There has been a surge in Americans buying guns for protection over the past 14 years, a trend that now beats hunting as the main reason for owning a firearm, according to a new Pew Research Center poll.

"The vast majority of gun owners say that having a gun makes them feel safer. And far more today than in 1999 cite protection - rather than hunting or other activities - as the main reason they own guns," said Pew.

According to the non-partisan polling agency, 48 percent say they have a gun for protection. Just 32 percent said they own a gun for hunting or target shooting. In 1999, said Pew, 49 percent said they owned a gun mostly for hunting, while 26 percent cited protection as the biggest factor.

Still, some 58 percent are uncomfortable having guns in the house, worried about accidental shootings.

Among the survey's other major findings from Pew's release:

-- Gun owners and non-gun owners have fundamental disagreements over the effectiveness of new gun laws. Two-thirds (66%) of those who live in households that do not have guns say stricter gun laws would reduce the number of deaths in mass shootings, compared with just 35% of gun owners.

-- While 79% of gun owner say that having a gun makes them feel safer, nearly as many - 78% - say that it is something they enjoy. Very few gun owners, just 7%, say that having a gun makes them feel uncomfortable.

-- Women make up just 26% of all gun owners. Most women say the main reason they own a gun is for protection; among men, protection also is the main reason, though men are more likely than women to say they own a gun for hunting.

-- Among those in households without guns, more women (65%) than men (47%) say they would be uncomfortable having a gun in the home.

-- Partisan differences in attitudes about many gun-related issues are at least as great as the differences between gun owners and non-gun owners. Fully 79% of Democrats say tougher gun laws would cut down on the number of deaths from mass shootings; just 29% of Republicans agree.

-- As some states consider laws that would attempt to nullify new federal gun laws, the survey finds that by a wide margin (60% to 36%) the public says that states should not be allowed to ignore federal gun laws: 58% of Republicans say that states should be allowed to ignore federal gun laws if they so choose, compared with 38% of independents and just 18% of Democrats.