Gun Ownership Declining, General Social Survey Shows

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Hunters fire their gun during a sighting in and test-firing of shotguns and rifles in a safe environment at the Illinois State Police firing range in Joliet
Hunters fire their gun during a sighting-in and test-firing for the upcoming deer hunting season at the Illinois State Police firing range in Joliet, Illinois, Nov. 12, 2011.Jeff Haynes / REUTERS file

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The number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is lower than it's ever been, according to a major American trend survey that finds the decline in gun ownership is paralleled by a reduction in the number of Americans who hunt.

According to the latest General Social Survey, 32 percent of Americans either own a firearm themselves or live with someone who does, which ties a record low set in 2010. That's a significant decline since the late 1970s and early 1980s, when about half of Americans told researchers there was a gun in their household.

The General Social Survey is conducted by NORC, an independent research organization based at the University of Chicago, with money from the National Science Foundation. Because of its long-running and comprehensive set of questions about the demographics, behaviors and attitudes of the American public, it is a highly regarded source of data about social trends.

Data from the 2014 survey was released last week, and an analysis of its findings on gun ownership and attitudes toward gun permits was conducted by General Social Survey staff.

The drop in the number of Americans who own a gun or live in a household with one is probably linked to a decline in the popularity of hunting, from 32 percent who said they lived in a household with at least one hunter in 1977 to less than half that number saying so now.

That the number of households with at least one gun is declining doesn't necessarily mean that the number being purchased is on the decline. Data from the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check system shows that in recent years there's actually been an increase in the number of background checks being run, suggesting the total number of firearms being purchased is going up.

But those are concentrated in fewer hands than they were in the 1980s, the General Social Survey finds. The 2014 poll finds that 22 percent of Americans own a firearm, down from a high of 31 percent who said so in 1985.

Hunters fire their gun during a sighting in and test-firing of shotguns and rifles in a safe environment at the Illinois State Police firing range in Joliet
Hunters fire their gun during a sighting-in and test-firing for the upcoming deer hunting season at the Illinois State Police firing range in Joliet, Illinois, Nov. 12, 2011.Jeff Haynes / REUTERS file

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