Tuesday, July 5, 2016

- Is "% Households With Guns" Really Falling?

I try to stay on top of the most recent gun stats. Guns are my thing, and stats are my thing, so the rest follows naturally.

The other day, during a brief break from our crushing schedule, we were having a discussion about guns in the office, and the various mythologies that the media likes to throw out there on the nature of legal gun ownership in America, and one of the guys I respect mentioned the data from the GSS (General Social Survey) that says that households with a gun have fallen dramatically even though gun sales have skyrocketed. Their claim is that the percentage of households with a gun has fallen from 47% in 1973, to just 31% in 2014. This is a big drop so naturally I looked into it.

The GSS is well respected. It’s largely considered non-partisan, and they typically release the questions they ask as well. This will allow the serious social scientist to assess whether the result he’s looking at is ‘advocacy research where the outcome is sought in spite of the date, or non-biased research where the data comes before the conclusion.

The gun ownership portion of the GSS had what I would consider to be fairly worded questions which would point to its impartiality. But none the less, the result it produces is an aberration. Other serious polling organizations have asked similar questions of their respondents and gotten very different result. Gallup, Pew and a few others have all looked into the data and determined that “households with guns in them” has not declined dramatically, and has in fact remained fairly static - typically around 47% percent.

So what could cause this aberration? Personally, I think the GSS respondents probably lied. This is a key weakness of all polling data as opposed to more purely quantitative statistic like the number of background checks performed. And with the culture moving the way it has, I think it’s actually quite likely that a gun owner would lie about actually owning a gun. There was a great deal of uproar when a Westchester county paper ‘outed’ gun owners in NY, and as we know, all gun owners need to be prepared to hear some shouting from the liberal left about their views. Some people are less inclined to listen to that shouting, especially now when the shouting comes more often and at greater volume.

But the truth is, I really don’t know. I tend not to believe isolated data that represents a big shift in thinking that isn’t corroborated by other data. Most of the polling around the question indicates that things haven’t changed much, and since I believe it’s all been done fairly honestly, I have to give emphasis to the most supported numbers.

The number of households with guns in them could be dropping precipitously ass the GSS says. Or, it could be more or less flat. It’s safe to say that it’s probably somewhere between 31% and 47%, but I would lean toward the latter number. I don’t believe this is caused by conspiracy, or malfeasance, or the fact that the GSS is partially funded by the Joyce foundation who is vehemently anti-gun. I think it’s an error which was arrived at in good faith, and has only become an important point in the discussion because it allows anti-gun organizations to give the illusion of momentum on changing minds about guns. That the media repeats it endlessly, is as a result of their interest in achieving that same goal.

In the process though, I also came upon this site which offers a number of seriously thought through questions on guns and crime. I find it to be pretty good, and not particularly anti-gun. But if you guys find something buried in the minutia, please let me know.

1 comment:

TimH said...

There is no question in my mind that there is a trend for gun owners to go "into the closet" about what they have. I am certainly more reticent in social situations than I was years ago. I'm not proud of that, but it's true. Recently my daughter freaked when I openly discussed hunting at a restaurant with my wife's brother - she was afraid someone might overhear us.