American gun owners are many and varied, but there really aren’t good numbers for how many guns are actually out there. You see numbers between 400 and 500 million bandied about, although I’ve always expected there are many more than that. But good numbers on gun ownership are hard to come by.
As unreliable as polling is, it has remained remarkably consistent in one area. According to Gallup, gun ownership per household in 1961 was at 49 percent. By 1993, it was at 51 percent, despite numerous social changes, including a population movement from rural areas, the sharp decrease in hunting as the national pastime, and the proliferation of laws meant to inhibit ownership. In 2013, household ownership was at around 45 percent — fluctuating somewhere in the mid-40s for the next decade.
Is Gallup undercounting the overall percentage? Probably. A new study from New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers (h/t J.D. Tuccille) finds that a significant percentage of firearm owners “may not feel comfortable disclosing their ownership status.” The study maintains that many of those “identified as potentially falsely denying firearm ownership” are women living alone in urban environments.
Could these people possibly not feel comfortable disclosing their ownership status because interfering local pols and activists screech about disarming the law-abiding? Could it be because they see what’s happening elsewhere in the world where the citizens are disarmed? And are they reading about their neighbors who are deterring crime with legally owned guns?
The study largely frames the problem of underreporting as a roadblock to interacting with new gun owners and teaching them safety procedures. That seems to be a convenient way to sell the study to media. Because legal gun owners, notwithstanding cultural depictions of them as a bunch of reckless yahoos, are quite conscientious about safety.
So, please keep lying to pollsters about your guns. It’s none of their business.
I’m not sure “lying” is the key factor here, although it’s sure a contributor. But while I pride myself on scrupulous honesty, I can’t blame someone, say an urban single mom who has gone through the lengthy and expensive process to legally buy a gun for self-protection and may be reluctant to discuss that purchase with a stranger. And, by the way, one might remember that some jurisdictions are releasing “burgle me here” lists publishing the names and addresses of legal concealed-carry permit holders, which is one of the strongest arguments for Constitutional carry that one could muster.
Look for this trend to accelerate any time there is a crisis. During the COVID panic, sales of guns, especially to first-time owners, spiked, and those numbers continue to rise today. And as politicians shout about the need to curb or reverse this trend, watch for these new gun owners to be similarly close-mouthed about their purchases.
Another issue here is that, purely in my own considered opinion, formed from fifty years in gun collecting, hunting, and shooting, I think there are far more guns in private ownership than the 400 to 500 million you see bandied about, and in plenty of jurisdictions – like here in Alaska – it’s perfectly legal to sell a gun to your neighbor or a guy who answered an ad, with no background check or records required as, after all, you are dealing with your own private property. So not only are records of sales not reliable, records of manufacture aren’t, either.
Bear in mind that before 1968, manufacturers were not required to put serial numbers on guns. Manufacturers were not regulated as they are now, and many small, bench-top gunsmiths were (and are) assembling working firearms. Add that to the vast number of perfectly functional black-powder guns out there, which still today are not regulated as firearms except in a few local jurisdictions, and I suspect – I don’t know, but I suspect – the number is closer to a billion.
The owners of those guns are likely to be close-mouthed with pollsters. And for those who are more forthcoming, a lot of recreational gun owners are enthusiastic outdoorsmen as well, into all kinds of water sports, and, well, canoes are just so tippy.
It’s understandable why, in the current political environment, gun owners would be reluctant to talk to pollsters. Personally, I don’t speak to pollsters on any topic; I hang up on them.