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Gun shop owner Jesus "Chuy" Aguirre attends to customer Angel Zacarias in Chuy's Gun Shop in El Paso, Texas. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)
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By Larry Keane

There’s an interesting shift concerning Americans’ attitudes toward guns and gun control. Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank that tracks attitudes on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends updated their research on guns.

Gun ownership is rising and the appetite for gun control is waning at the same time. Background checks for gun sales topped 21 million in 2020, shattering previous records. So far, 2021 has seen over 12.4 million background checks, on pace for what could be the second strongest year on record.

Gun Ownership Is Growing

Those figures are punctuated by skyrocketing numbers of first-time gun buyers. NSSF retailer surveys last year indicated that as much as 40 percent of gun sales went to those purchasing their first firearm, or 8.4 million in 2020. Another survey released just last week by NSSF delved into gun sales in 2021, and as much as 33.2 percent, or 3.2 million people, bought a gun for the very first time in the first six months of 2021.

Even Pew Research Center recognized the trends. Pew’s latest gun surveys show firearm ownership is remaining steady with 40 percent of American households reporting a firearm in the home, including 30 percent who report personally owning a firearm. Still, there’s reason to be cautious of these anonymous surveys.

The firearm industry believes these figures might be underreported. Many gun owners self-select out of these anonymous surveys for concerns of privacy or being targeted for harassment or even crime. Firearm ownership is an intensely personal right and firearms owners have valid concerns that speaking openly if firearm ownership could expose them to ostracizing protests like being doxed. Newspapers have published names and addresses of concealed carry permit holders and politicians continually call for national gun registries. It is understandable that gun owners are reluctant to self-report the guns locked in their safes.

NSSF reports there are at least 434 million firearms in circulation. NSSF reports there are over 20 million Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), or AR-15 style rifles, are in circulation. They are the most-popular selling centerfire rifle in America today.

Personal Safety Concerns

Pew’s findings about the reasons for gun ownership match what NSSF uncovered. Most people are buying guns for personal protection. NSSF found the same results in the 2020 retail surveys. More than half the firearms sold in any typical year are handguns and that held true during the record-breaking 2020 buying surge. Handguns are primarily used for two purposes, with some minor exceptions.

Valerie Rupert is interviewed at the Recoil Firearms store in Taylor, Mich. Rupert was among 1,000 or so mostly Black women taking part in free weekend gun safety and shooting lessons at two Detroit-area ranges. Many said fear of crime was their motivation. Industry experts and gun rights advocates say Black women increasingly are considering gun ownership for personal protection. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

Handguns excel as firearms used for protection in the home or for concealed carry use. The other purpose is recreational target shooting. These aren’t the types of firearms that are commonly used for hunting. There are exceptions for big and small game handgun hunters, but those are the minority. Handguns certainly would be poor performers of they were used for bird hunting. The numbers of people reporting buying firearms for personal safety and the number of handguns being sold goes hand-in-hand.

Fewer Want More Gun Control

As Americans are taking ownership of their Second Amendment rights, the appetite for stricter gun control is fading. Pew Research Center referenced an April survey that showed 53 percent of those surveyed wanted stricter gun controls. That’s down from the high of 60 percent, recorded in the wake of tragic murders in Parkland, Fla. Americans gun control

Courtesy Pew ResearchPew also reported that 48 percent of Americans viewed “gun violence” as a very big problem, which also underscores why record numbers of Americans are buying firearms for protection.

Pew’s surveys also show Americans are split when it comes to the idea that stricter gun control would reduce the tragic mass murder events that have rocked the nation. That’s understandable when the facts of these instances are examined more closely.

The first crime the murderer in Newtown, Conn., committed was stealing his mother’s firearm, before murdering her as she slept and committing his heinous acts. The accused murderer in Parkland had multiple police interactions, including an instance when he allegedly put a gun to mother’s head. That alone would have made him a prohibited individual. The school and even the FBI was warned he was a threat, and the FBI later admitted it didn’t act on a tip.

The murderer in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was prohibited from possessing a firearm through at least three determining factors; he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force; he was convicted of domestic violence in a military court-martial; and he was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Like Parkland, authorities failed to properly act. His criminal and mentally-disqualifying records were never submitted to the FBI.

Real Solutions

These are glaring examples of where more laws weren’t needed, but enforcement of existing laws were needed. The failure of law enforcement and military authorities to act when they were required resulted in tragic murders.

That’s why the firearm industry has been devoted to promoting Real Solutions. That includes changes made to state and federal laws, through the FixNICS® initiative to ensure all disqualifying records are submitted so those who shouldn’t possess firearms don’t get their hands on them.

These attitudes are more commonly shared today. Gun ownership is growing and Americans are increasingly demanding laws that protect their rights and hold criminals responsible.


Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.


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  1. OK. Now we have sources for the claim of an estimated 434 million guns in the hands of private citizens; an estimate based on estimates (i.e., a SWAG based on multiple SWAGs). However, such an estimate tells us nothing of political importance (perhaps judicial importance, but not political importance).

    It is all too easy to equate the number of gun owners to the number of single-issue, staunch 2A supporters. Here, I am talking about the “…from my cold, dead hands…” cohort. If even one fourth of gun owners were active, avid defenders of 2A, the Dims could not produce enough votes to win virtually anything; 100 million would defeat 81 million, every time, everywhere.

    Yes, a 434 million guess is interesting. Let’s not attach ourselves to it having any more importance than that.

      • “Alyssa Milano admitted to owning a gun for protection.”

        Zackly. Protection from deplorables. Not from criminals, jihadis, gangs. Milano is a “nice person” who only hangs with “nice people”, in “nice places”. Deplorables might arrive in such places, looking like they belong, until the deplorable snaps and starts shooting everyone in sight.

        Of course, there is the imminent threat of attack during a deplorable apocalypse to be concerned with.

    • I guess you really don’t get it. The biggest run on gun buying has occurred during the Obama and the leadup to the Biden administrations. In case you didn’t notice they are Democrats. They are the folks who constantly threaten 2nd Amendment Rights. So when you say the numbers don’t matter just stick around a few more years to see the result of what happens to the current Dictators when they decide to push their socialist agenda too far. I don’t think you are going to like the outcome and actually that will be a good thing.

      • “I guess you really don’t get it.”

        Speed reading can be dangerous.

        If you read carefully, you would note that my point was about believing the number of gun owners was a good sign for 2A support. Or that the raised estimate was an indicator of the direction, left or right, of political power.

        POTG should never forget we are a very small portion of gun owners. And even among POTG, the single-issue (2A) voters are a smaller number. If POTG (and the rest of the alleged 100 million gun owners[one third of the populace]) were staunch 2A defenders, Trump would not have been president.

      • they don’t get it…they never do…they’re actually the reason this is happening…but they can’t seem to wrap their heads around that idea…

    • 434 million sound low. Haz has probably built half that many, Possum has likely buried almost as many, and only God knows how many JWM and JWT have collected. And don’t forget Ralph!! There’s a reason he is always laughing.

      Just sayin’.

      • “434 million sound low. Haz has probably built half that many, Possum has likely buried almost as many, and only God knows how many JWM and JWT have collected. And don’t forget Ralph!! There’s a reason he is always laughing.”

        Read somewhere that the average gun owner has six or eight guns. With the latest pop figure being ~334 million, the best guess would be between 2 billion, and 2.6 billion guns in private hands. I like those numbers. Not that it means anything, but I like those numbers.

    • I agree, the “300 million” number previously was thrown around for 10 or more years it felt like. After The Obama years and the insanity of the past two years, I’m sure the number is well over 500 mil.

      • “number previously was thrown around for 10 or more years it felt like.”

        Kind of like they’ve been telling us for the past 15 years that we have 10 million illegal immigrants. The truth is, no one really knows, but the number isn’t staying the same.

      • when people get scared…don’t think the cops can protect them…and the threat appears real and growing…the first reaction is to buy a gun…

  2. Let’s take stock here, we have a political class that is willing to both defund the police and abandon American citizens to the tender mercy of terrorists.
    When people realize that the State is unwilling to protect them.

    • Pete,

      Succinct, to-the-point, and clearly correct.
      Watch for it….something is coming….folk are going to have their eyes shocked wide open.

      • “Watch for it….something is coming…”

        It’s already here. In my lifetime, until just weeks ago, I never heard government officials declare that half the voting public, and half the existing population are enemies of the state. In the past, government went after identifiable organizations of crime, never an amorphous cloud of people such as gun owners and people skeptical of “science”.

        • now the FBI is investigating outspoken, complaining parents at school board meetings…apparently any opposition to their agenda is not to be tolerated….

  3. Great lots of new people own guns…On the other hand to say the appetite for Gun Control is waning is ridiculous when there is no consensus for the definition of Gun Control. Until Gun Control in any shape, matter or form is defined by its history as an agenda Rooted In Racism and Genocide everything else is swatting at flies.

    Gun Control means too many different things to way too many guessing people and that has done more to keep the Gun Control turd ball bouncing than anything.

  4. It’s a good thing more people are exercising their rights. We have a government that is beyond corrupt and does not care for the average citizen at all. Just those who keep them in power by buying their votes or by fraud.

    Many are realizing only you can protect yourself and you can not rely on others to protect you or your family. This has to be really getting under the skin of the anti gunners as they going to lose this numbers game. The more people see their rights being trampled on, cancel culture coming after all and group think taking over our institutions people are hitting a breaking point which is what the government really fears.

    Temporary fence again around the capitol for some protest in a week, no so much. That fence is being put up in case the populace hits that point of having taken enough of their shit. As with mask mandates, vaccine mandates and other rules the dictators make they will keep pushing. They do not like us and have been very obvious about it. They are the biggest problem we face.

    Last thing, with all these new owners how come we don’t see a serious uptick in suicides and murders as the left always claims. Only upticks are with the criminals who have been given free reign.

    • Quite busy at one of my NW Indiana gunshops I frequent-Blythes in Griffiths. Got 100 rounds of Frontier 556 for 10.99 @20. Hasn’t been that cheap in some 17 months. They have Maverick88 20″ barrel for 189.99! Similarly busy at Westforth in rural Gary. Wish I had more $. As slow Joe threatens those of is not on board with the jab. And a general commits treason with Chinese communists…

      • I’m in the NW (Oregon) and the inventory is just starting to come back to the brick and mortar stores. I’ve been more inclined to purchase online for both guns and ammo and have the guns sent to my local FFL. Nice to see the ammo coming down. I was able to get some Fiocchi 223 brass for 50 cents a round. Still hurts the wallet but not as bad as not having any. Finally had to stop as the wife wanted a new fridge. Ordered it a few weeks ago and will be lucky to have it early November. Appliance shortages, who would have thought?

        • Ordered a fridge in February, it is being delivered tomorrow. With all the supply problems in the world now, and end-of-the-year buying clogging up things even more, I wouldn’t count on your fridge arriving until next spring. I hope it’s sooner!

  5. Something the anti gun/gun grabbers never seem to understand. Not 1 of the existing laws, nor any of the proposed laws have ever, or will ever stop anyone from committing a crime of violence. Nor have they or will they prevent anyone, good or bad, from getting, or building a gun if they so desire.
    All the laws and regulations do is give the government the standing to punish those convicted of whatever crime/infraction of societies rules.
    We as a society declared murder to be illegal/immoral centuries ago. Has that ever stopped anyone? Or, has the prohibition on taking life just given the judicial system the authority to punish?
    Now, the leftist/socialist/progressive/Marxist current administration and congress are desperate to push through their agenda. Why? Because they know the pendulum will swing as it has always done. They are doing their best to stop that from happening. And will ultimately lose control of government for a time. Hopefully, the right will have the guts and drive to reign in the out of control government when they get their turn to run things. if not, then it may very well fall to the people to do something we detest. No one in their right mind wants a civil war. But, many of us out here in flyover country would be willing to fight for our beliefs if needs be. And it seems that the need to do so is coming.

    • “Not 1 of the existing laws, nor any of the proposed laws have ever, or will ever stop anyone from committing a crime of violence.”

      No crime laws, no crime. So simple, even a caveman can understand it.

      You are correct: laws do not prevent, but put limits on revenge.

  6. IMO- the most sad fact in the huge increase of new firearms owners is that we, the people that have always advocated the Second Amendment, and self-protection/preservation are not the cause of it. Those woke cretins on the Left who desire to control us caused it through their own blanket policies that unleashed BLM, antifa, and other anarchist fascists on the usually disinterested general public.

    The question for “us” is: Now that we’ve been joined, how will we help keep these new people as gun owners, even though their basic political philosophies at this moment may not completely line up with ours? Will we continue to shun, demean them in our actions and posts, or will we attempt to cooperate and ease them into our Founder’s long-held beliefs and truths?

    • In some ways, guns are a gateway to independent and freedom minded thinking. It may be the first step that some will take.

      Some will take the red-pill and wake up. Others will put their shiny new gun in a box on a shelf in the closet and never touch it again, feeling dirty for even buying the gun. The worst case is the new gun owners that see their new possession as a tool to force others to their will and continue believing they are agents of progression and change towards a better one world utopia.

    • “…how will we help these new people, even though their basic political philosophies at this moment may not completely line up with ours?”

      Not “completely” line up with ours? How ’bout at all?

      Anyway, to my knowledge, asbestos as I know, I don’t know any new gun owners. So…live and let live?

        • ‘lot of females..many of them black…the cc classes are full of them…”

          Yeah, well…

          Likely they are mostly Texas Aggies; people to be avoided wherever possible.

          Ok, ok. Texas Aggies do have a purpose: the only group you can make fun of and not be sued.

    • Make converts and meet up at the range.

      Introduce militia-suitable carbines and rifles to someone who’s at risk of of FUDD propaganda.

  7. @jwm
    “With Herr biden at the controls of the state.”

    Herr biden ain’t in control. He is simply the most useful of useful idiots.

  8. @frank speak
    “now the FBI is investigating outspoken, complaining parents at school board meetings…apparently any opposition to their agenda is not to be tolerated….”

    To be accurate, the official line is government is only hunting those who post or speak direct threats of physical harm or death. However…..

    It is a short stroll between physical threats and any expression of opposition to government. If, as, and when, government moves to official suppression of any opposing values, ideas, politics, we will have obviously, completely, and demonstrably crossed the line of government tyranny. What follows could be highly entertaining.

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