Introduction: A better understanding of the lawful use of guns and the symbolic meaning of guns to gun owners is essential to bridge the divide in public opinion regarding policies to reduce gun violence in the U.S.
Methods: A national, prerecruited Internet panel of U.S. adults in 2019 was used to survey gun owners (n=2,086) to ascertain their gun-related attitudes and practices. Data were analyzed in 2020.
Results: The primary reason given for owning a gun was defense (59.4%), followed by recreation (26.8%). A minority of the gun owners in the sample (22.9%) reported taking part in any gun- related activity more than rarely. The proportion of respondents who agreed that guns are an important part of their identity was just 10.0%. The majority of the gun owners viewed gun control advocates as wanting to take away all guns (58.5%). Nearly 70% of gun owners reported that a rea- son for their reluctance to engage in gun violence prevention was that they feel alienated because they perceive gun control advocates as blaming them for the gun violence problem, not understand- ing gun ownership, and not understanding much about guns.
Conclusions: For most of the gun owners, gun ownership plays a practical role as a method of self- protection and has a symbolic association with freedom. Public health practitioners must develop novel communication strategies that avoid alienating gun owners by creating a perception that the ultimate aim is to take their guns away.