Four Decade Decline In Gun Ownership?

| March 11, 2013
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The Facts

The New York Times is reporting a four decade decline in gun ownership in the home, based on 2012 General Social Survey data released last Thursday.

The share of American households with guns has declined over the past four decades, with some of the most surprising drops in the South and the Western mountain states, where guns are deeply embedded in the culture.

The GSS survey indicates that the household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s. In 2012, the share of American households with guns was 34 percent.

GSS Gun Ownership
1970s50%
1980s49%
1990s43%
2000s35%
2010s34%

Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the New York Times, “There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof. But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the share of households with guns.”

But does Webster’s theory hold up with other reports?

The Trends

According to a 2011 study produced by The University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, the number of households owning guns declined from almost 50% in 1973 to just over 32% in 2010. They also state that the number of gun owners had gone down almost 10% over the same period.

And Gallup joined other pollsters in reporting a long decline in gun ownership, down from 50% of households in the 1960s to 41% in late 2010.

Since then, however, Gallup has reported a spike in gun ownership.

Similarly, the latest NBC/WSJ poll also indicated that ownership is up. The number of households reporting gun ownership rose a full percentage point in just one month, reaching 42% as of February, 2013.

NICS background checks also rose to record levels in 2012.

Another correlation, however grim, may be found in CDC firearm accident data.

The number of children killed in accidental shootings increased  from 68 in 2009 to 84 in 2010, reversing a 20-year decline. There were 851 accidental gun deaths  of all ages in 2011, up from 606 the previous year.

GSS researchers insist that while their survey is relatively small, they have no doubt about the overall trend. They indicate that a general decline in hunting and a decrease in violent crime over the years have made owning guns much less of a priority for many Americans.

The National Rifle Association disagrees.

A NRA spokesman, Andrew Arulanandam, told the New York Times that he was skeptical there had been a decline in household ownership. He too pointed to reports of increased gun sales, to long waits for gun safety training classes and to the growing number of background checks.

Up Or Down?

So, up or down? Is there a conflict in the data?

No. GSS, NOPR, Gallup, and other polls all agree on the broad trend: ownership has been steadily declining since the 1970s.

But recent events in Aurora and Newtown, coupled with the upsurge in proposed gun control legislation, appear to have driven sales and ownership higher, reversing a decades-long trend.

GSS researchers noted the rise in their report, but claim that the increase was not statistically significant. The 2012 numbers were just 2 points higher than those taken in 2010 when the rate was 32 percent, and in a poll with an estimated +/-3% margin of error.

Not significant, even though it correlates with Gallup, the NBC/WSJ data, NICS checks, and information from the CDC.

No Conflict

One partial explanation in the statistical difference lies in the fact that the GSS 2012 survey involved interviews with about 2,000 people from March to September.

In other words, most of the survey participants were questioned before the Aurora, Colorado, shooing in July, 2012, and well before the December shooting in Newtown.

And as such, well before the corresponding explosion in gun sales.

Update

Several people have suggested that the polling data itself is in error and that, for various reasons, the individuals surveyed lied to the pollsters as to whether or not they had a gun in the home.

For a breakdown of this, read: Would You Tell A Stranger You Had A Gun?

Summary

The New York Times, based on 2012 General Social Survey data, recently reported that household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s.

In 2012, the share of American households with guns was just 34 percent.

GSS, NOPR, Gallup, and other polls all agree: ownership has been steadily declining since the 1970s.

The broad trend, however, seems to be reversing. The latest NBC/WSJ poll indicates that the number of households reporting gun ownership rose a full percentage point in just one month, reaching 42% as of February, 2013.

Polling data, NICS background check data, CDC data, and recent firearm sales figures all seem to confirm the increase.

GUNFAQ: http://www.gunfaq.org/2013/03/four-decade-decline-in-gun-ownership/

 References

  1. New York Times: Share of Homes With Guns Shows 4-Decade Decline
  2. GUNFAQ: Gun Ownership Up One Percent In One Month
  3. Gallup Poll on Gun Ownership, 2011
  4. 2012 Year of the Gun: FBI Background Checks Soar to New Record

 

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