Many gun control advocates and people in the media like to claim that gun ownership in the United States is declining. Are they right or wrong?
According to the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago since 1972, gun ownership in the United States has declined to the point where only 31 percent of households had guns in 2014. This is a significant decline from the all-time high of 50.4 percent in 1977 and many gun control advocates use this figure to support claims that there are fewer overall gun owners who own larger numbers of guns each. However, is that figure truly accurate?
NORC conducts their General Social Survey, which covers a wide range of topics (to include gun ownership), each year by conducting face to face interviews with a group of people from a number of different backgrounds selected to ensure the study accurately represents the diverse cross section of the population of the United States. Among many other questions, participants are asked “Do you happen to have in your home (IF HOUSE: or garage) any guns or revolvers?”
While their data does appear to indicate a pretty significant decline in gun ownership in the United States over the past 30 years, many gun rights advocates question the accuracy of the data. A common argument that is made to refute this claim is the fact that recent years have seen a massive spike in gun purchases. For instance, the 10 days with the most NICS background checks have all occurred in the last four years, when the study indicates that gun ownership in the United States was at it its lowest point.
So, I think it is beyond debate that Americans have purchased literally millions of guns in the past few years. However, does that data reflect more people buying guns for the first time? Or just existing gun owners adding more guns to their collections? That’s the $64,000 question.
Another interesting piece of data that actually may help refute the claim that gun ownership in the United States is declining is a long running Gallup poll asking whether there should be a law banning handguns except by police and other authorized people. When the question was first asked in 1959, 60 percent of respondents favored such a law. However, only 26 percent of respondents expressed support for this law in 2014.
While the two polls are not directly related, the fact that support for a ban on handguns has declined by over 50 percent while overall gun ownership allegedly suffered a significant decline doesn’t make much sense, especially when you take the record firearm sales of the past few years into account.
So how do you explain the inconsistencies? The main reason that comes to my mind is the fact that many gun owners are very reluctant to tell a stranger that they own guns. Even though the administrators of the GSS take great pains to assure participants that the survey results are strictly confidential, I would not be surprised to discover that actual gun owners were significantly underrepresented in the survey (for whatever reason) and that some of the gun owners who did participate either refused to answer the question or said that they did not own guns.
What do you think? Is gun ownership really declining in the United States? Or are there some flaws in the GSS survey?
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