Nation & World

Gun ownership in U.S. drops to record low

A dealer arranges handguns in a display case in advance of a show at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock, Ark. A major U.S. trend survey finds that the number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it's ever been. Data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system shows that in recent years there’s actually been an increase in the number of background checks being run, suggesting the total number of firearms being purchased is going up.
A dealer arranges handguns in a display case in advance of a show at the Arkansas State Fairgrounds in Little Rock, Ark. A major U.S. trend survey finds that the number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it's ever been. Data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system shows that in recent years there’s actually been an increase in the number of background checks being run, suggesting the total number of firearms being purchased is going up. AP

The number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is as low as it has ever been, according to a major American trend survey that found that the decline in gun ownership is paralleled by a reduction in the number of Americans who hunt.

According to the latest General Social Survey, 32 percent of Americans either own a firearm themselves or live with someone who does, which ties a record low set in 2010. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, about half of Americans told researchers there was a gun in their household.

The General Social Survey is conducted by NORC, an independent research organization at the University of Chicago, with money from the National Science Foundation. Because of its long-running and comprehensive set of questions about the demographics, behaviors and attitudes of the American public, it is a highly regarded source of data about social trends.

Data from the 2014 survey was released last week, and an analysis of its findings on gun ownership and attitudes toward gun permits was conducted by General Social Survey staff.

The drop in the number of Americans who own a gun or live in a household with one is probably linked to a decline in the popularity of hunting, from 32 percent who said they lived in a household with at least one hunter in 1977 to less than half that number now.

The decline in the number of households with at least one gun doesn’t necessarily mean that the number being purchased is decreasing. Data from the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check system shows that in recent years there’s been an increase in the number of background checks being run, suggesting the total number of firearms being purchased is going up.

But those guns are concentrated in fewer hands than they were in the 1980s, the General Social Survey found. The 2014 poll found that 22 percent of Americans own a firearm, down from a high of 31 percent in 1985.

Gun demographics

The survey also ffound a shrinking gender gap in personal firearm ownership as a result of a decline in the percentage of men who own one, from 50 percent in 1980 to 35 percent in 2014.

Fewer women than men own guns, but the percentage among women has held fairly steady since 1980, with 12 percent now saying they personally own a gun.

About 14 percent of adults under age 35 and 31 percent of those over 65 say they own a gun. That gap has increased over time – in 1980, younger adults were only slightly less likely than older ones to report that they owned a gun.

The poll found that half of Republicans live in households with at least one gun, twice as high as ownership among Democrats and independents.

People in higher-income households are significantly more likely than those in lower-income households to own a gun, the survey found. Gun ownership rates also vary by race, with 4 in 10 Anglos living in households with a gun, compared with less than 2 in 10 blacks and Hispanics.

Blacks and Hispanics are also more likely than Anglos to support requiring a permit to own a gun, although large majorities among all three groups support requiring a permit.

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