By Steve Sanetti, National Shooting Sports Foundation
An Associated Press story receiving considerable attention cites the latest General Social Survey finding that gun ownership has declined in recent years, though other research—from Gallup polls to FBI background checks to NSSF-commissioned studies—provides evidence that Americans are embracing gun ownership at a much higher rate than the suspect GSS indicates.
The GSS finds that 32 percent of Americans own firearms or live with someone who owns one, a decrease when compared to GSS ownership rates from the 1970s and 1980s. But who would argue that these are very different times? In this era of government mistrust and information breaches, would you tell a stranger whether you own firearms or not—or freely offer other personal or family information you deem private?
The GSS isn’t actually counting the number of firearms in each household. Rather it is counting the number of individuals willing to disclose to a stranger at their front door how many firearms they own. There should be no surprise that despite an unprecedented eight-year increase in federal background checks to purchase guns, the increased number of carry permits, and rising trends in firearm safety courses and hunting participation, this survey shows a decrease in the number of firearms.
While some may argue that respondents are selling or otherwise disposing of their firearms and not buying new guns, it is far more likely that the political climate is driving down self-reporting. The Obama administration and gun control supporters in Congress and state capitals have worked hard over the past several years to foster a climate of uncertainty and anxiety among law-abiding citizens exercising their Second Amendment right and to stigmatize firearms ownership.
One criminologist, Gary Kleck of Florida State University, has pointed to higher ownership rates cited in Gallup surveys. He notes that these results are closer to the truth since they are based on anonymous phone surveys rather than an in-person poll. In the latest Gallup survey conducted in October 2014, 42 percent of Americans reported having a gun in their household, a fairly consistent figure since 2004. An even greater share, 63 percent, agrees that having a gun in the house makes it a safer place to be. And support for additional gun control has become a minority opinion in the latest Pew research poll.
These findings reflect the increased number of Americans purchasing firearms, particularly handguns, for personal and home protection, and the increased number of carry permits being issued across the country.
An NSSF survey of firearms retailers indicates nearly 25 percent of gun owners are first-time buyers—that is, they have purchased their first firearm within the last five years. Additionally, research shows these new enthusiasts are younger, female and urban/suburban based—all welcome trends for target shooting, hunting and firearm ownership—trends we think are not captured or quantified by GSS takers who come knocking at your door.
Steve Sanetti is the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.