The number of American guns is growing, but more of them are being owned by comparatively fewer people, according to a new study by Harvard and Northeastern universities.
The study, released before publication to the Trace and the Guardian, estimates that nearly half of the 265 million guns now owned privately belong to just 3 percent of Americans. Though most of the country’s 55 million gun owners possess one to three guns, about 7.7 million owners have eight or more.
Most of the guns added in the last twenty years are also handguns, often procured for self defense, the Trace reported. Smaller guns like revolvers and pistols have boosted the percentage of handguns to 42 percent of the national stock, compared to just 34 percent in 1994.
The study is one of the most comprehensive to examine gun ownership in more than twenty years, according to the Trace. Federal research into gun violence has been largely absent, ever since an amendment in the 1996 appropriations bill that stipulated relevant funding for the Centers for Disease Control cannot "be used to advocate or promote gun control."
The most comprehensive study before that amendment was authored in 1994 by Duke University researcher Philip Cook, who told the Trace that the new study is "a fundamental building block for gun research."
But a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun trade association, questioned the study’s preliminary results.
"Three per cent of American gun owners own half the guns? That seems wildly off the mark," spokesman Mike Bazinet wrote in an email to the Guardian. Though he declined to comment fully before the survey’s release, Bazinet suggested the survey "sounds like part of the ongoing effort to minimize gun ownership to make more gun control seem politically achievable."
The new study is due to be published next fall after completing peer review and surveyed about 4,000 Americans who opted into the questions, the Guardian reported. Those questions included those about why they owned guns and how they were stored.
About two-thirds of handgun owners surveyed said they owned their firearm largely for self-defense, according to the Trace. Eighty percent of gun owners overall said they owned at least one handgun.
But gun owners who possessed just handguns are more likely than before to be women, the Trace reported. 43 percent of handgun-only owners in the survey said they were female, and those owners were also more likely than typical gun owners to live in cities and identify as people of color.
Researchers for the new study documented several other trends in the last two decades, including a declining share of overall gun owners in the American population, the Guardian reported.
Though the number of gun owners has risen by 10 million, they now account for a smaller fraction of Americans: About 22 percent of Americans say they own guns, compared to 25 percent in the 1994 study.
Men also disproportionately counted among those owners in the study. Thirty-two percent of American men saying they owned a gun compared to 12 percent of American women.