How many Canadian households have guns? Based on reputable surveys, between 23% and 33% of Canadian households have at least one member who owns firearms and does so in a responsible manner.
This is about twice as many firearms owners as the RCMP reports that hold a PAL. Firearms accidents remain extremely low, despite the large numbers of gun owners who lack a PAL. Children are safe in homes with firearms as long as parents observe basic safety rules. The key is a culture of safety, not government paperwork.
These estimate of household frequency of gun ownership are based on Angus Reid’s 2020 and 2019 public opinion surveys. The number of households with firearms is derived by combining the percentage of households who report owning firearms from Angus Reid survey with Statistics Canada’s estimate of the number of Canadian households.
According to Angus Reid’s 2020 national survey at least 4 million adults report owning guns. According to the RCMP, 2,198,275 Canadians had an authorized firearm licence, a PAL, as of 31 December 2020.
Have almost two million Canadians decided not to get a PAL? Or have I made a mistake?
Here’s the calculations.
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from April 28 – 30, 2020 among a representative randomized sample of 1,581 Canadian adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum.
Angus Reid found that 13% of their survey reported owning firearms personally [208/1581].
According to StatsCan, on July 1, 2020 there were 30,782,556 adults over 18. [The table has to be adjusted by going to “Age Group”and adding the 18 year-and-older age group]. This yields 4.05 million firearms owners. [If this link doesn’t work, return to the earlier link, scroll down to the links to the detailed tables].
How many households have firearms? Two further steps are required before we can calculate the number of households with firearms.
First, survey researchers have found that some women deny having a gun in their household when they actually do. See here and here. An estimated 24% of the gun owners were female.
Angus Reid found that 6% of women reported owning a firearm (.06 x 822 = 49) which is 24% of gun owners (49/208).
Since women under report by an estimated 16%, their female estimate is boosted by this percentage (the number of female owners is boosted to 54), giving a new total of 215 gun owners. After making this correction we estimate that 14% of Canadians, or 4.19 million, are firearms owners.
The next step is to estimate how many households have gun owners. Two points need to be made.  Virtually all adults live in a household [the most important exceptions are incarcerated criminals].  The GPC 2000 study of firearms ownership found that there were 1.23 owners per household. Correcting for this, we get 3.4 million households with firearms
Since there were an estimated 14.07 million households in 2020, this gives 23% of households with guns [3.4/30.8].
Canadian household estimates can be found here:
A second approach to estimating how many Canadian households have guns is based on Angus Reid’s 2019 survey.
In some ways this survey is more suitable as it asks how many gun owners are in a household and just as importantly, reports percentages of refusals or ‘don’t know.’
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from April 26 – 30, 2019 among a representative randomized sample of 1,525 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum.
According to Angus Reid, 14.4% of the sample [220/1525] reported owning a firearm. (See questions 17 and 18, toward the bottom). In addition, AR also asked if there was someone else in the household who owned a firearm. 13% said yes, and 9% said they did not know. If we assume those who say they ‘don’t know’ are actually refusing to admit there is a firearm in their home, that gives 22% of the remaining 1,305 respondents, or an additional 287 firearms owners.
Thus, 33% of the sample [220+287=507/1505] are estimated to own firearms.
Because this is a household survey, not an individual survey, the proportion of Canadian households with a firearm is 33%.
These tables provide population and dwelling counts established by the 2021 Census of
The estimates differ due to the methodology employed. It is doubtful that one year difference in the survey would produce such a change in firearms ownership.
The true percentage of households with firearms may well be higher than 33%. Research has found that survey estimates of “sensitive questions” such as firearms ownership, tend to be under-reported due to a large range of methodological issues. Understandably, many people might be hesitant to tell a stranger on the phone, or in a web survey, that they have firearms. Older people such as widows may also simply forget that a long unused firearm is in the closet.
Thanks to RangeBob for suggesting this general approach. Since I have taken liberties with his approach, any and all errors are my responsibility, not his.
This would be entirely consistent with the estimates of the number of firearm owners who simply dropped out of the system between the FAC regime and the adoption of the Federal firearm licences (PAL) under the Canadian Firearm Act of 1995. So focused upon the registration of long guns were they, that the background checks pursuant to licensing were done on a “discretionary basis”, per then Solicitor General Wayne Easter who stood in the House to admit same.
Thanks for your comment. Few police have any interest in wasting their time chasing down non-violent scofflaw gun owners [although some do], most are willing to just wait until the non-compliant get caught making a paper mistake, and then throw the book at them.
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