Common Use: Academic Survey Shows Over 30% Of Gun Owners Have Owned AR Style Rifles

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Wake Forest sociology professor David Yamane is an active analyst of America’s gun culture and runs the Gun Curious blog. He also teaches a course in the sociology of guns. In his latest Light Over Heat video, Dr. Yamane calls attention to a survey done last year by Georgetown Professor William English.

From the survey’s abstract . . .

This report summarizes the findings of a national survey of firearms ownership and use conducted between February 17th and March 23rd, 2021 by the professional survey firm Centiment. This survey, which is part of a larger book project, aims to provide the most comprehensive assessment of firearms ownership and use patterns in America to date. This online survey was administered to a representative sample of approximately fifty-four thousand U.S. residents aged 18 and over, and it identified 16,708 gun owners who were, in turn, asked in-depth questions about their ownership and their use of firearms, including defensive uses of firearms.

English is also the author of a paper last year titled The Right to Carry Has Not Increased Crime: Improving an Old Debate Through Better Data on Permit Growth Over Time.

In the 2021 national survey, English set out to, among other things, determine exactly how prevalent AR-pattern rifle and “high capacity” magazine ownership really is among America’s gun owners. That’s not merely an academic question as the Heller decision established the “common use” standard for firearms that can’t be regulated out of existence by hoplophobic politicians.

What exactly constitutes “common use” is, of course, an angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin, you-know-it-when-you-see-it style subjective legal question. But as Professor Yamane notes, Professor English’s survey found that just over 30% of gun owners report ownership (past or present) of an AR-15 style rifle. He also found almost half of gun owners surveyed report owning “high capacity” magazines, those that hold over 10 rounds of ammunition.

Yamane isn’t an attorney and neither are we. But English’s survey has turned up AR ownership by roughly 25 million (higher than the number usually quoted) and “high capacity” magazine ownership by close to 50 million gun owners (which seems low to us).

As Yamane puts it . . .

If we look at one-third to half of gun owners, I would say that ownership of AR-15-style rifles and high or standard capacity magazines is fairly common empirically.

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. Whether you’re a fan of the “common use” standard or not, that’s the law of the land right now. And data such as these demonstrate — quite clearly — that any efforts to limit magazine capacity and ban scary-looking firearms are, by any measure, unconstitutional. That’s hopefully something that the Supreme Court’s pending decision in the New York case and others will help to further clarify.

See Professor English’s full 2021 National Firearms Survey results here.


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    • I read a book by Neil Stephenson in which he makes a spot on quote: “Arguing with a stranger on the internet is a losers game; they inevitably turn out to be or are indistinguishable from a sanctimonious 16 year old with infinite amounts of time.”

      IOW, a troll who favors contention over loneliness.

    • do the math…we are approaching 400 million guns in this country…the vast majority handguns.many with 10+ magazine capacity…..AR-like weapons number around 20 million

      • “we are approaching 400 million guns in this country”

        doesn’t seem to matter, there’s no well-regulated militia to use them.

        the number of citizens, on the other hand, continues to decrease ….

        • people can form into small armed groups rather quickly when the need arises…[aka a militia]…saw it happen back in the sixties…as long as you stay within the context of the law you’re as well-regulated as you need to be….

        • “there’s no well-regulated militia to use them.” An assumption by you. Perhaps those local to you don’t trust you.

        • “Perhaps those local to you don’t trust you”

          (laugh) good answer. well I do see the local redskins in the hills around here, practicing with their high-end (casino money paid for) weapons for the day they can go on the warpath again against the white man. THEY have a militia, but I don’t think they’re the kind of militia you have in mind ….

        • “Perhaps those local to you don’t trust you”

          (laugh) good answer. well I do see the local indiians in the hills around here, practicing with their high-end (casino money paid for) weapons for the day they can go on the waarpath again against the whiite man. THEY have a militia, but I don’t think they’re the kind of militia you have in mind

        • @frank,

          I saw it happen only two years ago, when BLM and Antifa were having their “mostly peaceful” protests as close as only fifteen minutes from my neighborhood. The men (and one very pro-2A woman) on my street quickly sought to know each other better, and we formed a group and a plan, should anyone try anything against us.

          Derp troll, AKA All Hail, would remember this as the “killbox” conversation.

        • CWT. Hit it dead center. Rant7 hasn’t learned that strutting around in Hugo Boss and declaring himself the savior of the aryan race makes one look rather foolish. Not heroic or trustworthy.

        • The Right to keep and bears arm is not contingent on a militia.
          The Right is “OF THE PEOPLE” when needed ARE the Militia.

        • “Militia’s got nothing to do with it”

          ‘t’s got everything to do with it. unless you want to wind up like rittenhouse, alone and on the ground while the coherent mob probes you for a weakness.

          “ARE the Militia”

          not unless you’re in one, else you’re just strutting around in Hugo Boss declaring yourself the sovereign individual savior of the constitution.

        • There is a well regulated militia…it just doesn’t advertise itself like you think it should. We are the Militia…or don’t you understand that concept yet. There are more than enough hunters in this country with enough skill to take out just about any standing army…Fact.

      • frank speaks So what? I don’t give a rat’s behind if they have 10 rds or 17 rds capacity. What has that to do with anything?

        I own two AR-s (a flat top and one with the carrying handle). So what? I use mine for varmint hunting. Are you really that afraid of those “scary black rifles”?

        What is the fricking problem?

      • frank speak Yep there were people in the ’60’s that formed militia groups. So what? Are all militia groups bad?

        do you consider the BLA, the Black Panthers, etc to be ‘militia’ groups?

        • they most certainly are. the problem is they don’t work for you, or the constitution, or america, nor do they intend to.

        • rant7 That would be your OPINION. The fact is that most militias are very pro-America and Constitution. You skirted my question. Do you consider the BLA, the Black Panthers, etc to be “militia” groups?

      • once you get into AR’s you often find yourself buying uppers and lowers…it’s one of the basic appeals of this weapon system…

        • And then swapping out lowers, uppers, barrels, gas blocks, trigger assemblies, recoil assemblies, etc., until you have enough leftover parts to build two or three more. While I’m not a gigantic fan of the anemic 5.56 poodleshooter, I am a YUGE fan of the platform! Other than the fact that they are addictive – “This would be a great AR with an adjustable gas block! I think I’ll swap it out. Ooh, maybe I should get a match barrel, while I’m at it!” I didn’t have a budget for my AR builds . . . but I’ve drastically exceeded it.

    • Yeah, but why? The AR platform isn’t THAT nice. There’s other types of ‘modern sporting rifles’ that arn’t specially AR platform that are arguably better than the AR. 😛

      Now that I think about it I wonder what that percentage would be if you did ask how many gun owners have any kind of modern rifle. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was over 50%.

      • Mr Lamp: so you don’t like anemic 556? Check out Patriot Ordinance Factory Revolution. AR chambered in 308. Excellent review at Alabama Arsenal. And yes it’s expensive

        • Johna,

          Somehow, your response showed up under a different comment, but I saw it, so . . . yeah, there are AR rifles in 7.62 NATO (I always thought they were called AR-10s, and there are significant differences in the internals between AR-10s and AR-15s, although these days, who knows??).

          I have an AR-10, and I like it a lot. I prefer it to the AR-15 (although I would argue that an AR-15 is better for home defense; the idea of popping off a 7.62 round in most houses would seem to pretty thoroughly violate Jeff Cooper’s Rule Four, ’cause it will go through your walls, your neighbor’s walls, and HIS neighbor’s walls).

          Although, if I had lots of spare cash, I’d probably opt for an FN-SCAR (although I wouldn’t turn down an FN-FAL), but me no got da kine.

      • ARs are just everywhere,.and everyone has them. Other “similar” rifles are FAR less the American context. Sure, quite a few guys like AKs, and some like Mini-14,Tavor, SCAR, M1A, FAL, G3, etc. Still, I bet ARs outsell AKs 10 to 1 or more, and outsell each of the others I listed by even greater margins. Also, I bet almost everyone who has one of those other rifles I listed also has an AR.

        Show me a guy with a FAL or an AK, and I’ll show you a guy that also has a couple of ARs in his safe.

    • AR’s are typically a mediocre rifle chambered in a woefully underpowered cartridge. I own quite a few of them and they are fun for plinking but I have other rifles for more serious use.

      • “AR’s are typically a mediocre rifle chambered in a woefully underpowered cartridge”

        And what underpowered cartridge would that be? Since ARs come in many different calibers I don’t think you know a lot about the subject.

        Why would anyone own quite a few of anything they thought was ‘woefully’ underpowered?

        • Cato, ROFLMAO! An AR is NOT a “mediocre rifle chambered in a woefully underpowered cartridge.

          The AR-15 is designed for “medium range” targeting.
          In the hands of a decent marksman, it is a rather powerful round. It has been known to hit an arm and travel up the bone making that arm useless. At the muzzle the velocity of a .223 REM is 3250 Ft per sec. with bullet weight of about 45 grs. At 100 yds is “slows” to a paltry 2850 ft per sec. IN the 5.56 MM its muzzle velocity is 3140 ft per sec (approx) “slowing” at 100 yrs to 2740Ft per sec.
          Maybe you don’t consider this “powerful” but most who know the AR-15 know differently. Your contention that is is not a decent firearm has often been repeated by anti-AR folks like yourself.
          In fact the AR is a very effective firearm used by varmint hunters. It fires a rather quick round and is accurate (depending on the factory manufacturing the ammo) out to 500 yrds.

      • “a mediocre rifle chambered in a woefully underpowered cartridge”

        for their role in military unit ground combat they’re just about perfect. to the extent that civilian use parallels that of the military they’re equally good.

      • They have their drawbacks, but also a ton of positives. They are very easy to use, easy to shoot accurately, and have basically no recoil. They are ubiquitous and inexpensive, as are the parts, ammo, and magazines.

        There are better rifles, but those better rifles typically can’t be had for the $500 a perfectly functional PSA AR15 goes for. That all makes it a great weapon for arming the average Joe American.

      • I wonder what the percentage of Americans that own an SKS would be now if they had continued to be imported in the quantity and price point that they were in the mid-1990s. New Chinese SKS rifles were $69-$79 each depending on 20-inch or chopped 16-inch barrels, pinned or screwed-in barrels, plastic or wood stocks, etc. Even excellent-condition, surplus, Russian-made SKS rifles were less than $100 each. They were much cheaper than a new Ruger 10/22. If this had continued longer, I think most gunowners would now have one of more SKS, and many millions more Americans would have bought an SKS as their first gun.

        • $80 of 1990 money would be about $200 today. If you could buy brand new Norinco SKS for sub $200, I’d probably be buying them like candy to hand out to family members.

          I like my Norinco SKS, but do prefer my PSA AR builds. PSA build kits are a pretty good way to go at this point.

    • After reading the original full 23 page document, that one little thing kept nagging at me. These numbers are deflated. Most of the people in my community that own firearms would deny that information to a stranger.

  1. I see the “common use” litmus test as pretty flawed, even if “its the best we have right now”.
    Consider a brand new firearm. By this single test, it cannot be in “common use” (depending on what the criteria are for declaring two firearms in common – ie, could one declare that “pistols are in common use, therefore you cannot restrict pistols”).

    Also, consider something like machine guns. Since there were only around 250k registered MGs by 1986 when FOPA+Hughes became law, the government made them de-facto “uncommon”.

    While I think it’s still too constrained, I think US v Miller was perhaps closer: if it has value and use in a militia/military environment, then it is protected.

    • First – 7.62×39 fan. Much cheaper and more common.
      Now that’s over. I completely agree. Miller got it right and Heller is completely flawed. Scalia was babbling absolute BS. Since the founders gave us “a” reason for the right to keep and bear arms, Miller correctly cites the “of efficacy to the military” as specifically protecting a type of arm. That finding essentially negates the NFA completely; it just hasn’t been litigated yet. Additionally, arguably, all arms are of efficacy to the military. All firearms are, or were, designed with war in mind.
      Rights, by their very definition are absolute. They are not subject to “reasonable” restrictions. The ability to exercise a right shall never be subject to limitation. Now, if such exercise then harms another, surely punishment is Constitutional. As far as I know no one has ever tried to ban words or thoughts. Not that the left wouldn’t if they could. Words and thoughts are the tools of free speech just as arms are the tools of the 2nd.

      • Miller upheld the NFA as constitutional. No one thereafter challenged its inclusion of machine guns and automatic rifles.

        • Well, no, it didn’t. ‘Miller’ was, and has never been, fully adjudicated. The decision was a ‘non-decision,’ in that the Court determined that no arguments had been made to defend the plaintiff’s case, and thus there had never been an actual challenge to the government’s position.

          “In the absence of any evidence tending to show that possession or use of a “shotgun having a barrel of less than eighteen inches in length” at this time has some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well regulated militia, we cannot say that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear such an instrument. Certainly it is not within judicial notice that this weapon is any part of the ordinary military equipment, or that its use could contribute to the common defense.”

          Or, translated: “As nobody has presented any evidence to the contrary, and nobody’s even here to argue against the government, we can’t very well find any differently than that the government is in the right. Now, if somebody HAD given us evidence to show that short-barreled shotguns WERE in common military use, we might have changed our minds. But we can’t.”

          ‘Miller’ was not a clear victory for anybody involved–especially for Miller, who was not just merely dead, but really most sincerely dead at the time. The government, on the other hand, did NOT get a clear, ironclad decision stating that short-barreled shotguns were NOT in common military use, and thus WERE covered by the NFA, leaving the argument open for a later case to address the matter with finality.

        • Dear John in AK
          Actually Miller was a clear victory, it just hasn’t been properly applied yet. And I wonder why. In Miller SCOTUS used the “of efficacy” test. And IMHO that is a reasonable test. Certainly if one applies that test to say machine guns, one must find that they are of efficacy to the military and thus specifically protected by the 2nd. Why this has not been the tested is beyond me.

    • To paraphrase Justice Gorsuch:

      Constitutionally speaking – what is the difference between a rifle that is in common use and one that is not?

      The answer is that there is no difference – their possession and use are protected by the second amendment.

      The “common use” ruling was conjured out of thin air – there is no constitutional principle to support it.

  2. Great googly! 30 percent of 100 million means 90 million magazine clips being fired per second. No wonder I can’t buy any 5..56!

  3. I don’t answer on-line surveys. But I have an AR15. This blog is about as on-line as I get. I reckon the actual owner’s of AR’s & so-called high capacity mags is sky high especially in 2022. If AR owners ever fight back…

    • I’ve got a couple of hundred GI 30 round mags, and another couple hundred MagPul 30 round Pmags (mixture of Gen 2 and Gen 3) – all new still in their packaging. Got ’em in a county tax auction for a gun store that went out of business, picked up the whole lot for $275.00.

    • FWW. What LPVO did you go with? Old Guy in Montana and I asked in a prior TTAG comment section.

      You never “circled back”. 😏

      • Well JC I’ve settled on a lower end Firefield Rapidstrike 1-6×24 LPVO. My LGS guy said it was good to go-good online reviews too. I am a regular & have a good relationship too. Didn’t quite have the cash on me & he put it in the backroom with my name on it(!). And I offered $50 to hold it. He refused. Materially doesn’t seem different from Sightmark or Vortex(same factory?)Westforth in rural Gary,IN. Oh it comes with a nice riser too…my main goal is shooting 200-300 yards which looks quite doable.

      • In the end I actually went with two. After looking at different brands then narrowing it down and vacillating a little I finally went with the ‘Vortex PST Gen II 1-6×24’ for one AR because it had the best day-time bright red-dot for my vision, and a ‘Vortex 1-6x Strike Eagle’ for another AR I keep around for home defense if its needed because I liked the illuminated ‘crispness’ of the ‘Donut of Death’ arrangement for close in defense.

        • Yeah I was gonna get the Vortex from Cabelas. Cheap enough too.
          Was…if anything went wrong there’d be zero help. Like the Tru-glo red dot I got from them that went kablooey(literally flew apart at the range after mebbe 500 rounds). I think you did good…

    • Burgoyne said something similar at Saratoga…LE knows they’re vastly outnumbered…they exist because of our tacit approval…if that covenant is broken they’re in deep shit….

  4. I don’t own anything on the AR platform. If I owned a 10-22, I wouldn’t trick it out to look like an AR. No objection to them; just not my style. On the other hand, I do look longingly at an M1 carbine from the Fulton Armory.

  5. Common use is a lot like NIMBY or religious fundamentalism.
    Civilization would forever be stuck in the Dark Ages if a common use standard was applied to justifying the existence of new things and ideas.

    You’d think this would scare so-called progressives. Unless of course their ideas are actually regressive in nature.

    • 20 million is a long way from 200,000….much easier to regulate one but not the other…even though that was proposed back in the Reagan years…then rejected as impractical…leaving it up to the states…and that status is now threatened by recent language…

      • Again, so the frickin’ what? What is the problem with the AR style rifle? Are you against them because most of them are black?

  6. “In the 2021 national survey, English set out to, among other things, determine exactly how prevalent AR-pattern rifle and “high capacity” magazine ownership really is among America’s gun owners.”

    But why? Since the left is focused not specifically on the AR platform; they want to ban all semiautomatic rifles. I personally don’t like the AR. I chose the SKS. I don’t plan on needing a semi for long distance combat and the SKS doubles nicely for hunting medium game. They are cheap, or were; and rounds are aplenty worldwide. Should I need to reach out and touch two legged vermin I would break out my .308 bolt.
    But I digress.
    So if he had expanded his research into the entire semiautomatic rifle genre with detachable magazines, I bet those numbers would have gone way up.

  7. quote—————- as the Heller decision established the “common use” standard for firearms that can’t be regulated out of existence by hoplophobic politicians.————–quote

    Except when you read the entire decision by the court which slick as eel shit states the courts reserve the right to “regulate” firearms which is a disingenuous term for restrict with no limits on the restrictions. In other words semi-auto assault rifles could be put on the NFA list and the fee to register them could also be increase to astronomical levels.

    • darcydodo…No where in the ruling did any justice cite the diabolical history of Gun Control rot. That said…The USSC is Sworn to Protect and Defend The Constitution of The United States from enemies both foreign and domestic. Enemies both foreign and domestic covers the rooted in racism and genocide Gun Control agenda of today’s democRat Party…Don’t you think?

      On the other hand…I wasn’t surveyed and if I were the answer would be, None of your damned business you pervert.

    • or the various restrictions against them in a few states could be struck down….this seems much more likely…what Biden wants to do and actually can do are two different things…his ship is sinking…

      • No, DDW, he doesn’t. dacian the stupid is convinced that “comes the revolution” he and his Leftist/fascist buddies are gonna be runnin’ things. No, he doesn’t want “freedom”, he wants power . . . oh, yeah, and free shit.

        What he doesn’t understand is that, to his Leftist/fascist buddies, he’s a useful idiot (emphasis on “idiot”, not “useful”) – he’ll be among the first getting put up against the wall for ‘re-education’ via a high-speed lead injection. He is deluded enough to think that ANYONE, even a deluded Leftist/fascist, would pay any attention to anything he has to say.

        • Lol. Which fifth tier (and probably now defunct) law school did you barely make it out of?

        • Hey, nameless, brainless troll, I see you managed to tear yourself away from your serial onanism – but still haven’t managed to complete that GED. Keep trying; you’ll get it some decade.

          You’re too stupid to insult. Go visit the cable.

    • In other words semi-auto assault rifles could be put on the NFA list and the fee to register them could also be increase to astronomical levels.

      1). Dacian reads article.
      2). Dacian doesn’t like the points made in the article.
      3). Dacian fabricates in his mind a concept so far fetched, no one in today’s time would possibly even pursue it, not even the far leftist judges on the SCOTUS.
      4). Dacian fervently starts wacking it while thinking of the new concept and dumping said concept on TTAG like a wacker troll at a street light.

      • “a concept so far fetched, no one in today’s time would possibly even pursue it, not even the far leftist judges on the SCOTUS”

        don’t put it past them, they already intend to pursue it first chance they get.

  8. @Dan Zimmerman

    “(which seems low to us)”

    You would be correct, it is low. The survey used a conservative number methodology, all the numbers in the survey study are actually higher.

    • .40 cal,

      Don’t know about you, brother, but there is exactly ZERO chance that I will tell some pollster – in person, over the phone, on the Intarwebz, or otherwise – one damn thing about me or my firearms. They base their “estimates” of the number of firearm owners, and numbers of specific firearm types, on such bizarre “proxy” data as background checks, manufacturer data, etc., completely ignoring private transfers, home built, and legacy guns (a firearm, properly cared for, can last hundreds of years). Reminds me of that great exchange in “We Were Soldiers Once”: “What do you estimate the enemy’s strength?” “We estimate their strength to be manageable.” “You have no idea.”

      The only thing I know for certain about these estimates is that they are all WAY too low. And that’s a good thing, AFAIAC.

    • It should also be noted that this survey study does not directly account for under-reporting meaning also the numbers are actually higher. For example, the conservative number for ownership in the survey study is “in excess of 81.4 million Americans aged 18 and over own firearms” – accounting for under reporting the actual number is in excess of 100 million.

    • Shh!! Don’t talk about them!

      Our “elite” are so gun-ignorant, they think the AR is some ultra-skeery mega-rifle that can kill tanks a mile away. Nobody tell them about AR-10s or FN-SCAR, and then won’t THAT be a surprise for them!?

      • Former California Senator Kevin De Leon claimed that an AR “ghost gun” can fire 60 rounds per second, and that is why they had to be banned. (No wonder they believe them to be so scary!)

        • “This is a ghost gun,” de Leon begins, holding an unloaded rifle in his hands. “This right here has the ability with a .30-caliber clip to disperse with 30 bullets within half a second. Thirty magazine clip in half a second.”

          Oh so painfully stupid. Though it might be kind of interesting to see an AR firing a “thirty magazine clip.”

        • I have an unregistered ghost gun weapon of war that is semi fully automatic, and has a .30 caliber high-capacity banana clipazine full of armor-piercing incendiary cop-killing Teflon Black Talon exploding black-tip school-piercing ammunition capable of firing 30 bullets in half a second and shooting down an airliner, a muzzle break flash-hiding silencer, a barrel shroud, a bayonet lug, a pistol grip, a laser red dot sight sniper scope folding stock thing in the back that goes up CompassintheStockandaThingThatTellsTime. I rewired it for more power.

          So there!

        • I have high capacity magazines. But when I use them against bad guys they complain about paper cuts.

  9. ATF AGENT: We’re here to confiscate those Assault Rifles our records indicate you own. Hand them over.
    ME: I can point out on the map where the gator hole is where the boat hit a stump and sunk. Would appreciate it while you’re looking for my rifles if you would also pull up my outboard motor. Antique Johnson motors are worth more than any AR. And, no I will not accompany you back up in the river delta to go looking. I have an aversion to being on the menu of a bull gator.

  10. Surveyor: “Do you own any AR type guns?”
    Me: ” No I hate gunms, gunms are evil and violent. Anyone who owns one needs beaten to death, dismembered, and then set on fire.”


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