The Average Californian Gun Owner Has Five Firearms, With Quarter of Adults Living in a House With One

Around a quarter of Californian adults—equivalent to around 7.3 million residents—live in a household with a gun, research has shown. And according to the study—published in the journal Injury Prevention—roughly one in seven personally own a firearm themselves.

There is an extensive body of evidence showing that the presence of a firearm in the home increases the risk of firearm death and injury—particularly from unintentional shootings, suicide and murder.

Despite this, detailed and up-to-date information regarding firearm ownership is severely lacking, especially at the state level. In fact, the most recent firearm ownership estimates in most states are more than a decade old, according to the researchers.

Furthermore, the last time that data was collected on the number and type of gun that each person owns—and their reasons for owning firearms—was more than 40 years ago.

In an attempt to update our understanding of gun ownership, a team of researchers led by Nicole Kravitz-Wirtz, from the University of California, Davis, decided to investigate the prevalence of firearms in California, the types and numbers of weapons people owned, and their reasons for having them.

While the rate of firearm deaths per person is relatively low in California—eight per 100,000 compared with 12 per 100,000 for the U.S. as a whole—as the most populous state, it has the second highest number of deaths overall.

In 2017, there were just over 3,000 firearm deaths in California out of a national total of 40,000. This was the worst year for firearm deaths in the U.S. for more than 20 years.

For the Injury Prevention study, the researchers looked at the responses of just over 2,550 Californian adults from a survey on firearm ownership conducted in 2018. About a quarter of those said that either they (14 percent) or someone else in their household (11 percent) owned at least one firearm.

When these percentages are applied to the adult population of California as a whole, the figures suggest there are an estimated 4.2 million people who own guns in the state, while 3.1 million don't own a firearm but live with someone who does.

The average number of firearms owned was five—suggesting there are a total of 19.9 million guns across the state as a whole.

Just over half of the gun owners said that they only owned one or two firearms. However, a minority—one in 10—said they were in possession of 10 or more. This minority actually may account for more than half of all the firearms in the state, according to the researchers.

In terms of demographics, the study revealed that most gun owners in the survey were over 60 years old (43 percent,) male (73 percent) and white (64 percent.)

Nearly 70 percent of gun owners said that they had purchased their last firearm themselves, while the remaining 30 percent reported that they have been given the weapon as a gift or inherited it. The majority of the firearms last acquired (56 percent) tended to be handguns. However, the most commonly reported (55 percent) type of firearm in the state were long guns—the majority of which are rifles.

In terms of the reasons for firearm ownership, nearly 60 percent of handgun owners cited protection against other people. For having long guns, meanwhile, the reason tended to be sport and hunting.

The researchers note that the study contains limitations given that it used a small sample size and does not determine the cause of the trends it observed. Nevertheless, they suggest that their findings could potentially be evidence of wider societal shifts.

"These findings may signal a shift in the underlying drivers of contemporary firearm ownership from participation in hunting and other recreational activities to a perceived need for self-protection, similar to patterns observed on a national level," the authors wrote in the study.

The data contained in the study could also help to inform future research and firearm violence prevention strategies, the researchers said. "Efforts aimed at reducing firearm death and injury may need to address self-protection as a primary driver of ownership, along with misconceptions about the benefits of having a firearm in the home," they wrote.

handgun, gun store
A man chooses a gun at a store in Glendale, California. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images