Despite a recent trend showing Americans flocking to buy firearms, a recent poll found that the number of US homes with a gun has steadily declined since the 1970s.
Only 34 percent of US households reported owning a gun in 2012, which is a drastic decline from the 50 percent who reported owning one in the 1970s, according to the General Social Survey. The most significant gun ownership declines were reported in the South and Western mountain states, traditionally conservative areas that boast a deep support for Second Amendment rights.
But all throughout the US, the household gun ownership rate has dropped from an average 50 percent in the ‘70s to 43 percent in the ‘90s and 35 percent in the 2000s. Now, at 34 percent, the rate is the lowest it has been in decades, if the poll is accurate. The results appear to conflict with the recent surge in gun purchases.
“There are all these claims that gun ownership is going through the roof,” Daniel Webster, the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, told the New York Times. “But I suspect the increase in gun sales has been limited mostly to current gun owners. The most reputable surveys show a decline over time in the share of households with guns.”
Gun sales reportedly spiked both after the 2012 presidential election, when gun advocates feared the president would restrict Second Amendment rights, and again when those fears kicked in after the Dec. 14 massacre in Newtown, Conn. FBI background checks for weapons hit a record 2.8 million in December, most of which occurred after the mass shooting. And as gun restrictions loom in Congress, Americans are continuing to stock up on firearms.
Smith & Wesson, a major firearms production company, said last week that it has been scrambling to keep up with demand, Reuters reports. The company, which has been operating at full capacity for the last four quarters, expects sales totaling $561.3 million for fiscal year 2013.
"Performance gains were driven by continued robust consumer demand for firearms as well as increased sales of our M&P polymer pistols and modern sporting rifles," Chief Executive Officer James Debney told Reuters.
With a rise in gun sales and ammo and an apparent decline in household gun ownership, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the weapons are ending up and how accurate the General Social Survey is. The federal government stopped tracking household gun ownership in the mid-2000, leaving the only findings up to the University of Chicago, which conducts the survey every two years. The 2012 survey was based on about 2,000 phone and in-person interviews conducted between March and September.
Some Americans have responded to the results with skepticism, while others have tried to explain them in the context of the surge in gun sales. Tom Smith, the director of the General Social Survey, said that the results are in accordance with a decline in the number of Americans who say they go hunting. In 1977, 40 percent of Americans said they hunted, while only 25 percent said they did so in 2012. Smith also believes that many of the recent gun sales can be attributed to Americans buying their second or third guns and that the increase in background checks might often be for those who are renewing their permits.
“If there was a national registry that recorded all firearm purchases, we’d have a full picture,” he told the Times. “But there’s not, so we’ve got to put together pieces.”
But Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, believes that the survey is inaccurate.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people who would love to make the case that there are fewer gun owners in this country, but the stories we’ve been hearing and the data we’ve been seeing simply don’t support that,” he said.
The lack of a federal registry makes it difficult to fully pinpoint the trends regarding gun purchases and ownership. But since the survey was conducted from March through September, 2012, it does not yet take into account the recent surge in gun purchases, as reported by manufacturers throughout the nation. The debate about gun control continues to heat up in Congress, and the effects of the proposed changes have not yet been concretely defined.