More guns in fewer hands, US survey reveals

Gun numbers rise to 265m - with 130m of these owned by just 3% of American adults

LONDON • Americans own an estimated 265 million guns, an increase of 70 million compared to 1994, according to the most definitive portrait of US gun ownership in two decades.

The figure computes to more than one gun for every American adult. But the new survey estimates that 130 million of these guns are concentrated in the hands of just 3 per cent of American adults - a group of super owners who have amassed an average of 17 guns each, The Guardian reported.

The survey conducted online last year on 4,000 Americans by public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities also shows that the percentage of Americans who own guns decreased slightly from 25 per cent to 22 per cent, driven by a dramatic decrease among men.

The 1994 survey found that 42 per cent of American men described themselves as gun owners, compared with only 32 per cent of American men in the new study.

Meanwhile, the percentage of women who say they own guns has increased slightly from 9 per cent in 1994 to 12 per cent today.

These women were more likely to own a gun for self-defence than men, and more likely to own a handgun only.

Even as the US has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted, handguns have become a greater proportion of the country's civilian gun stock, suggesting that self-defence is an increasingly important factor in gun ownership.

The data suggests that American gun ownership is driven by an "increasing fearfulness", said Dr Deborah Azrael, a Harvard School of Public Health firearms researcher and the lead author of the study.

But roughly 20,000 of America's more than 30,000 annual gun deaths are suicides.

"If we hope to reduce firearm suicide, if we hope to reduce the other potential dangers of guns, my gut is, we have to speak to that fear," said Dr Azrael.

Overall, the survey found, gun owners tended to be white, male, conservative and in rural areas. Thirty per cent of conservatives said they were gun owners, compared with 19 per cent of moderates and only 14 per cent of liberals.

Clear racial disparities in overall gun ownership remained, with 25 per cent of white and multiracial Americans saying they personally owned a gun, compared with 16 per cent of Hispanics and 14 per cent of African Americans.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 20, 2016, with the headline 'More guns in fewer hands, US survey reveals'. Print Edition | Subscribe