The Pew Research Center's latest survey on gun control this week provided a familiar profile of the typical gun owner in the United States: adult, white and male. That profile differs greatly from the makeup of the country, according to Pew. White men represent just a third of the U.S. population, but about 60 percent of adults with guns in America today are white men.
This revelation isn't new. In April, Dan Baum, author of the recent book "Gun Guys: A Road Trip" about gun culture in the U.S., told U.S. News he worried that the National Rifle Association had put "an angry middle-aged white face on gun culture." In recent years, gun companies have increasingly added outreach to women and to youth in an attempt to spread the demographic.
And despite Pew's findings, gun groups today say that the demographics of gun owners are finally starting to change. Dudley Brown, the executive director of both the National Association for Gun Rights and the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a local gun rights group, says he has recently seen an uptick in membership among Hispanic communities and among women. In concealed-carry classes hosted by the Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, he says the male-female split has become 50-50.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the main trade group for the firearms industry, says its numbers are more proof of a demographic shift. In a 2012 NSSF report, for example, retailers were asked whether they had seen an increase or decrease in female customers in their stores. Some 78.6 percent said the number of women had increased. In 2010, 61.1 percent said they were seeing more women in their stores.
The Pink Pistols, a gay gun rights group with male, female and transgender members, says its very existence also upends assumptions about gun owner demographics. "We really are a melting pot," says the group's head, Gwen Patton. "We have a lot of other people of color ... We have every conceivable political stripe. ... There's no way to say: 'Gun owners are this particular group,' because they're not."
Patton concedes, however, that even in the Pink Pistols, gun ownership skews male. Some 60 percent of the group's members today are men.
But she says she has seen more women getting interested in gun ownership in recent years – and that it's often been motivated by safety. In Florida, for example, where 1 in 6 women have experienced rape, she says "scads of women" came out to buy guns for protection after the state enacted a concealed-carry law.
Brown says many of the women who have join Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, too, say they first bought a gun out of safety concerns.
Some of the demographic shift may be due to a concerted effort for outreach by gun groups. Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation, a gun rights group, said "it used to bother me that every place I go gun owners are old, white, male and bald," but that the group had "worked to diversify the movement a lot" by partnering with other groups such as the Pink Pistols.
Others say the shift is happening more naturally. "We recruit wherever we find the waters and wherever more fish are swimming," Brown says. "As an organization we don't try to change the people in it."
But sometimes, that happens on its own.