MONDAY, MAY 5, 1997202/307-0703


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Thirty-five percent of U.S. households own guns, according to a study released today by the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice (NIJ). The study, Guns in America: National Survey on Private Ownership and Use of Firearms, reveals that gun ownership in this country is not as widespread as reported in previous studies.

In 1994, 44 million Americans owned 192 million firearms, 65 million of which were handguns. Although only 25 percent of adults actually owned firearms, 74 percent of gun owners possessed two or more, primarily for protection against crime. Sixty-eight percent of handgun owners also had at least one shotgun or rifle in their private collection.

In a section on gun safety, the study revealed that just over half of all privately-owned firearms were stored unlocked, and 20 percent of all gun-owning households had an unlocked, loaded gun at the time of the survey. The report cited the accidental deaths of 185 children under the age of 14, as well as many times that number of accidental shootings. For each death, there are several accidental shootings that cause serious injuries.

"These results show how dangerous unlocked guns are to children," noted Attorney General Janet Reno. "That's why we must pass the child safety lock provision in the President's Anti-Gang and Youth Violence Act of 1997, now before Congress. A locked gun can avoid a family tragedy."

The survey focused on the size, composition and ownership of the nation's private gun inventory; methods of acquiring firearms; gun carrying and storage; and the defensive use of firearms against criminal attackers.

"This report paints a more detailed picture of the varieties of gun ownership in this country," said NIJ Director Jeremy Travis. " It focuses our attention on the importance of understanding gun ownership and use in an effort to inform public policy debate."

This survey and similar studies have overestimated the frequency with which firearms were used by Americans to defend themselves against criminals. Still, 46 percent of gun owners possessed a firearm primarily for protection. Middle-aged, college-educated people in small, rural towns are most likely to own guns.

The study, based on interviews with 2,568 adults in 1994, discusses the results of a national telephone survey on private ownership and use of firearms by adults in the United States. It provides the most comprehensive data available to date on the private stock of guns in American households.

At the time of the survey, 42 percent of men and only 9 percent of women owned a firearm. Individuals whose parents possessed guns in their childhood home were three times as likely as others to own one themselves. Some 80 percent of the gun owners surveyed reported that their parents kept a gun in the house while they were growing up.

The NIJ-sponsored National Survey of Private Ownership of Firearms (NSPOF) was conducted by Chilton Research Services of Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania in November and December 1994. Data collected by the survey were analyzed by the authors of this study, Professor Philip J. Cook of Duke University and Assistant Professor Jens Ludwig of Georgetown University. The complete results of the survey will be published by the Police Foundation this month.

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the Department of Justice, is the primary sponsor of criminal justice research and evaluations of programs to reduce crime. For general information about NIJ, the Internet address is General information about the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) is available at

To obtain a copy of the report, please write to the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (NCJRS), P.O. Box 6000, Rockville, Maryland 20849-6000 or call toll free 1-800/851-3420.

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NIJ 97-069

After hours contact: James Phillips at 888/582-6750