How Many People Own Guns in America? And Is Gun Ownership Actually Declining?
This article is part of a series on Guns in America that explores the use of firearms in our country and the debate over gun control. This is an editorially independent series sponsored by Tactical Firearms Training Secrets.
As the debate over new gun control measures rages on Capitol Hill and across America, lots of facts and figures get tossed around. What are the real gun ownership numbers in the United States? TheBlaze went looking.
How many guns are registered in America?
That’s a seemingly obvious question without a straightforward answer. There’s no universal gun registry, and thus not a simple way to pin down the exact number of firearms in the U.S.
There are estimates, however. According to the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey – the leading source of international public information about firearms – the U.S. has the best-armed civilian population in the world, with an estimated 270 million total guns. That’s an average of 89 firearms for every 100 residents — far ahead of Yemen, which comes in second with about 55 firearms for every 100 people, or Switzerland, which is third with 46 guns for every 100 people.
There are certain types of firearms that do require registration in the United States: those subject to the National Firearms Act, including machine guns, shotguns and rifles with barrels shorter than 18 inches, and silencers.
According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which handles that registration, there were more than 3.1 million National Firearms Act-registered weapons in the U.S. as of March 2012. That includes more than 488,000 machine guns and more than 2 million “destructive devices” such as grenades, which are also classified under the law.
Some states also have their own gun registration requirements, as shown in the map below.
Are we seeing any trends in gun ownership?
Despite the high number of guns estimated to be in the U.S., indications are that gun ownership is actually on the decline. The long-running General Social Survey, maintained at the University of Chicago, has been asking about gun ownership since its inception in the 1970s. It has found that the number of people who say they have a gun in their home is at an all time low – hovering around 30 percent, from a high of 50 percent in the 1970s.
“When you see all the numbers, the overall pattern is quite clear,” Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, told TheBlaze.
Survey data shows self-reported gun ownership peaked at 53 percent in 1973 before seeing a fairly steady decline to 32 percent in 2010, the most recent year available. He cautioned singling any one year out, saying the numbers are better judged in the context of a whole: the 1970s averaged about 50 percent, the 1980s averaged 48 percent, the 1990s at 43 percent and 35 percent in the 2000s.
Smith pointed to several main factors responsible for the overall decrease in firearm ownership: a general decline in hunting, the rise of single-adult households and an overall drop off in crime.
Hunting, while still a major part of American life, has seen a decline in part because of urbanization.
The household effect is twofold: first, because fewer adults in the house mean fewer potential gun-owners, and second, that women are much less likely to own a firearm. “Millions of women of course do have firearms but their level is significantly lower than man,” Smith said.
Men are five times more likely than women to own a gun, and being married nearly doubles a person’s chance, according to surveys by Gallup.
Gallup polling from 2007 to 2012 found that gender, region of the country and marital status were some of the biggest predictors of whether an individual owned guns. In the South, 38 percent reported owning a gun, compared to 27 percent in the West or 21 percent in the Eastern U.S.
Editor’s note: On March 13, 2013 Real News from TheBlaze discussed gun registration. Click here to view the episode on demand.
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