• 69% of Americans Have Fired a Gun At Least Once

    January 16, 2015

    Dear Mona,

    Guns are popular and a lot of people have them. How many people have never shot a gun?

    Curtis, 28, Richland, Washington

    Dear Curtis,

    In October 2007, the polling company Gallup asked 1,010 adults for their views about gun control. Among the questions was: “Have you, personally, ever fired a gun?” to which 31 percent of respondents answered “no.”
    If it seems like I’m giving you out-of-date numbers, I assure you it’s not for want of looking for more recent ones. You might be curious enough to ask the question, but it doesn’t seem all too important to pollsters. Even though surveys about gun control are conducted several times a year (and have been for decades), this question about lifetime gun use doesn’t come up very often. Aside from 2007, I can find three occasions when this question was asked:

    • In July 1989, 29 percent of respondents said they had never fired a gun (Gordon Black/USA Today, 612 telephone interviews);
    • In December 1993, 26 percent of respondents said they had never fired a gun (Gallup/CNN/USA Today, 1,014 telephone interviews);
    • In March 1999, 33 percent of respondents said they had never fired a gun (Gallup, 1,021 telephone interviews).

    I could say that the percentage of Americans who have fired a gun hasn’t changed much. But there just isn’t enough data to make that conclusion. So I’ll look at another indicator of Americans’ direct experiences with guns: ownership trends. Although we have more historic data here, I’m still forced to rely on surveys, since the government doesn’t keep track of who owns a gun.

    Those surveys don’t all tell the same story. Gallup shows that the percentage of Americans who own a gun has fluctuated but is now the same as it was in the late 1970s. By contrast, the General Social Survey (GSS), which is conducted every two years by the University of Chicago, finds that there’s been a significant decline in the percentage of households that own a gun since the late ‘70s. Based on their polls since 1993, Pew Research Center agrees with the trend in the GSS.

    But is gun ownership even a good way to understand how many Americans have fired a gun? It’s hard to say, but a 1989 survey did find that 95 percent of 605 people who said they owned a gun also said they had fired it (“while target shooting, while hunting, just for fun, for self-protection, to scare someone, or for any other reason?”).

    You told me in a follow-up email that you’re in the 69 percent who have fired a gun at some point in their lives — that you did so in your Boy Scout days, but that your wife has never touched one. Which got me wondering if we know anything about which Americans are most likely to have shot a gun. We don’t. But we do know, thanks to a Pew survey from February 2013, that 61 percent of U.S. adults who own a gun are white men.

    Overall, then, more Americans have fired a gun than haven’t. And that majority probably rises among Americans who are white and male.

    Hope the numbers help,


    Iowa Firearms Coalition is an entirely volunteer, grassroots, 2nd Amendment advocacy group. Responsible for bringing uniformity to Iowa’s Concealed Weapons Permitting process, IFC’s members work to protect and enhance 2nd Amendment rights in Iowa. An affiliate of the National Rifle Association, the IFC actively seeks to foster and promote the shooting sports. Sign up for our email list for the latest on 2nd Amendment issues in Iowa. You can support our work by becoming a member, or making a donation.

  • 11 Ways to Help a New Shooter Succeed

    November 13, 2014



    “I think I need to learn how to shoot a gun. Can you help me?”

    Whether it’s coming from a friend, colleague or family member, these are the words that everyone who loves the shooting sports should be thrilled to hear. It can be hard for someone who has never fired a gun before to admit that they need help. The fact that they’ve chosen to trust you with this critically important task should come as a tremendous compliment—as well as a serious responsibility. The first trip to the range can make or break a person’s future interest in the shooting sports, so it’s up to you to ensure that the experience is a positive one.

       1.      Emphasize Safety

    The most important part of a first trip to the range should start long before you pull into the parking lot. Explain to your first-timer that safety comes first, and help show them what that means. Consider using an object that is not a firearm (say, a “blue gun” or a water pistol) to demonstrate the concept of a “safe direction.” Show them how to move themselves around the gun to keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction, and how to keep their finger outside the trigger guard. Go over the Three Rules (1.ALWAYS keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot;ALWAYS keep the gun unloaded until ready to use) until they know them by heart.

    2.      Tell Them What to Expect

    Explain the rules of the range that you plan to take them to ahead of time. Let them know what a Range Safety Officer (RSO) is, and emphasize that they must obey the RSO’s directions. Tell them what the range commands mean in practical terms. They may get the idea of “Ceasefire,” but they may not understand that they can’t fire off just one more shot to empty the magazine.

    3.      Manage Their Expectations

    Unfortunately, the discipline of marksmanship has been misrepresented by the media. Although there is such a thing as a “natural” shooter, most people require practice and instruction to get good at it. Let them know that, although this is a skill just about anyone can learn, nobody expects them to be Wild Bill Hickok or Calamity Jane right off the bat.

    4.      Keep the Situation Relaxed

    If at all possible, try to take your newbie to the range at a time when it’s not crowded. The experience of shooting for the first time is intimidating enough when you’re not feeling self-conscious that you’re being “judged” by more experienced shooters, or being continually startled by the report of a .308 from the next lane over. Speaking of which…

    5.      Reduce Noise as Much as Possible

    Again, due to media misrepresentation, many new shooters will underestimate just how loud a gun’s report can be. It’s natural for people to startle or be made uneasy by repeated loud noises, even if they’re expecting it. Many problems with flinching when shooting are due more to the noise than to recoil. Have them double up on ear protection, using both foam plugs and earmuffs. If you have legally obtained a suppressor for your firearm, this is the time to break it out!

    6.      Bring the Right Gun

    Many of the folks who are just getting into shooting are doing so because they’re concerned about personal defense. However, many personal-defense firearms can be quite intimidating to shoot, offering intense recoil and muzzle blast. This first trip to the range should be about gaining comfort and having fun, so focus on firearms that are easy to shoot. A long-barreled revolver chambered in .22, for example, or a rifle chambered in .17 HMR, will allow your newbie to focus on their fundamentals instead of how much their hands and shoulders hurt.

    7.      Bring the Right Guns, Plural

    If possible, bring more than one firearm. Everyone’s anatomy and preferences are different, so your newbie may discover that they actually like shooting a semi-auto better than a revolver, or that the rifle you brought is too long for them. Who knows—if all goes well, they may even want to try the .45 before they leave!

    8.      Make it Easy For Them to Succeed

    Nothing breeds success like success. If your range will allow it, consider using paper plates as targets for the first several shots; that way, your newbie won’t be upset with themselves for not hitting the 10-ring. Anything that hits the plate is a “win.” If you’re starting with a pistol, consider keeping the targets at no more than 7 yards. (After all, that’s the distance at which the vast majority of self-defense shootings happen.) Focus on helping them achieve proper sight picture, a good trigger squeeze and a good stance, not on precise marksmanship.

    9.      Keep it Fun

    As your new shooter gains confidence, why not try reactive targets? Targets that change color when they are hit are not only fun, but offer real-time feedback for the shooter. Perhaps some whimsical “zombie” targets will amuse them, or maybe they’d enjoy steel targets that fall down when hit.

    10.  Respect Their Space

    You’ll want to stand close enough to them that you can see what they’re doing, but try not to breathe down their neck. It’s quite likely that, at some point, you’ll need to help adjust your mentee’s stance or grip. Even if you know this person well, before you touch them, let them know why and ask their permission. (“I need to adjust your stance. May I touch your elbow?”) Do not touch them without their permission unless there’s a serious safety-based reason to do so, as many people become nervous and flinchy when they are touched unexpectedly.

    11.  Remember, This is About Them (Not You)

    We’re all human, and sometimes the urge to show a beginner just what an expert is capable of can be overwhelming. Resist it. Even the most naturally talented newbie may be discouraged if they see you rapidly empty your magazine into a perfect dime-sized hole at 25 yards.


    Reprinted from the NRA’s Family Insights Blog