Earlier today I came across a press release issued by the Violence Policy Center with the headline, “Household Gun Ownership Hits New Low – Fewer Than One Out of Three American Households Has a Gun.” From the PR Newswire site yesterday:
Household gun ownership in the United States has dropped to its lowest level since it peaked in 1977 according to a report issued today by the Violence Policy Center (VPC) analyzing new data from the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago…
Household gun ownership peaked in 1977, when more than half (54 percent) of American households reported having any guns. By 2010, this number had dropped more than 20 percentage points to 32.3 percent of American households reporting having any guns in the home–the lowest level ever recorded by the GSS. In 2010, fewer than a third of American households reported having a gun in the home.
Personal gun ownership peaked in 1985, when 30.7 percent of Americans reported personally owning a gun. By 2010, this number had dropped nearly 10 percentage points to 20.8 percent–the lowest level ever recorded by the GSS. In 2010, slightly more than one out of five Americans reported personally owning a gun.
These numbers conflict with other studies of household and personal firearm ownership in the United States. Gallup conducted a poll on gun ownership back in October 2005, with Gallup Poll assistant editor Joseph Carroll writing on November 22:
The poll, conducted Oct. 13-16, finds that 4 in 10 Americans report they have a gun in their homes, including 30% who say they personally own a gun and 12% who say another member of their household owns it. These results show essentially no change since this question was last asked in 2000. At that time, 27% of Americans said they personally owned a gun and 14% said another household member owned one.
Compare this to data used in the Violence Policy Center report showing household gun ownership at 37.3% in 2004 and 34.5% in 2006 (there was no survey data for 2005), and personal gun ownership at 25.5% in 2004 and 21.6% in 2006. The Gallup numbers are higher for both categories.
Now, here’s something interesting I found with the General Social Survey data utilized by the VPC. In 2008, household gun ownership jumped to 36.0% from 34.5% two years prior, then dropped significantly to 32.3% by 2010. In 2008, personal gun ownership also jumped to 23.6% from 21.6% in 2006, before falling to 20.8% in 2010. Seeing that gun sales went through the roof beginning in 2008 out of fears that a Democratic-controlled White House and Congress might enact tough new gun control measures or even confiscation- but GSS data doesn’t reflect ownership of all these additional firearms- is it possible a number of survey respondents weren’t telling the truth about household and personal firearm ownership?
And then there’s Guy Smith, who points out in his most recent edition of the firearms reference guide Gun Facts:
Myth: Gun owners are a tiny minority
Fact: The Federal government estimated that there were over 65 million gun owners in the U.S. and more than 50% were handgun owners.390 This number is generally considered low due to the reluctance of many to admit to a government agency that they own a gun. Other estimates indicate that between 41% and 49% of U.S. households are gun-owning households.
Fact: 43% of Americans claim that they own a gun.391
390 Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 1997.
391 Americans by Slight Margin Say Gun in the Home Makes It Safer, Gallup Poll, October 20, 2006.
(Editor’s note: Italics added for emphasis)
Does the reluctance to admit gun ownership to governmental entities extend to other parties as well? Like those conducting the General Social Survey? It probably doesn’t help that the survey is conducted face-to-face through an in-person interview. From the GSS website:
6 How is the GSS administered?
The vast majority of GSS data is obtained in face-to-face interviews. Computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) began in the 2002 GSS. Under some conditions when it has proved difficult to arrange an in-person interview with a sampled respondent, GSS interviews may be conducted by telephone.
Ask yourself this. If you were a gun owner, would you be open to sharing information about your firearms with a complete stranger, face-to-face no less, considering the stigma placed on gun ownership these days and other concerns such as theft and potential confiscation that come from broadcasting such ownership, or just take the easy way out, answer “no,” and move on to the next question? While it’s a University of Chicago project, it’s not like survey participants are being graded, after all. Therefore, I have a feeling a number of survey-takers may have opted for that second choice.
“Household Gun Ownership Hits New Low – Fewer Than One Out of Three American Households Has a Gun.” Violence Policy Center (Press Release). 26 Apr. 2011. (http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/household-gun-ownership-hits-new-low—fewer-than-one-out-of-three-american-households-has-a-gun-120702544.html). 27 Apr. 2011.
Smith, Guy. Gun Facts Version 5.1. Guy Smith, 2009.
Carroll, Joseph. “Gun Ownership and Use in America.” Gallup. 22 Nov. 2005. (http://www.gallup.com/poll/20098/gun-ownership-use-america.aspx) 27 Apr. 2011.
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