Before researchers and policymakers could understand how best to address gun violence in America, they needed to understand the extent and nature of gun ownership, both legal and illegal. Extensive research was conducted in the early 1990s to determine who owns guns in America.
In 1994, NIJ-sponsored researchers conducted a large telephone survey of Americans to determine how common gun ownership really was, and how people used firearms. While some of the data may be out of date, the study does provide a valuable snapshot.
- In 1994, 44 million Americans owned 192 million firearms, of which about 65 million were handguns. Some 25 percent of adults owned firearms; 74 percent of this group owned two or more.
- Gun ownership was highest among middle-aged, college-educated residents of rural America. Whites were significantly more likely to own firearms than members of other racial groups. Men were more likely to own firearms than women.
- The most common motivation for owning firearms was recreation, including hunting and sport shooting. Forty-six percent of respondents reported owning a firearm primarily for protection against crime.
- There were 13.7 million firearm transactions in 1993-1994, including 6.5 million handguns. About 60 percent of gun acquisitions involved federally licensed dealers.
- About 211,000 handguns and 382,000 long guns (mostly rifles and shotguns) were stolen in noncommercial thefts in 1994.
- Slightly more than half of all privately owned firearms were stored unlocked; 16 percent of firearms were stored unlocked and loaded.
- In 1994, some 14 million adults (about one-third of gun owners) carried a firearm in their vehicles or on their person for protection at least once.
Evidence suggests that the 1994 survey and others like it overestimate the frequency with which firearms were used by private citizens to defend against criminal attack.
Read "Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms" a Research in Brief by Philip J. Cook and Jens Ludwig, U.S. Department of Justice, National Institute of Justice (Washington, DC), May 1997.
The additional reports below provided essential information about gun ownership and the effectiveness of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) firearms tracing data and illicit gun trafficking. These data were instrumental in helping NIJ, national and local policymakers, researchers and law enforcement practitioners develop gun violence reduction strategies.
- Gun Acquisition and Possession in Selected Juvenile Samples, by J.F. Sheley and J.D. Wright, Research in Brief, December 1993, NCJ 145326.
- Illegal Firearms: Access and Use by Arrestees, by S.H. Decker et al., Research in Brief, January 1997, NCJ 163496. Prior research preview of this study: Arrestees and Guns: Monitoring the Illegal Firearms Market, September 1995, NCJ 184205.
- Firearms and Violence, by J.A. Roth, Research in Brief, September 1995, NCJ 145533.
- Weapon-Related Victimization in Selected Inner-City High School Samples, by J.F. Sheley et al., final report to NIJ, 1995, NCJ 151526.
- The Limitations of BATF Firearms Tracing Data for Policymaking and Homicide Research, in Proceedings of the Homicide Research Working Group Meetings, 1997 and 1998 (see Part II), National Institute of Justice, 1999, NCJ 175709.
Recent gun surveys have been published by nongovernmental sources. Two important recent studies are:
- Evaluating Gun Policy: Effects on Crime and Violence, by L. Ludwig and P. Cook, eds., The Brookings Institution, 2003. Read an abstract of the entire book from the Brookings Institution abstract Exit Notice.
National Criminal Justice Reference Service abstracts of chapters in this book:
- Crime Gun Risk Factors: Buyer, Seller, Firearm, and Transaction Characteristics Associated with Gun Trafficking and Criminal Gun Use, final report to NIJ, by C.S. Koper, 2007, NCJ 221074.