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National Firearms Survey, 2021, by English: Firearms Estimates and Defensive Gun Uses

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On July 16, 2021, Dr. William English  submitted a draft report  on his extensive National Firearms Survey of 2021.

On July 18, 2021, Dr. William English submitted a draft report
on “The Right to Carry Has Not Increased Crime: Improving an Old Debate Through Better Data on Permit Growth Over Time”. This paper will be covered more completely in another article.

In 2021, Dr. William English submitted an amicus curiae brief to the Supreme Court on the NYSRPA v. Bruen case, which was decided on June 22, 2022. Bruen clarified many contentious points about how Second Amendment cases should be treated by the lower courts.

As both studies took considerable time and effort, the work had considerable overlap. The two studies, it appears, are Dr. English’s first public research contributions to the state of academic firearms knowledge in the United States.

Both papers are more complete than previous studies, employing more granular data and much larger samples, and sophisticated mathematics to analyze the data.  The results of the 2021 National Firearms Survey are considered below.

The National Firearms Survey was conducted from  February 17 to March 23, 2021. It involved the largest, most comprehensive sample of gun owners in the United States to date. The sample used online polling, and started with a survey starting with a representative sample of over 54 thousand United states residents. From the 54 thousand, 16,708 gun owners were identified to ask in depth questions about their use and ownership of firearms.

The survey employed sophisticated techniques to gain maximum participation. However, if a respondent was careful not to admit to firearms ownership, they would not be included in the survey. Thus, it is likely the survey is an unknown undercount of actual firearms ownership.

From the survey:

• About a third of adults in the U.S. report owning a firearm, totaling about 81.4 million
adult gun owners.
• 57.8% of gun owners are male, 42.2% are female.
• 25.4% of Blacks own firearms.
• 28.3% of Hispanics own firearms.
• 19.4% of Asians own firearms.
• 34.3% of Whites own firearms.

The number of respondents who had used a firearm for defense of self or property was a major point of investigation in the survey.

 Defensive firearms uses were common.   31.1% of respondents reported they had used a firearm for defensive purposes. Most of the defensive purposes occurred in their residence or on their property. In 81.9 % of the cases, no shots were fired. 

The total number of defensive uses per year  (1.67 million) falls well within the range of previous studies. 

Handguns were the firearm most commonly used for defense of self and property  (65.9%). Shotguns were used 21% of the time, and rifles in 13.1% of the incidents.

The survey results show a good match to the numbers of people with concealed carry permits. The 2021 survey estimated 20.7 million American residents carry handguns under a concealed carry permit regime.  This is very close to the CPRC estimate of 21.52 million  active permits in 2021. 

The survey found these numbers for the types of firearms owned:

• 82.7% of gun owners report owning a handgun, 68.8% report owning a rifle, and 58.4% report owning a shotgun.
• 21.9% of gun owners own only one firearm.
• The average gun owner owns 5 firearms.
• 30.2% of gun owners, about 24.6 million people, have owned an AR-15 or similarly
styled rifle.

• 48.0% of gun owners have owned magazines that hold over 10 rounds.

Those results are directly applicable to the debate on the right to keep and bear arms in the United States. The Supreme Court has ruled arms which are in “common use” are protected under the Second Amendment. In the Caetano decision, the Supreme Court ruled the ownership of about 200,000 “stun guns” showed stun guns were in common use

The survey estimated 415 million firearms were privately owned in the United States in the spring of 2021. 

Approximately 24 million guns have been added to the private stock since that time. At the end of August, 2022, adding the additional firearms to  the survey results  show about 439 million private firearms in the United States.

Using the method  perfected by Gary Kleck in 1991, (pioneered by Newton and Zimring) and extending it to the end of August, 2022, there would be 485 million guns in private hands. 

The number of private firearms is a difficult number to quantify and measure. The survey supports the numbers calculated with the Kleck, Newton and Zimring method. If 1 of 10 firearms owners were unwilling to admit to ownership of a firearm, even in an “anonymous Internet survey” the fit would be too close to dispute. 

Dr. William English has shed considerable light on actual numbers of firearms privately owned in the United States, firearms used for defensive purposes, and the demographics of firearms ownership in the United States. 

His survey will become a baseline for further research on this subject. 

Dr. English has stated a book, based on his research, will be available in the near future.

©2022 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.

Gun Watch


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