U.S. gun ownership down almost across the board, survey says

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DENVER — The gun ownership rate of the United States has dropped significantly during the past 40 years, a new national survey shows.

The household gun ownership rate has fallen from an average of 50 percent in the 1970s to 49 percent in the 1980s, 43 percent in the 1990s and 35 percent in the 2000s, according to the General Social Survey, which is conducted by NORC — a research center at the University of Chicago.

Perhaps most surprisingly, gun ownership is down across many regions and demographics. It has declined in urban and rural areas, among households with and without children, among religious people and non-religious people. It has even declined in the South and Mountain West states, areas that had previously been thought of as strongholds of gun ownership.

Gun ownership in both the South and the mountain region dropped to less than 40 percent in the past 10 years, down from 65 percent in the 1970s. The Northeast, where the household ownership rate is lowest, changed the least, at 22 percent this decade, compared with 29 percent in the 1970s.

While household ownership of guns among elderly Americans remained virtually unchanged from the 1970s at about 43 percent, ownership among Americans under the age of 30 fell to 23 percent this decade from 47 percent in the 1970s. The survey showed a similar decline for Americans ages 30 to 44.

The survey also shows a steep drop in gun ownership among Democrats and independents, and a very slight decline among Republicans.

The new data suggest a reversal among Republicans, with 51 percent since 2008 saying they have a gun in their home, up from 47 percent in surveys taken from 2000 through 2006. This leaves the Republican rate a bit below where it was in the 1970s, while ownership for Democrats is nearly half of what it was then.

Measuring gun ownership is difficult since the CDC stopped doing research in 1996.  The National Rifle Association lobbied Congress to cut funding for it, arguing that the studies were politicized and being used to promote gun control.

Various recent polls have shown gun ownership rates between 35 and 52 percent.  Polls differ in how they ask questions methodology, which explains the gap.

Researchers said the GSS survey is useful because it has asked the same question since 1973 allowing for trends to be mapped over time.

The center’s study was conducted in 2012 and asked 2,000 people from March to September.  It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.

The full General Social Survey can be seen here.

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