I have posted a number of times before about the Pew Research Center’s 2017 survey of gun owners. The report, America’s Complex Relationship With Guns, ought to be studied closely by all involved in the current wave of our ongoing debates over guns in American society.
As people debate whether to raise the minimum age for purchasing rifles from 18 to 21, it might be helpful to know that the average age at which current or past gun owners first got their own gun is 22. But the average age for those who grew up with guns in their households is 20, and looking just at men the average age drops to 19.
Pew has not yet released the raw data, so we don’t know the average age of first gun acquisition for men who grew up in households with guns, but there is good reason to believe that it is even lower than 19 years of age.
Pew reports that of those who have owned a gun at some point in their lives, 37 percent got their own first gun when they were under 18 years of age. Banning the purchase of rifles by those under 21 years of age will not prevent children or young adults from owning them.
Moreover, of those who have ever shot a gun — 72% of Americans, according to Pew — 63% were under 18 years of age when they first did so. Owning and shooting guns are a normal part of life, including childhood, for many Americans.
To be sure, one gun in the hands of a person with bad intentions can do a great deal of harm. Consequently, an infinitesimally small percentage of guns (0.035%) are responsible for all of the negative outcomes (homicides, suicides, non-fatal injuries) associated with guns in any given year. At the same time, almost no gun owning households (99.788%) have any negative outcomes with their firearms.
This dual reality of guns, along with their normality in many people’s (especially men’s) childhoods, ought to be kept in mind by those debating their role and future in our society.