Gun Ownership Numbers Plummet Since 1970s

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 10 2013 3:49 PM

Number of U.S. Households With Guns Sees Steep Decline Since 1970s

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Matt Dolce holds his pistol at a shooting range in Wallingford, Connecticut

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

All the stories about people rushing out to buy guns after recent mass shootings may give the impression that more Americans have guns at home. Yet a survey reveals that the percentage of U.S. homes with a gun has been in steady decline over the past four decades, with a surprisingly sharp drop in the South and Western mountain states. Whereas an average of 50 percent of households owned a gun in the 1970s, that number declined to 35 percent in the 2000s, with 34 percent of households reporting gun ownership in 2012, notes the New York Times.

The Times analyzes data from the General Social Survey, carried out by a research center at the University of Chicago, for its findings, but not everyone agrees. Gallup, for example, shows a higher ownership rate and a much smaller drop, with 43 percent of Americans reporting having a gun in their home last year, compared to 50 percent in 1968. The NRA also expresses skepticism that there has been such a steep decline.

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The researchers behind the University of Chicago survey insist that while their survey is relatively small, they have no doubt about the overall trend. A general decline in hunting and a decrease in violent crime over the years have made owning guns much less of a priority for many Americans. In addition, as more people moved away from rural areas and into the city in recent years makes it less likely that they’ll own guns.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.