The first comprehensive survey to look at ownership and use of modern sporting rifles reveals that 8.9 million Americans went target shooting with AR-style rifles in 2009 and that participants using this type of rifle were the most active among all types of sport shooters.
"These findings underscore that modern sporting rifles are becoming commonplace in America and are among the most desired firearms by sport shooters," said Steve Sanetti, president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, trade association of the firearms industry. "Those who want to ban these civilian sporting rifles simply because they look like military rifles must acknowledge after seeing this study that AR-style rifles are exceedingly popular with millions of Americans. These rifles are our industry's high-tech, cutting-edge product—rugged, accurate, versatile, fun to shoot and easily accessorized—and they're here to stay."
The study, "Shooting Sports Participation Survey in the United States in 2009," was conducted for NSSF by Responsive Management through a random digit dialing telephone survey of 8,204 U.S. residents ages 18 and older. (This is a separate survey from the NSSF/Harris Interactive online poll announced in a March 31 press release.) To avoid confusion, the term "modern sporting rifle" was further defined as an AR-style rifle.
Mark Damian Duda, executive director of Responsive Management, explained the survey's methodology, saying "This was a highly scientific study with the sample meticulously developed on a state-by-state basis to construct the national number. Both landline and cell phones were utilized in the actual proportions they exist within the American population."
Duda said this type of telephone survey yields a 95 percent confidence level. The report's sampling error is plus or minus 1.08 percentage points.
New High for Overall Participation—34.4 Million Shooters
The statistics related to modern sporting rifles were part of a wide-ranging survey that revealed a new high-water mark for annual participation in formal and informal sport and target shooting. The study showed that 15 percent of the U.S. population, representing 34.4 million people nationwide, went target shooting in 2009. This number surpasses all other previous survey estimates of annual sport shooting participation.
"Recreational shooting had a banner year in 2009," said Sanetti. "Firearms sales were way up, so it's really no surprise that more people are enjoying the shooting sports than ever before."
Added Duda, "This study measured all shooting participation—from hunters sighting in, to friends going shooting with friends who own firearms, to women practicing their self-defense skills. This study measured the full range of shooting activities across America."
Modern Sporting Rifle Shooters Most Active
Compared with sport shooters using other types of firearms, users of modern sporting rifles were most active nationally—and also in every U.S. region identified in the study.
The survey showed that an estimated 8,868,085 people shot a modern sporting rifle in 2009, doing so on 22.9 days. Regionally, those who lived in the South participated on 29.6 days, followed by the West (21.1 days), Northeast (20 days) and Midwest (15.5 days). Though more people shot other types of rifles (24 million) and handguns (22 million) than modern sporting rifles, they ranked below modern sporting rifle shooters in activity, with rifle users participating on 17.3 days and handgun shooters 16.7 days.
More people shot with modern sporting rifles, and more often, than with shotguns in the established sports of skeet, trap and sporting clays. The survey showed 7.6 million people went trap shooting on 14.8 days, 7 million went skeet shooting on 15.5 days and 8.4 million participated in sporting clays on 13.7 days.
The survey sought to define the demographic makeup of those who shoot with a modern sporting rifle, such as an AR-15, but not a traditional sporting rifle, such as a bolt or lever action, revealing the following:
- •Most modern sporting rifle users reside in small cities or towns (25 percent) and non-farm rural areas (25 percent) compared with urban areas (19 percent), suburban areas (16 percent) and farms/ranches (15 percent).
- •Modern sporting rifles appealed to younger shooters, with 64 percent of users ranging in age from 18 to 44.
- •Modern sporting rifle users were 86 percent white, with Hispanic/Latinos the next largest ethnic group at 5 percent.
- •Men represented 84 percent of modern sporting rifle shooters and women 16 percent.
- •34 percent of modern sporting rifle shooters had some college education or a trade school degree, 29 percent a bachelor's degree and 27 percent a high school degree or equivalent.
"We hope this survey helps shed light on the often misunderstood modern sporting rifle and demonstrates the tremendous appeal they have with recreational shooters," said Jim Curcuruto, NSSF's director of industry research and analysis. "This survey provides a baseline to measure what will undoubtedly be an increase in participation with these rifles in the future. NSSF will continue to research this exciting segment of the firearms industry in an effort to develop a more in-depth understanding and identify trends for NSSF member companies to utilize."
Ownership of modern sporting rifles has been a contentious issue in the United States. In 2004 Congress did not renew a federal law that prohibited the sale of semi-automatic rifles with certain cosmetic features such as the pistol grip and adjustable stock found on many models of modern sporting rifle. Various studies found insufficient evidence that the law had any effect on reducing violent crime.
Modern sporting rifles, built on the AR-15 platform, are often confused with military rifles such as the M-16 and M-4. While modern sporting rifles and military rifles look similar to each other, the modern sporting rifle functions as a semi-automatic, firing one round with each pull of the trigger. Anti-gun organizations that support banning these civilian sporting rifles deliberately mislabel them as "assault rifles" even though an actual assault rifle is fully automatic—a light machine gun. Automatic firearms have been severely restricted from civilian ownership since 1934. The AR designation does not stand for "assault rifle" or "automatic rifle," but rather for ArmaLite, the company that developed the rifle in the 1950s.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation last year launched a campaign—"Evolution of the American Hunting Rifle"—to correct confusion and misinformation about semi-automatic modern sporting rifles among hunters. The latest component of the campaign—an educational message aimed at recreational shooters—will appear in recreational shooting magazines this year.
To view the full NSSF/Responsive Management "Shooting Sports Participation Survey in the United States in 2009," go to NSSF.org.