Monday, March 18, 2013

Why Americans Own Guns

Why do Americans own guns?

A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center provides us with insight into why Americans own guns and how the reasons why gun ownership is important have changed over the decades.

First, let's open by looking at American crime statistics for the years 1999 and 2011, a similar timeframe to the reference years used by Pew:


Total Population - 272,690,813
Total Crimes - 11,634,378
Per Capita Crime Rate - 0.043 crimes
Total Violent Crimes - 1,426,044
Per Capita Violent Crimes - 0.0052 violent crimes


Total Population - 311,591,917
Total Crimes - 10,266,737
Per Capita Crime Rate - 0.033 crimes
Total Violent Crimes - 1,203,564
Per Capita Violent Crimes - 0.0039 violent crimes

You can see that, on a per capita basis, the number of overall crimes and the number of violent crimes have both decreased over the period from 1999 to 2011.  In the case of violent crimes, the per capita rate has dropped by 25 percent over the period, a rather substantial drop.

Now, back to the Pew analysis.  As you read through these statistics, keep in mind that 57 percent of Americans state that they do not have a gun in their household.  Only 24 percent of Americans state that they personally own a gun and 13 percent state that someone in their household owns a gun.

The survey conducted in February 2013 asked American households why they owned guns, if indeed they did.  Here are the results for both 2013 and 1999:

According to the survey, the reasons why gun-owning American households own guns have changed markedly over the decade and a half since 1999.  A substantial 49 percent of American households that owned a gun in 1999 owned one (or more) for hunting.  By 2013, this had dropped to 32 percent.  In contrast, only 26 percent of American gun-owning households in 1999 owned a gun for protection; this rose sharply to 48 percent in 2013.

Of the Americans that personally own guns, 79 percent state that owning a gun makes them feel safer and only 7 percent state that owning a gun makes them feel uncomfortable.  Of all gun-owing households (where someone in the house owns a gun), 64 percent state that having a gun in their house makes them feel safer.

If you look back to the beginning of this post where I look at overall crime statistics and violent crime statistics for 1999 and 2011, it is apparent that on a per capita basis, crime rates are falling.  This is happening at the same time that an increasing number of American households own a gun primarily because it provides them with a sense of protection.

Odd, isn't it?  I guess it's all about perception....and fear.


  1. Odd, no maybe correlate the data and see if more legal gun ownership has helped drive down the violent crime caused by criminals. I don’t have the site/reference but the States with the least amount of violent crimes are also the states with the "weakest" or least restrictive gun laws.
    I know if I were a criminal wanting to commit armed robbery I'd want to rob in place like NYC where there is little chance the clerk is packing. Rather than taking the risk in say Florida where the chance is more like 50/50.

    1. We know that's not the case because the same thing is happening throughout the industrialized world. The wave of violent crime began in the 60's, peaked in the 80's, and is now burning out. It was the same for all affected nations despite wildly different social and law enforcement responses. Truth be told, we have no idea how, or even if it's possible to, deter crime.

  2. Check your math please - 0.043 crimes per person, not per million persons, etc. It sure would be nice to live in a place with less than one crime per 20 million people!
    And by the way, crime statistics and gun ownership are not the only criteria for assessing the complex interrelationships between consumption and societal health. Associating gun ownership with a decrease in violent crime is specious in this case unless it is possible to show a direct causal relationship proving that these private gun owners somehow were responsible for the decrease in per capita crime rates. Be careful how you try to show this - I am sure that nobody wants to denigrate the fine work accomplished by law enforcement, education, organized religion, etc.

  3. I don't think the writer is suggesting a causal relationship between increased gun ownership and decreased crime at all - far from. Rather, the relatively small increase in gun ownership, in a nation already saturated with gun owners relative to other developed countries, does parallel a large change in the biggest reason given for gun ownership - from hunting/sport use to "protection". This happened *despite* declining rates of crime and violent crime specifically. In other words, the supposed logic behind the largest and growing reason for gun ownership - protection of self and family - is in contradiction of the reality that violent crime rates are fairly low, and dropping. That's quite aside from the fact that the statistics show gun owners should be nervous about owning a gun, as the numbers show a gun in the home is strongly associated with increased rates of successful suicides (triple), and of a gun being used, accidentally or otherwise, for violence against a member of the household (5 times greater).

    1. Why do Americans own guns?, part of the checks and balances with-in the Constitution.
      Take away the guns and politicians will no longer fear the people.

      Violent crime is a reflection of socioeconomic reality.
      When jobs are plentiful, and people can't easily live off the Government tit, crime goes down.

      This surveys time span is to small to even consider a "change" in anything or anyone. Grasping at straws.