US Protestants More Likely Than Catholics to Own Guns, Poll Says

Gun owners in the country tend to be men, white, married and living in the South, shows a Gallup study published Friday. The analysis of surveys for the last five years also shows that Protestants are more likely to own guns than Catholics.

An average of 30 percent of Americans said they personally own a gun and another 14 percent said they did not personally own a gun but live in a household with someone who does, according to an analysis of Gallup surveys of some 6,000 U.S. adults from 2007 to 2012.

The study also found that men, at 45 percent, are three times more likely than women, at 15 percent, to personally own guns. Gun ownership also varies significantly by region, with Southerners, at 38 percent, more likely to own guns than those living in other regions of the country – East at 21 percent, Midwest at 29 percent and West at 27 percent.

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Marriage is also a strong predictor of gun ownership, with 37 percent of married people likely to own guns compared with 22 percent of those not married.

The study found that while 25 percent of Catholics are likely to own guns, gun ownership likely stands at 36 percent among Protestants or other Christians. Thirty-two percent of those who attend church weekly are likely to be in possession of guns. The gun ownership rates slightly decrease among those who attend church nearly weekly or monthly, or even seldom of never – at 29 percent.

The analysis also found that Republican Party identification is associated with higher rates of gun ownership – 38 percent versus 22 percent for Democrats. However, higher rates of Republican gun ownership likely result more from the fact that men, Southerners, and married people tend to identify as Republicans than from something about being a Republican drawing one to owning a gun, Gallup's Jeffrey M. Jones explained.

The analysis does not provide reasons behind higher rates of gun ownership among Protestants and other Christians than among Catholics. But for the strong relationship between gender and personal gun ownership, Jones said it may be due to men being more likely than women to participate in activities that require guns, such as hunting or sport shooting.

Gun ownership in general may appeal more to men than to women for those who do not actively use guns for recreational activities, the study suggests. Moreover, it says, men are more likely to have served in the military and thus to have had experience with firearms. However, that doesn't mean women have hardly any exposure to guns, given that many women live in a household that has a gun, the analysis notes.

The reasons behind the relationship between marital status and gun ownership could be that marriage rates are higher among other subgroups that tend to own guns, such as older Americans and those who are politically conservative, Jones suggested. Married people may also have greater financial resources to own a gun, and may be more likely to feel a need to own a gun for security reasons – though there is no difference in gun ownership among people with and without young children.

The high level of gun ownership means efforts in Washington to restrict gun ownership will potentially affect tens of millions of Americans. From a political standpoint, the question is whether those gun owners are more likely to see possible new restrictions on guns as a necessary step to try to limit gun violence in the country or as an unacceptable limitation on their ability to own guns, Jones said.

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