The Vanishing Spike in Gun Ownership

The Vanishing Spike in Gun Ownership

A couple of years ago, Gallup made waves with survey data indicating that gun ownership was at a 20-year high, having risen six points to 47 percent in a single year. (Margin of error: plus or minus four points.) On a whim, I took a look today to see if more recent numbers were available.

Indeed, there have been two surveys since then. The spike has faded out -- in fact, the most recent survey turned up one of the lowest numbers ever:

(Unlike the 47 percent number cited above, this graph excludes people who answered "no" but then clarified in a follow-up question that they have guns elsewhere on their property, such as a car or shed. Adding in those folks bumps the most recent number up to 39 percent.)

This result is more consistent with the General Social Survey, which asks a similar question. However, the GSS has recorded a somewhat bigger decline over the years, with recent numbers hovering around 35 percent:

Polls from ABC News/Washington Post and Economist/YouGov suggest that the number is closer to 40 percent than 35 percent. The former has data back to 1999 (Question 16) and no trend is apparent.

At any rate, it seems likely that Gallup's spike was a random fluctuation in the polling data, and that gun ownership has been pretty steady for the last decade or so. Gun-rights supporters need to bear this in mind when, for example, linking the recent surge in gun sales to trends in crime and child gun deaths. Gun sales don't necessarily translate into increased gun ownership; it may be that gun owners are simply adding to their collections.

Robert VerBruggen is editor of RealClearPolicy. Twitter: @RAVerBruggen

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