31 percent and 34 percent).
- Gun ownership is much higher among those who are politically conservative (39 percent) than among those who are politically liberal (17 percent).
However, gender is by far the strongest predictor of personally owning a gun. A statistical model shows the odds of a man owning a gun are five times greater than the odds of a woman owning a gun, once the influence of other factors related to gun ownership is taken into account. Being from the South and being married are the next-most influential predictors; each is associated with 1.7 times greater odds of owning a gun than among those who are not married and among those who do not live in the South. Being Hispanic and being from the East are associated with lower gun ownership, but on a relative basis, these are the next strongest predictors of gun ownership, followed by race, ideology, and age.
Notably, while Republican Party identification is associated with higher rates of gun ownership – 38 percent versus 22 percent for Democrats -- the statistical model shows party is a weaker predictor of gun ownership, once other factors are taken into account. In other words, higher rates of Republican gun ownership likely result more from the fact that men, Southerners, and married people tend to identify as Republicans than from something about being a Republican drawing one to owning a gun.
Given the results of the statistical model, it follows that the highest rate of gun ownership Gallup found among subgroups is for married Southern males. The greater influence of marital status than race is evident from the fact that married Southern males have higher gun ownership than white Southern males, and married men (of all races) are more likely to own a gun than white men (of all marital statuses). Also, the strong effect of gender is apparent from the preponderance of male subgroups near the top of the list of gun ownership below, and female groups near the bottom. The lowest-ranked group is non-Southern unmarried women.
Gender Also an Important in Gun Household Rates, but Not the Most
The strong relationship between gender and personal gun ownership may be due to men's being more likely than women to participate in activities that require guns, such as hunting or sport shooting. And gun ownership in general may appeal more to men than to women for those who do not actively use guns for recreational activities. Last, men are more likely to have served in the military and thus to have had experience with firearms. That doesn't mean women have hardly any exposure to guns, though, given that many women live in a household that has a gun, even if they are not that gun's owner.
Gender is an important factor in predicting whether someone lives in a gun household -- a broader definition than personal gun ownership -- but it is not the most important one. Rather, being married is. Overall, 55 percent of those who are married live in gun households, compared with 31 percent who are not married. The statistical model shows married Americans are 2.5 times more likely to own guns than those who are not married, taking into account the effects of other factors. After marital status, the strongest predictors of having a gun in the household are gender and living outside the East -- Eastern residents are 1.7 times less likely to have a gun in the household than those living elsewhere. Race and Southern residence are also highly related to living in a gun household.
Two of the groups most likely to have a gun in the household are married Southern males (70 percent) and married Southern females (62 percent). Southern white males, at 66 percent, are also among the most likely to have a gun in the household.
Gun owners are predominantly male, and Southern residents are especially likely to own guns. Those patterns are fairly well known, and likely a result of cultural factors, but being married is also a major predictor of personally owning a gun or having a gun in the household. The reasons behind the relationship between marital status and gun ownership are not obvious, though it could be that marriage rates are higher among other subgroups that tend to own guns, such as older Americans and those who are politically conservative. Married people may also have greater financial resources to own a gun, and may be more likely to feel a need to own a gun for security reasons (though there is no difference in gun ownership among people with and without young children).
The high level of gun ownership in the United States -- nearly one in three Americans personally own a gun and nearly half of households do -- means efforts in Washington to restrict gun ownership will potentially affect tens of millions of Americans. From a political standpoint, the question is whether those gun owners are more likely to see possible new restrictions on guns as a necessary step to try to limit gun violence in the United States or as an unacceptable limitation on their ability to own guns.