There is a paradox when it comes to guns in America. In states like California, gun ownership has doubled in the last 15 years while murder rates dropped substantially in that time. Today,
almost one in three US adults owns at least one gun, and owners are more likely to be white married men over the age of 55, hardly a high crime demographic.

Instead of being for crime, most guns are used for suicide - and even then fewer people commit suicide with guns in the US than do by hanging in Japan. Though Switzerland had always scoffed at the notion that guns cause crime - gun ownership is even higher there - similar results in more than one country dispel the myth that more legal guns lead to more crime or more murders.

But though they are not criminals, or they couldn't own guns, gun owners are are more than twice as likely as non-gun owners to be associated with an active 'social gun culture' where either their family or friends own guns, according to an analysis of responses from 4,000 nationally representative US adults for a survey on gun ownership and social activities with friends and family that involved guns. Almost one in three (29.1%) respondents said they owned at least one gun. Gun owners were predominantly white men over the age of 55, and married. Gun owners were more than twice as likely as non-gun owners to have family or friends who owned guns or practiced at a shooting or hunted with them, which the authors of a new paper in Injury Prevention call 'gun culture'. However, only about 500 annual gun deaths involve rifles, even the so-called "assault" kind, and most deaths are accidents.

Rates of gun ownership and gun deaths were obviously higher in states that did not make gun ownership more difficult. Federal laws require background checks so state obstacles would be things like making it difficult to get a permit. Gun ownership among states varied widely, with the lowest rate in tiny Delaware at 5.2%, and while the wilderness people in Alaska had the highest at 61.7%.

Vermont had the highest rates of gun ownership in the northeast (28.8%), while North Dakota had 47.9% in the Midwest and Arkansas was highest in the south with 57.9%. Gun ownership rates were 50% higher in those states with high gun death rates as they were in those with low gun death rates, the findings showed.

"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," said the researchers.

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.