OK, I’ve covered this topic before, but since it seems to be one of the Democratic Talking Points™ being parroted widely these days, time to take it up again.
A recent survey announced (and was touted by the media):
The share of American households with guns has declined over the past four decades, a national survey shows, with some of the most surprising drops in the South and the Western mountain states, where guns are deeply embedded in the culture.
The gun ownership rate has fallen across a broad cross section of households since the early 1970s, according to data from the General Social Survey, a public opinion survey conducted every two years that asks a sample of American adults if they have guns at home, among other questions.
The rate has dropped in cities large and small, in suburbs and rural areas and in all regions of the country. It has fallen among households with children, and among those without. It has declined for households that say they are very happy, and for those that say they are not. It is down among churchgoers and those who never sit in pews.
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, according to the survey data, analyzed by The New York Times.
The number of US households with guns has dropped 15 percent since the 1970s, from 50 percent the population’s households to 35 percent, according to a new survey.
All the stories about people rushing out to buy guns after recent mass shootings may give the impression that more Americans have guns at home. Yet a survey reveals that the percentage of U.S. homes with a gun has been in steady decline over the past four decades, with a surprisingly sharp drop in the South and Western mountain states. Whereas an average of 50 percent of households owned a gun in the 1970s, that number declined to 35 percent in the 2000s, with 34 percent of households reporting gun ownership in 2012, notes the New York Times.
When we see attendance at gun shows and reports of brisk gun sales at gun stores, it’s easy to get the impression that a larger percentage of Americans are choosing to purchase firearms. There is, however, ample evidence to the contrary — even as gun sales go up, the percentage of households with guns goes down.
ad infinitum. As goes The New York Times, so goes the world they say.
The Wall Street Journal had, I think, the most balanced opinion piece on the subject, Guns Present Polling Conundrum. I recommend you read the whole thing, but here are some pertinent excerpts:
Press clippings over the last 25 years show reported counts of gun owners fluctuating from 44 million up to 192 million, with dozens of different figures cited, some in the same year, and some — such as the 192 million figure — the result of confusing estimates of guns in American households with counts of gun owners, some of whom own more than one gun.
The polling discrepancies have baffled pollsters.
Michael Dimock, director of the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, said he also expected question wording to explain the difference: “I was sure we’d find the answer there.” However, Dimock said “you don’t see those things having a consistent effect” — some ask very similar gun questions and get very different estimates. “It’s certainly to me one of the biggest polling puzzles I’ve come across in the last few years.”
“Nobody’s really explained why they come up with such dramatic differences,” Aaron Karp, senior consultant to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey and senior lecturer in political science at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., said of pollsters.
Who answers the phone in the household could affect responses. “We know that in a survey where respondents are randomly selected from adults in the household, a household headed by a married couple is substantially more likely to report guns in the home if the husband is selected than if the wife is selected,” said Philip Cook, an economist and gun-violence researcher at Duke University.
Also, some gun owners may be reluctant to tell researchers they own guns, because of legal and political considerations, which makes the question more like behavioral or attitudinal questions than like questions that ask basic facts about respondents. “This is an unusual demographic-type question,” said Frank Newport, editor-in-chief of Gallup.
I’m reminded of the Slate piece by Emily Yoffe, the “human guinea pig,” in her piece Guinea Get Your Gun: How I learned to love guns:
So anathema are guns among my friends that when one learned I was doing this piece, he opened his wallet, silently pulled out an NRA membership card, then (after I recovered from the sight) asked me not to spread it around lest his son be kicked out of nursery school.
Lest his son be kicked out of nursery school. Yeah, there’s real incentive to admit gun ownership! (Do read that whole piece. Her experience is what scares the piss out of The Other Side™ – guns ARE fun!)
The Gallup poll they reference is this one – Self-Reported Gun Ownership in U.S. is Highest Since 1993, which concluded in 2011:
Forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property. This is up from 41% a year ago and is the highest Gallup has recorded since 1993, albeit marginally above the 44% and 45% highs seen during that period.
That’s just a hair below the 50% Gallup reported in 1991. And it adds this tidbit:
The new result comes from Gallup’s Oct. 6-9 Crime poll, which also finds public support for personal gun rights at a high-water mark. Given this, the latest increase in self-reported gun ownership could reflect a change in Americans’ comfort with publicly stating that they have a gun as much as it reflects a real uptick in gun ownership.
So we have one side insisting – and I quote: “More guns, fewer homes,” and “Number of US households with guns drops 15 percent,” etc., etc., but what do the numbers actually say? Well, if we take the General Social Survey results at face value, the percentage of households containing a firearm has dropped from 50% in 1970 to 35% in 2012. According to this site, the NUMBER of U.S. households has increased from 63.5 million in 1970 to 114.8 million in 2010. That’s a net increase in households containing firearms of 8,430,000. If Gallup is right and the percentage has declined from 50% in 1991 to 47% in 2011, then the total number of households containing a gun has increased by – again – just over eight million, but in a much shorter period. The discrepancy between the two estimates is right at 13.8 million households.
Either way, there were apparently eight million more households in 2011-12 with firearms than there were at some time in the past.
And yet violent crime, homicide, suicide AND accidental deaths by firearm have declined year-by-year for over a decade.
Now, when I walked the floor at the NRA convention in Houston last weekend, I took time to speak with several vendors and some people I saw walking the show, asking them how business had been for them. One such vendor was Aaron Ludwig of Action Target, the company that recently rebuilt the indoor range at NRA headquarters in Fairfax, VA. I asked Mr. Ludwig how business had been doing for Action Target year-on-year. He informed me that when he joined the company ten years ago, annual sales were $15 million. Last year the company did $100 million in sales. Robert Lewis of EAR Inc. said they’d just had their best year ever. I stopped Susan Rexrode and Natalie Levasseur of Shooting for Women Alliance as they were walking down an aisle in front of me because they were both wearing vests with “Instructor” embroidered on them. SFWA has, they informed me, trained over 10,000 women since its inception. They’ll train men, too, but the men MUST be accompanied by a woman. Business has been so good they are planning to expand this year. I’ve already quoted Kathy Jackson of The Cornered Cat on her training business’s success. Jeff K. of Magpul Industries of course reported that they’re selling everything they can make. Their shipping department has grown from four people to ten, and they still can’t keep up. The CCI representative for their ammunition manufacturing division stated the same concerning ammunition – demand has been steadily increasing until the recent overwhelming demand – and no, the .gov isn’t actually buying more ammo than they normally do – at least not from CCI/Speer.
The NRA Annual Meeting and Exhibits increased its floorspace this year to 440,000 square feet from 340,000 square feet last year. I believe them. I walked the whole thing. Attendance was up, too, from 70,000+ last year to over 86,000 this year. I believe that too – it was wall-to-wall people all day Saturday. I cannot imagine where they all parked. Membership has reportedly surged as well, to 5 million.
And then, on top of all of this, comes the undeniable fact that guns are being sold at record rates, and have been for several years. Yet we’re supposed to believe that the number of people who own guns is declining?
On what planet?