Who owns a handgun? An analysis of the correlates of handgun ownership in young adulthood


Gresham, Mitchell (2016). Who owns a handgun? An analysis of the correlates of handgun ownership in young adulthood.


Handgun ownership in the U.S. is associated with both risks and benefits with some research showing an increased risk of accidental death and suicide (Hemenway 2011) and other studies finding that crime and victimization reductions associated with handgun ownership are significant (Kleck 1988: Kleck 2004; Kleck & Gertz 2005). However, little of this research addresses a fundamental question about handgun ownership: Why do some people choose to buy handguns while most in the U.S. do not? Lack of knowledge about what motivates handgun ownership precludes an educated national discussion about gun ownership, gun control, and gun violence. Previous research on the motivations for handgun ownership has been hindered by a paucity of data, inconsistent measures of ownership, and consideration of only a limited number of possible motivating factors at one time. In the present study, I use multiple waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescence to Adult Health (ADD Health) to examine adolescent and adult correlates of handgun ownership in a nationally-representative sample of young adults. The motivations for gun ownership outlined in the prior literature include socialization (O’Connor & Lizotte 1979; Cao et al 1997), masculinity (Stroud 2012), victimization and fear of crime, (DeFronzo 1979; Hill et al 1985; Kleck et al. 2011; Turner et al 2015; Walllace 2015), political ideology (Cook and Ludwig 1997; Hepburn et al. 2007), and societal insecurities (Jiobu & Curry 2001l; Carlson 2015). Using logistic regression and multinomial logistic regression, I examine all of these correlates simultaneously in order to better understand handgun owners and the differences between “typical” handgun owners (i.e., those owning 1-2 handguns) and atypical owners (i.e. those owning 3 or more handguns). The findings showed that socialization, victimization, conservatism, and societal insecurity increase the likelihood of handgun ownership but none of the focal correlates differentiated typical from atypical handgun owners. Socialization had the strongest effect on handgun ownership. These findings suggest that handgun ownership is affected by a normalizing that occurs inter-generationally in the home as well as more broadly in the South.



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Gresham, Mitchell

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Demuth, Stephen

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Bowling Green State University

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