It’s no little-known fact that Americans love their guns. But a new survey made the shocking revelation that almost half the nation’s 133 million guns are owned by a small percentage of the population — 3 percent to be exact.
According to an unpublished survey by researchers at Harvard University and Northeastern University, this small group of “super” gun owners has amassed an average of 17 firearms each. The survey, obtained exclusively by publications The Guardian and The Trace, also charted an increase of 70 million guns in America’s gun stock since 1994.
So why the pressing urge to go out and get a gun?
The survey reported personal protection and “increased fearfulness” as the primary factors motivating roughly two-thirds of Americans to purchase firearms. Other reasons included the investment value of guns, their historical significance and adding to their personal collections, among other things.
However, the new survey also reported a slight decrease in the percentage of Americans who own guns — dropping from 25 percent to 22 percent, The Guardian reports.
“The desire to own a gun for protection – there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country,” Harvard School of Public Health professor and one of the authors of the study, Matthew Miller, told The Guardian. “It isn’t a response to actuarial reality.”
The study’s lead author, Dr. Deborah Azrael, noted that recent mass shootings and lone-wolf attacks have sparked intense fear in Americans, prompting them to go out and buy hand guns. Popular firearms like rifles and shotguns still make up the majority of privately owned weapons though, according to The Trace.
“When I look at our survey, what I see is a population that is living in fear,” Azrael told the publication. “They are buying handguns to protect themselves against bad guys, they store their guns ready-to-use because of bad guys, and they believe that their guns make them safer.”
While an estimated 55 million Americans say they own a gun, the survey reported that most citizens own an average of three firearms, and almost half only own one or two. At the other end of the spectrum, however, are America’s “super” gun owners — a niche group of about 7.7 million citizens who own between eight and 140 firearms.
Surprisingly, some individuals who’ve amassed such an arsenal of guns say it happens quite naturally.
“The fact that you’d open the closet and have a stack full of guns in this country is really not a big deal,” John Risenhoover, a retired Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent, told The Trace. “It’s like buying shoes.”
Despite the “high-quality” survey’s key findings, some gun owners approached the study with a bit of reluctance. According to The Guardian, some “super” gun owners expressed fear that the government would come and take their weapons now that it was known a concentrated majority owned most of the nation’s guns.
“I don’t know anybody who thinks or talks seriously about confiscating guns,” Azrael told The Guardian. “From a public health perspective – you don’t seize cigarettes. But, you do try to make good science available. You do try to help people think about the risks and benefits of the behavior they choose to undertake.”
One of the many risks associated with gun ownership, covered in similar studies, is the increased likelihood of suicide. The Trace cited data from a 1992 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that Americans who live in homes with handguns are twice as likely to take their own lives compared to those who own other types of firearms. Domestic violence victims are also more likely to be killed by their aggressor if there’s a gun in the house, the publication reports.
“Our survey suggests that many more people believe guns in their home make them safer, when in fact, epidemiological research suggests precisely the opposite,” Azrael said.
An increase in female gun ownership, a shift in the identity of the American gun owner and the fact that dozens of guns are stolen from private owners every hour were among the survey’s other key findings.