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Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Demographics of Gun Ownership

Largely due to the efforts of the National Rifle Association (NRA), research on gun ownership and violence is at a low ebb in the United States, although the CDC has been re-authorized to start such studies once again, as I have noted before. However, as the New York Times reported recently, the General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, with funding from the National Science Foundation, has been asking questions about guns in households for a long time, and has some surprising and interesting results.
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 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 [The General Social Survey first asked this question in 1973] 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.
Tom W. Smith, the director of the General Social Survey, which is financed by the National Science Foundation, said he was confident in the trend. It lines up, he said, with two evolving patterns in American life: the decline of hunting and a sharp drop in violent crime, which has made the argument for self-protection much less urgent.
It seems likely that the recent rise in gun sales is due to current gun owners buying more firearms, rather than more households acquiring a gun. 

The more specific demographic differences include these: younger people are less likely to own guns than older people; women less likely than men (and an increasing fraction of households are headed by women), Latinos are less likely than others to own a gun (and an increasing fraction of households are headed by a Latino), urban households are less likely than rural households to own a gun (and urban households represent an increasing fraction of households), and Democrats are less likely to own guns than Republicans.

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