Saturday, January 19, 2013

Who owns guns?

Since its inception, the GSS has asked respondents whether or not they have a gun in the house. Seems like a germane topic for consideration at the moment. For contemporary relevance, everything we'll look at here comes from 2000 onward. Fewer than 1% of respondents refused to answer the question and are consequently excluded from all analyses.

John Derbyshire contends that the gun control debate is a contest of moral posturing between two very culturally distinct groups of whites:
This is really about is good old American sectionalism—two big groups of white people who can’t stand the sight of each other. We are eternally re-fighting the Civil War. 
(Yes, white people. Blacks are hors de combat here, as they mostly were in the Civil War, neither side of which liked or trusted them. Sherman would not let colored troops march armed in the Grand Parade. Some black pioneer units marched with picks and shovels, but they were regarded as comic relief by the spectators and newspapers. Nobody cares what the generality of blacks think, no more now than in 1865. This war, like that one, is an intra-white affair.)
While NAM opinion may not feature prominently in pronouncements from either white faction, Steve Sailer argues that SWPLs favor strict control as a means of disarming NAMs in the urban areas the two groups share. A direct assault on NAM culture being of course unthinkable, SWPLs divert their contempt for gun rights from NAMs and towards white rustic bumpkins. To the extent that NAMs factor into the thoughts of said bumpkins, it's that in the bucolic places they call home, low population density means police manpower and response times are too low to be relied upon. Consequently, each man need be responsible for his own self defense.

In the midst of this fray, it may come as a surprise to many to find that whites are significantly more likely to own firearms than non-whites--including Asians--are. The percentages of Americans who have at least one gun in the home, by mutually exclusive racial/ethnic identity (n = 7,214):

RaceHas gun
White42.1%
Native American38.4%
Black20.0%
Hispanic11.0%
Asian10.5%

While gun advocates often invoke the weapon as the great equalizer for allowing a petite woman to defend herself from a larger, stronger male assailant, men are more likely to own firearms than women are. The percentages of people who have at least one gun in the home, by sex (n = 8,164):

SexHas gun
Male41.7%
Female29.9%

Getting back to the racial angle, as previously mentioned, whites aren't monolithic. There is an ideological divide on the issue of gun rights among whites that is reflected in varying rates of gun ownership. The percentages of whites who have at least one gun in the home, by political orientation (n = 3,998):

PoliticsHas gun
Conservative55.4%
Moderate41.9%
Liberal26.9%

Gun ownership rates are more than twice as high among white conservatives as they are among white liberals. Circling back to the previous table, though, note that even white liberals are more apt to have guns in the home than blacks, Hispanics, or Asians are.

There is a geographic component at play here as well. The GSS has only sporadically inquired about the type of community respondents currently live in, but from the beginning has asked where they lived at the age of sixteen. Understanding that the following measurement is imperfect not only because people move but also because geographic distinctions recalled from decades in the past are inevitably somewhoat murky, the percentages of whites who currently have at least one gun in the home, by the type of community they were living in at the age of 16 (n = 5,526):

CommunityHas gun
Rural56.6%
Suburban40.9%
Urban31.6%

There is a good deal of overlap between political orientation and community type among whites, but they obviously don't map identically. If we distill the white camps down to their most essential elements, we get  single urban SWPLs on one side and married God-and-country farmboys on the other. The proportion of unmarried urban white liberals with at least one gun in the home is 13.6%; the corresponding figure for married rural white conservatives is 72.1%. It's here that the battle lines are most conspicuously drawn.

Pat Buchanan recently wrote the following:
Today, we Americans are a far more heavily armed people than half a century ago. Forty-seven percent of adult males own a firearm. There are 270 million rifles, shotguns and pistols in private hands.
The man knows his stuff, but Pat doesn't provide a point of reference from which to base the assertion made in that first sentence upon. The reflexive gun-buying spree that has occurred in response to calls for stricter gun control from nanny-staters like Obama and Michael Bloomberg notwithstanding, the American public appears to have been more heavily armed in the past than they are today. Making an exception to the 2000 onward rule established earlier, the following graph shows the percentage of Americans with at least one gun in the home from 1973 through 2010, the last year for which GSS data were available at the time of this posting (n = 32,863):


Pat comes to the following conclusion based on the claimed increase in private gun ownership:
Given the loosening of gun laws at the state level in recent years, the gun controllers no longer have the numbers to impose their will on the folks who have a love for, or feel a need for, guns.
While most American households don't contain firearms, many do. The trend has been away from gun ownership (given demographic trends, this really isn't surprising) over the last several decades, but I suspect that gun rights still have the upper hand over gun restrictions, at least at present. Presumably the vast majority of Americans who own guns want to keep them, while there are copious quantities of residents among the gun-free majority (like myself) who sympathize with the spirit of the second amendment, are wary of government intervention into the  private lives of citizens, and who like thinking that because a number of their neighbors own guns, would-be burglars are taking a gamble assuming that they do not.

GSS variables used: OWNGUN(1-2), RACECEN1(1)(2)(3)(4-10)(15-16), POLVIEWS(1-2)(4)(6-7), MARITAL(1)(2-5), RES16(1-2)(3-4)(5-6), YEAR(2000-2010)

21 comments:

Dan said...

Gun sales have been very high in the last four years, and especially the last year, and double especially the last two months.

I wonder if the percentage who are gun owners has increased recently. Do you have access to recent data?

Dan said...

I think that gun ownership rate increases over the course of a person's life.

If at any time in your life you decide to get a gun, you will be an owner from that point on, usually.

Unless you are a redneck you probably don't get an AR-15 for your 18th birthday.

AE, I think you will become a gun owner in time. I imagine I will eventually become an owner.

Dan said...

BTW, the demographics of gun ownership are what you would want. Imagine if it were the reverse!

ironrailsironweights said...

What is surely a major reason for the decline in gun ownership over the years is the declining popularity of hunting. We've come to think of gun ownership in terms of self-defense, but many people own guns primarily or solely as tools for hunting.
In just the last few years some SWPL/hipster types have been taking up hunting, spurred on by the locavore movement, and this might translate into an increase in the percentage of households owning guns.

Peter

Anonymous said...

The proportion of unmarried urban white liberals with at least one gun in the home is 13.6%


Even that cohort of "anti-gun people" has a surprisingly high gun ownership rate. They have a high rate of gun ownership than do Hispanics or Asians as a whole.

Which lends credence to the notion that the anti-gun liberals are not REALLY anti-gun, they're just anti-gun for people other than themselves. The standard liberal posture of "Do as I say and not as I do", in other words.

Audacious Epigone said...

Dan,

2010 is the latest available from the GSS and it shows the lowest possession rate of any year in the survey going back to 1973. Of course, possessions and purchases aren't the same thing, and presumably an increase in the latter leads the former, so maybe possession numbers will go up in the next couple of years in response to the restriction talk being had at the time.

Peter,

The GSS shows that in 2010 about 14% of people said they hunt. In 1973, it was 22%, with a gentle and steady decline over the years in between.

Anonymous said...

I assume they aren't counting BB guns, because lots of kids have BB guns.

John said...

"Even that cohort of "anti-gun people" has a surprisingly high gun ownership rate."

This reminds me of the liberal columnist, Carl T. Rowan, who basically wanted guns banned, but owned one himself. One day he saw some teenagers in his jacuzzi and scared them off with a gun. His lame excuse was, "guns are immoral, but as long as they are legal I want one." Walter Williams dubbed him the "jacuzzi vigilante".

Anonymous said...

"In the midst of this fray, it may come as a surprise to many to find that whites are significantly more likely to own firearms than non-whites--including Asians--are."

You guys are such SWPLs. That is not a surprise at all. Gun culture is a very white male thing outside of urban liberal enclaves.

Anonymous said...

"Gun culture is a very white male thing outside of urban liberal enclaves."

The proportion of unmarried urban white liberals with at least one gun in the home is 13.6%



Presumably it's a lot higher for male unmarried urban white liberals. So it seems that gun culture is a very white male thing even inside the urban liberal enclaves.

Anonymous said...

2010 is the latest available from the GSS and it shows the lowest possession rate of any year in the survey going back to 1973



I would speculate that white gun ownership has stayed relatively constant, and that the decline in the overall gun ownership rate is largely due to the increase in the non-white (and as you show, non gun-owning) population over the last forty years. Do you have the data on that?

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

Prior to 2000, the GSS only asked respondents if they were white, black, or other, so it's difficult to track what the increase in the Hispanic population has done to the ownership numbers.

Anonymous said...

Every black guy I know has a gun. The ones with felony convictions have workarounds- wife 'owns' it, etc.

I worked with a black guy who drove a bus in 80s Chicago. His dad gave him an illegal pistol and the 'I can get you out of jail, but not out of the ground' speech. Obama's from Chicago. He knows gun control doesn't work.

Good distraction from the Obamaeconomy, good tribal rallying point for liberal Democrats, good for tax and tax, spend and spend, elect and elect politics.

Anonymous said...

Are these figures based on actual, legal, registered firearms? I'm thinking if you account for illegally possessed firearms, the numbers for certain segments may be considerably higher than those report here.

Audacious Epigone said...

Anon,

These are based on responses to the GSS question asking participants if there is a gun in the house (or garage). So presumably some unregistered firearms show up here.

Steve Sailer said...

"I think that gun ownership rate increases over the course of a person's life."

Right. They are a consumer durable. I suspect a lot of people have a .22 in the attic that they might not even remember when they are filling out the GSS.

Chas Clifton said...

Who tells the truth about gun ownership all the time?

Unknown said...

How many participants are lying about having a gun because of paranoia?

Cogitans Iuvenis said...

Good data, the only quibble I would have is that the gun ownership data is based on surveys, meaning, as you pointed out, there could be an undetermined number of individuals who answered no but do in fact own firearms.

Anonymous said...

"What is surely a major reason for the decline in gun ownership over the years is the declining popularity of hunting"

Or the move to the suburbs followed by a generation of kids who don't know why their parents moved to the suburbs but thanks to section 8 are going to find out the hard way?

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago, the gun shops held a large array of beautiful traditionally styled, hunting rifles and shotguns. Today, most of the long-gun racks are occupied by "survival" weapons -- semiauto rifles in .22LR or 5.56 (the latter, mainly AR variants), and defensive-configured shotguns.

Land access is almost impossible unless you own the land yourself. Nobody's hunting. Everyone is gearing up for trouble. I don't think I know even one married white male who isn't armed.

As for the supposed downtrend in gun ownership -- I think not. I think a lot of people are simply not admitting firearm ownership, due to fear of the government.

To the demographic question -- there's a growing trend for Latinos to adopt the whole 2nd amendment gun culture. It seems to go with military service, becoming Republican, and/or Evangelical conversion (which tends to inspire constitutionalist politics). Talk to any Latino male with at least 2 of those factors, and he's quite likely to quote NRA rhetoric at you. Especially if he's married with a family to protect.