There’s a little known fact about guns in America, and it’s one that the firearms industry and its political allies don’t like to dwell on: The rate of gun ownership in America is declining.
This has been the case for decades. Rates peaked way back in the 1970s, the era of disco balls and bell bottoms. In 1977, 54 percent of American households reported owning guns. In 2010, the last time the General Social Survey data was compiled, the percentage had shrunk to 32.
The Violence Policy Center follows such data, as analyzed by the National Opinion Research Center. The center’s last report was “A Shrinking Minority: The Continuing Decline of Gun Ownership in America.”
The trend is expected to continue. It seems counter-intuitive, given all the recent headlines about people lining up at gun stores and given the stranglehold the gun lobby has on American politics. It raises all sorts of questions. Who owns guns, who doesn’t, and why? For the nation to handle its problems with gun violence effectively, we need to grasp the nitty-gritty realities of gun ownership.
First of all, whatever upticks have been observed in the purchases of guns and ammunition seems to reflect stockpiling by those who were already gun owners. Gun manufacturing increased dramatically between 2007 and 2011, from 3.7 million weapons to 6.1 million being produced. You have to wonder if owning guns, for those who still do, is a bit like buying cell phones. Once you’re hooked, only the newest killer version will do, prompting more frequent purchases.
Meanwhile, the declining overall trend in ownership rates is largely explained by the changing demographic composition of America.
Older white men, many of whom grew up with hunting as a part of their lifestyle, are in decline relative to other demographic groups. Younger people are more likely to play soccer than sit in a duck blind or deer stand.