As was widely reported at least ten days ago Dennis Henigan was in denial about the number of guns being purchased. He has a lot invested in that belief because The Brady Campaign has repeatedly said gun ownership is on the decline:
- In 2010, only 32% of households reported having a gun in the home, a sharp drop from the peak figure of 54% in 1977. (May 4, 2011).
- Gun ownership in the United States continues to decline… (April 2011).
- With hunting in decline and gun ownership falling … (web page updated January 24, 2011 or later)
- … the falling percentage of American households with guns, from 54% in 1977 to 33% in 2009. (August 12, 2010)
- Household gun ownership may be declining even though millions of guns are sold each year in part because gun owners are adding more guns to their collections. (web page updated April 2011 or later)
The report they quote was published by the Violence Policy Center. The VPC relied on gun data from the General Social Survey (GSS) conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.
Trends in Gun Ownership
The proportion of households with a firearm has been in slow decline over the last quarter century (Table 6). In the early 1970s about 50% of adults lived in households that kept a firearm. This now has fallen about 34-35%. Similarly, the percent of adults living in a household with a gun fell from a high of 51 % in 1977 to a low of 32-33% in 2000-2001. These declines are partly the result of a decrease in household size. From 1980 until 1997 the proportion of adults personally owning a gun held steady at about 29%. However, since then even this level declined to about 22-24% of adults personally owning a gun.
One of ways people can “cheat without lying” with these statistics is to choose which number make their case look better when there is actually another variable that is changing. In this case the size of household affected the numbers.
In tough economic times households tend to get larger and hence the likelihood of someone owning a gun in the house could increase without the actual number of people owning guns increasing. Hence during good economic times the anti-gun people could chose to report declining “gun in the household” number while ignoring the fact that gun ownership on an individual basis was essentially constant.
I was unable to obtain the percentage of adults that own guns from the GSS data. Perhaps someone else can see a way to do it.
What is very interesting that I was able to get from the data is the number of people that refused to answer the question, given that a gun was in the house, “DOES GUN BELONG TO RESPONDENT?”
The number of people that refused to answer the question about a gun in the home was smaller but had a similar trend:
I would expect the upward trend to continue in 2008 and 2010 because of the mass buying associated with the election of President Obama.
I’m not sure that I have a good explanation for why the Gallup Poll reported gun in the home rate is much higher than reported by GSS (for the most recent GSS year I could find, 2006, is it 42% versus 34.5%). My speculation is that people are more trusting of Gallup than of a much lesser known organization located in an extremely anti-gun city such as Chicago. If that is true then one must also conclude that at something on the order of 5.8%* of the gun-owners lied and said “No” when asked if there was a gun in the house rather than merely refused to answer the question.
* 5.8% is obtained from (42% – 34.5%) – 1.7%