Who Are Gun Owners in the United States? A Latent Class Analysis of the 2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey


We used data from the 2019 National Lawful Use of Guns Survey to segment the gun-owning population into different subcultural categories. Performing a latent class analysis, we introduce six types of indicators: (1) the types of firearm owned, (2) the reported primary reason for owning a firearm, (3) involvement in various gun-related activities, (4) Second Amendment activism, (5) the extent to which those in one’s social network own guns, and (6) measures of symbolic meanings attached to firearms. We introduce gender, race, U.S. region, and political affiliation as covariates. We find six classes of gun owners. The largest group (28 percent) is composed of family protectors who go to the shooting range and feel empowered by their guns. The second largest category (19 percent) is made up of incidental gun owners motivated by protection or family tradition. The third group (18 percent) consists of Second Amendment activists who engage in multiple gun-related activities and are resistant to social change. The fourth category (13 percent) contains target shooters. The fifth group (12 percent) is made up of hunters. The sixth category (11 percent), self-protectors, has a majority of women (51 percent). Our findings add to a very recent body of literature on variations in the meanings that guns have for people. In particular, we demonstrate that there are stark cultural differences between gun owners and that the body of existing research on this topic has mostly focused on the Second Amendment activists, who only represent about 18 percent of all gun owners.

Last updated on 08/26/2021