Why do Americans own AR-15s?
The AR-15 is the best-selling rifle in the United States, industry figures indicate. Almost every major gunmaker now produces its own version of the weapon, which dominates gun dealers' walls and websites.
Critics claim that the military-style gun has no legitimate civilian use - yet about 1 in 20 Americans own one. So who chooses to buy an AR-15, and why?
The Washington Post and Ipsos asked nearly 400 AR-15 owners to explain their reasons for having the weapon, what they use it for and how often they fire it.
The survey found that AR-15 owners come from red, blue and purple states. Compared with Americans as a whole, AR-15 owners are significantly more likely to be white, male and between the ages 40 and 65. They're also more likely to have higher incomes, to have served in the military and to be Republican. And AR-15 owners are more likely to live in states former President Donald Trump won in 2020 than adults overall.
Self-defense was the most popular reason for owning an AR-15. Other popular answers included recreation, target shooting and hunting, while some pointed to owning an AR-15 as their Second Amendment right.
The Post-Ipsos poll is one of the most detailed nationally representative surveys to date focused on the opinions of AR-15 owners.
The gun industry estimates there are about 20 million AR-15s in circulation. There is no way to independently confirm that number, but polling can estimate how many Americans own them.
National surveys by Ipsos in 2022 found that 31 percent of adults own guns. The Post-Ipsos survey of AR-15 owners estimates that 20 percent of gun owners own an AR-15-style rifle. Taken together, the polls find that 6 percent of Americans own an AR-15, about 1 in 20.
The data suggests that with a U.S. population of 260.8 million adults, about 16 million Americans own an AR-15.
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About this story
This Washington Post-Ipsos poll was conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 11, 2022, among 2,104 gun owners, including 399 AR-15-style rifle owners. The sample was drawn through the Ipsos KnowledgePanel, an ongoing panel recruited through random sampling of U.S. households. Results among AR-15 owners have a margin of error of plus or minus 5.5 percentage points. The estimate that 31 percent of U.S. adults own any gun is from an Ipsos KnowledgePanel survey of more than 31,000 adults in November and December 2022.
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