REUTERS/Jim Young

They’re predominantly “white, married men over the age of 55,” say researchers.

To judge from gun ownership alone, the United States has a private militia that massively dwarfs its own army. Almost a third of the nation’s citizens have one or more guns, and that proportion jumps to more than half in places like Arkansas and West Virginia.

So say researchers at Columbia University and elsewhere who just published the results of a poll of 4,000 Americans in Injury Prevention. About 29 percent of the survey-takers copped to gun-ownership—the majority of them being white, married men older than 55, claim the researchers.

Among their other findings: States with higher gun-ownership rates have higher rates of gun death. (The year they conducted the survey, 2013, saw 33,636 gun-related fatalities nationwide.) Alaska placed first in per-capita firepower with nearly 62 percent of its citizenry having guns; Delaware was last with about 5 percent. And owning a gun is strongly linked to “social gun culture,” defined as having armed friends or family members or taking part in gun-related group activities.

Here’s more about that last one from a press release:

“The link between social gun culture and gun ownership also suggests one avenue through which modern conceptions of the primacy of gun ownership, despite the potential public health consequences, are reinforced,” note the researchers.

“Although notions of protection of one's family and property originally justified gun ownership, [this] is today sustained in public consciousness much more through calls to constitutionally enshrined social values, reinforced intermittently by outrage at efforts to limit widespread gun availability,” they add.

The results suggest that the prevailing social gun culture in the US should be factored in to the planning and implementation of prudent gun policies designed to reduce the harms associated with gun ownership, they conclude.

The study backs up other research on American firearm ownership. In 2013, the Pew Research Center reported that 37 percent of households have a gun, and around the same time Gallup indicated 42 percent of Americans keep a piece at home.

Kalesan et al.

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