WASHINGTON: A country armed with nearly one pistol, rifle or shotgun for every citizen, the United States has a worldwide reputation for being gun-crazy.
But the reality is much more complex, according to a survey released Thursday, which says gun violence is contributing to significant ambivalence even though it encourages some to arm up.
The Pew Research Center survey confirms well-known basics: four in 10 US households have a gun, more often than not a handgun, often loaded, and seen as essential for their protection.
But that is much smaller than the 70 percent of adults who, in their lifetimes, have shot a gun; more than half the people who say they have never owned a gun have shot one. About a third of all Americans say they never foresee themselves owning a gun.
Gun ownership, which aligns fairly strongly with advocacy of gun rights, in fact is concentrated: two-thirds of gun owners have more than one; fully 29 percent have five or more firearms, Pew says.
And while the stereotypical gun owner is a conservative proud of his weapon, actually only half consider it important to their identity. The other half do strongly tie their identity to their weapons.
But when gun ownership is linked to fundamental freedoms, most owners consider the issue crucial.
“Whether for hunting, sport shooting or personal protection, most gun owners count the right to bear arms as central to their freedom,” Pew said.
“At the same time, the results of gun-related violence have shaken the nation, and debates over gun policy remain sharply polarized.”
Hunting remains a distant second to personal protection as the reason for owning guns, the survey said.