Thirty-one percent of the gun owners said they had used a firearm to defend themselves or their property

Tuesday, September 20th, 2022

The largest and most comprehensive survey of American gun owners ever conducted, based on a representative sample of about 54,000 adults, 16,708 of whom were gun owners, suggests that Americans use firearms in self-defense about 1.7 million times a year:

The overall adult gun ownership rate estimated by the survey, 32 percent, is consistent with recent research by Gallup and the Pew Research Center. So is the finding that the rate varies across racial and ethnic groups: It was about 25 percent among African Americans, 28 percent among Hispanics, 19 percent among Asians, and 34 percent among whites. Men accounted for about 58 percent of gun owners.

Because of the unusually large sample, the survey was able to produce state-specific estimates that are apt to be more reliable than previous estimates. Gun ownership rates ranged from about 16 percent in Massachusetts and Hawaii to more than 50 percent in Idaho and West Virginia.

The survey results indicate that Americans own some 415 million firearms, including 171 million handguns, 146 million rifles, and 98 million shotguns. About 30 percent of respondents reported that they had ever owned AR-15s or similar rifles, which are classified as “assault weapons” under several state laws and a proposed federal ban. Such legislation also commonly imposes a limit on magazine capacity, typically 10 rounds. Nearly half of the respondents (48 percent) said they had ever owned magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds.

Those results underline the practical challenges that legislators face when they try to eliminate “assault weapons” or “large capacity” magazines. The survey suggests that up to 44 million AR-15-style rifles and up to 542 million magazines with capacities exceeding 10 rounds are already in circulation.

Those are upper-bound estimates, since people who reported that they ever owned such rifles or magazines may have subsequently sold them. But even allowing for some double counting, these numbers suggest how unrealistic it is to suppose that bans will have a significant impact on criminal use of the targeted products. At the same time, widespread ownership of those products by law-abiding Americans makes the bans vulnerable to constitutional challenges.

Two-thirds of the respondents who reported owning AR-15-style rifles said they used them for recreational target shooting, while half mentioned hunting and a third mentioned competitive shooting. Sixty-two percent said they used such rifles for home defense, and 35 percent cited defense outside the home. Yet politicians who want to ban these rifles insist they are good for nothing but mass murder.


Thirty-one percent of the gun owners said they had used a firearm to defend themselves or their property, often on multiple occasions. As in previous research, the vast majority of such incidents (82 percent) did not involve firing a gun, let alone injuring or killing an attacker. In more than four-fifths of the cases, respondents reported that brandishing or mentioning a firearm was enough to eliminate the threat.

That reality helps explain the wide divergence in estimates of defensive gun uses.


About half of the defensive gun uses identified by the survey involved more than one assailant. Four-fifths occurred inside the gun owner’s home or on his property, while 9 percent happened in a public place and 3 percent happened at work. The most commonly used firearms were handguns (66 percent), followed by shotguns (21 percent) and rifles (13 percent).


  1. Goober says:

    Suppose I could share my story…

    Neighbor across the street came running, screaming bloody murder, towards my yard. I was in my front yard doing yard work. Ashe got closer, it was obvious that he was bleeding profusely from both of his forearms.

    I suspected right away that I was looking at defensive wounds and started looking for the guy who’d stabbed him. I shouted for my wife to go get my 357 and bring it out, while I took my shirt off and used it to staunch the blood flow.

    Neighbor told me his brother was on a meth bender, had come over demanding money, he’d told him no, and brother had stabbed him.

    Shortly after, brother came outside with the knife in his hand, shouting incoherently about the money he thought his brother had taken from him.

    I held my 357 up and told him that if he came across the street I’d shoot him, told him to stay over there, and waited for the police to show.

    EMTs were a block away but wouldn’t come until the police got there. So we waited.

    And waited.

    And waited.

    My wife said 23 minutes of me, standing by the curb line with my pistol in hand, brother sitting on the grass behind me bleeding, and the meth head pacing back and foth like a caged feral, seething with rage and obviously trying to decide whether he should just come on over or not. I thought for 23 minutes that at any second he’d lunge at me across the street, and I had it sorted that I’d wait until he hit the property line and then drop him.

    The police finally showed up. They were remarkably cool about me having a gun, i honestly figured they’d freak the fuck out and hold me at gunpoint and cuff me and everything, but they were totally non-plussed, didn’t even ask me to put it down. They got brother to drop the knife and surrender, and the situation was done.

    I’m positive, with every ounce of certainty, that if I hadn’t had that pistol that day, that I’d have ended up in a fist fight with a guy who had a chef knife, and god only knows where that would have ended up.

  2. Sam Vara says:


    Well done sir. People without guns should remember that if they are working in the yard, they would normally have some long-handled edged tools nearby. A good sharp spade or a lawn edging tool would be fine, but best of all would be a petrol chainsaw or brush-cutter.

  3. Wang Wei Lin says:

    If you own a gun carry it at all times.

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