Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country's guns

Studies indicate that most guns are owned by a small amount of Americans, while the majority's views on gun control issues are ignored by lawmakers.

Americans are not as gun-obsessed as some would like their countrymen to believe. Linking gun ownership to the identity of being an American has been a successful sales tactic that is more myth than reality. The numbers show that a small, unrepresentative, but disproportionately vocal portion of the American population, aided by self-serving politicians and a powerful lobby organization, has enacted its agenda over the majority of Americans, who do not own guns and would rather see much stronger gun safety regulations. 

How many Americans actually own a gun? A 2016 study by Harvard and Northeastern University put the total number of privately-owned firearms in the U.S. at 265 million, with more than half of that - 133 million - being concentrated in the hands of just 3% of Americans, called "super owners," who have an average of 17 guns each. 

For another perspective on this stunning statistic, consider that the Small Arms Survey estimates there to be around 650 million civilian-owned firearms total in the world. In contrast, about 200 million firearms are owned by the armed forces, while 26 million are in law enforcement hands. So we have 3% of Americans owning about 20% of the world’s stockpile of firearms.  

A 2017 poll by the Pew Research Center found that the amount of Americans who actually own a gun themselves is at about 30% of the country's citizens. Maybe this should be obvious math but here it goes anyway - about 70% of the people in the U.S. do not own a gun. Among households, 42% of Americans live in a home where someone keeps a gun. That leaves about 58% of Americans who live in a gun-free house.

credit: Pew Research Center

Overall, the percentage of gun owners in the U.S. has been declining relative to the population growth and is at an almost 40-year low, reported the Washington Post. Across a number of national polls, gun ownership has fallen by 10 to 20% from the 1970s.

If you want to chew on the numbers further, 48% of white men in America currently have a gun. That's compared to 24% of white women and 24% of nonwhite men, as well as 16% of nonwhite women. 

One other telling characteristic - the less education you have, the more likely you are a gun owner. About a third (31%) of the people who only have a high school diploma have a gun, 34% of those who some college education, but only a quarter of those with a bachelor's degree report to be gun owners. Among whites only, the number of high school diploma owners with a gun jumps up to 40%, compared to 26% for college graduates.

Another factor that plays into this - the farther you live from a city, the more likely you are to own a gun, as 46% of Americans who live in rural areas are gun owners. This is in contrast to 28% of suburbanites or 19% of those who live in urban areas, who feel compelled to get a weapon. 

Combine this with the statistics that the number one reason (among 67%) for owning a gun is "protection," while 89% of gun owners see having one as important to their overall identity and another 85% say guns are essential to their sense of freedom.  

Located next to a Wellness store, this is the Sunrise Tactical Supply store in Coral Springs, Florida on February 16, 2018 where school shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his AR-15 to gun down students at Marjory Stoneman High School. (Photo credit: MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)

It's also telling that among gun owners, only 66% say they keep their guns in a locked place (34% don't), 59% take gun safety courses while 41% keep their shooting skills up to date. Only 44% keep all their guns unloaded, 26% tell visitors with children that there are guns in the house and only 5% would share that knowledge with those who come to their house without children. 

So, accordingly, a large enough proportion of gun owners are not up to speed on how to use their guns, don't keep them locked up or unloaded and won't tell others they have guns in the house, even if children are involved. 

Now, how many people are involved with the all-powerful National Rifle Association (NRA)? There are about 5 million members of the NRA, the leading gun lobby organization. Of course, the NRA has some stats of its own, looking to bolster its percentages in a country of 321 milliion. It counters that if you take into account lapsed memberships and people whose family members are in the NRA, you can get "more than 14 million Americans” who “consider themselves NRA members."

It's telling, of course, that the NRA is counting members by estimating what people might be thinking rather than actual facts, while spending at least $203.2 million dollars on political activities which include donating to candidates and lobbying, since 1998 (as per PolitFact). The group also often spends money indirectly to help defeat any legislation that it may perceive to be lessening gun rights or contributes to candidates through affiliates. 

A protester holds a sign that reads, 'NRA Stop Killing Our Kids', outside the court-room where Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was having a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse on February 15, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Charles Trainor Jr. - Pool/Getty Images)

The NRA was a significant factor in the repeal of an Obama-era law that was blocking mentally ill people from purchasing guns. The measure to nix the existing rule was signed by President Trump in one his first actions on the job. This fact has come back to life with a vengeance in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Florida, where a mentally unstable teenager, who was repeatedly reported to the authorities, was somehow allowed to purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle - the weapon with which he carried out the horrific tragedy of murdering 17 people. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 89% of both gun-owners and non-gun owners agree that there should be legislation that would prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns. 77% of gun owners and 87% of non-gun owners (84% of total adults) think there should be background checks for private sales and at gun shows, closing the “gun show loophole”. Over 80% of both groups would bar gun purchases to people on the no-fly or watch lists, and 71% would create a federal database to track gun sales.  

Semi-automatic AR-15's is shown at Good Guys Guns & Range on February 15, 2018 in Orem, Utah. An AR-15 was used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)

Disagreements start to creep in when talking about banning assault-style weapons like the AR-15, with 77% of non-gun owners being in favor, and 48% of gun owners, which still makes for 68% of all adults. Similarly, 65% of all adults would ban high-capacity magazines. 

Of course, as regulations stall, the sheer amount of guns in America is staggering to consider as is the number of mass shootings, with more than one mass shooting happening per day on average. It is a shameful statistic for a developed country and a world leader. Stronger laws are necessary but any attempt at them has been constantly pushed back by gun-lobby influenced politicians. In fact, the opposite has been happening - there are fewer restrictions than ever.

One other factor to consider if you think the gun lobby cannot be stopped and nothing will ever change in America - as of 2018, gun sales are going down. It's not hard to guess why - President Obama is out of office and "fear-based buying" is down with the pro-gun President Trump in office. No longer can it be claimed by the gun industry that Obama is coming to take anyone’s guns.

And maybe that's how it should be. What people who see gun control as necessary need is to cause a change in consciousness that cannot be enacted by any one man or woman. The majority of Americans see plainly the danger unregulated guns continue to pose to their society but must finally feel their power in numbers. They have to organize and make changes to the reality where a relatively small amount of passionate people, who see guns as essential to their identity (which is not a part of the national character of America), dictate their will.

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less

Space-faring humans: Why billionaires, not NASA, will get us there

Mega-rich entrepreneurs are taking us where no human being has gone before.

  • During the first golden era of space exploration, we went to the moon. Then we sort of dropped the ball for 50 years.
  • The problem is space travel is very expensive, especially the way governments do space travel.
  • Because it costs $10,000 to put a pound of anything into orbit around the planet, we need to have an infusion of public and private funds. That's where billionaires such as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos come into the picture. With their help, we have new energies, new strategies, and new plans to go back into outer space.

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less

Apple CEO Tim Cook calls for graduates to overcome "political noise" and algorithms

Cook's commencement speech at Tulane University urges students to take action.

Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
  • Apple CEO Tim Cook gave a commencement speech at Tulane University on May 18th.
  • Cook cautioned the graduates to not get caught up in echo chambers and algorithms.
  • He acknowledged the failures of his generation.
Keep reading Show less