Given the current politically charged conversations going on about guns, ownership, background checks, etc., one would expect knowledge about the issues to be growing. That being said, it seems that there are still a lot of misnomers or misconceptions being tossed around.

I've found stats, like this (Big Think), that say that 30% of Americans own a firearm. As someone who used to own guns, but who no longer does, I'm actually very interested to learn what % of Americans have purchased a gun at some point in their life, even if they no longer own one.

Has anyone found data on this?


2 Answers 2


There was an interesting piece on the topic in The Guardian recently, that covered Remington filing for bankruptcy. The news item itself got little attention, probably because it occurred a day - hours, in fact - before the Valentine's day shooting. At any rate, quoting the interesting tidbit:

The US has the highest rate of gun ownership in the world with 88 guns for every 100 people. But just 3% of the population owns an average of 17 guns each, with an estimated 7.7 million super-owners in possession of between eight and 140 guns apiece.

Edit: Okwilleke also chimed in with this document in this answer's comment that puts the household owning a gun figure in 2014 (table 2) at 22.4% in the US. Assuming the figure is correct, I'm not entirely sure how to reconcile the difference. Gun owners vs households, perhaps? Maybe also owners with several guns vs a single one? Either way there you go...

As an aside, two other bits from the Guardian article were interesting:

“They call it the Trump slump,” said Robert Spitzer, a professor at the State University of New York at Cortland and the author of five books on guns.

“Gun sales have become politicized to a great degree,” he said. “Gun purchases recently have been made not just because someone wants a new product but to make a statement; not just because of fears that there might be tighter regulation but also to make a statement against Obama.” [...]

“Gun ownership has been declining since the 1970s and there are now fewer gun owners than ever,” said Spitzer. Fewer people are hunting, younger people are less interested in gun ownership and the gun industry has had little success in its attempts to appeal to women and minorities.

The article doesn't cite any specific research. It quotes industry insiders instead. As this isn't an opinion piece and the publication is reputable, I'd tend to trust the Guardian to do the relevant fact checking before publishing, or at the very least vet their sources.

Edit: I'd also stress that neither of the above two sources provide much notion of what the number of former gun owners is.

With this in mind, I'd also re-iterate the substance of the other two good answers (IMO). Namely, lawmakers forbade the US government to fund research on the topic, so figures are from industry insiders at best. And gun enthusiasts aren't too keen about being put in a database.

  • A pretty good proxy would be to look at the maximal level of gun ownership since the 1960s or 1970s and to increase the existing ownership rate for people old enough to have lived then to that rate. IIRC, it was about 50% then with most of the decline, crudely, due to rural hunters ditching their hunting rifles and shotguns when they moved to the city. This would imply a number ca. 35%-45% of ever owned.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 20:35
  • @ohwilleke, that estimate is larger than I would have expected, as I (maybe incorrectly) see myself as a minority (my thought is that most gun owners continue to be gun owners, thus there wouldn't be the 5 - 15% group of previous owners). Interesting way to go about solving the problem - thanks!
    – user20143
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 20:43
  • @Corey Not to put too fine a point on it, but if there is a 5%-15% group of previous owners, then previous owners are a 1/3rd to 1/7th minority of people who ever owned guns, so that isn't inconsistent with how you see yourself.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 20:45
  • It was 48.7% in 1973. norc.org/PDFs/GSS%20Reports/… and it is hardly a stretch to get it to 50% by sometime in the 1960s as the declining gun ownership rate is a long term secular trend. Good stats on total number of guns owned go back to 1945 and have no noticeable break in the trendline. gunwatch.blogspot.com/2015/06/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 20:48
  • 2
    How does this answer the question? You quote a number for people owning a lot of guns (3%, which is normally presented as the number of people who own half the guns), but that doesn't answer how many people own one or more guns much less how many people have ever owned guns. At best you (by adding the ohwilleke source) provide an alternative to the stat provided in the question.
    – Brythan
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 23:23

I suggest that while the data probably exists it is unlikely we will ever see it.

Databases of who owns a gun are explicitly feared by many gun enthusiasts, who are a meaningful political force.

The national background check database could be expected to acquire a reasonable proxy for that information, but by law it doesn't store it. ISP's may be able to estimate the count by logging these queries.

Probably larger retailers and credit card companies have meaningful chunks of the data, but that data is valuable so they probably won't give it away. Similarly advertisers probably have it, but consider it a competitive advantage so would be loath to reveal it.

  • Please be aware that, in some states, many buyers of firearms, that is, concealed carry permit holders, do not go through further background checks to buy a second, third, etc. firearm.
    – chili555
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 23:57
  • Also, those background check laws are fairly recent, while guns are quite durable. Many people either own guns acquired before those laws were in effect, or bought them from private parties, so no check was needed.
    – jamesqf
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 1:14
  • 2
    @chili555 , jamesqf in my reading of the question it asks for unique buyers, so inheritance or additional guns aren't relevant.
    – user9389
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 15:44

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