US gun ownership is declining

Customers shop for a handgun at Metro Shooting Supplies on Nov. 12, 2014 in Bridgeton, Mo. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty)
Customers shop for a handgun at Metro Shooting Supplies on Nov. 12, 2014 in Bridgeton, Mo.

The number of Americans who live in a household with at least one gun is declining.

Only 32% of Americans said they either own a gun or live with a person who does, tying with the record low set in 2010, according to the latest General Social Survey (GSS). During the late 1970s and early 1980s, about half of Americans said they lived in a household with a firearm.

Twenty-two percent of Americans said they own a firearm, down from a high of 31% who answered similarly in 1985.

The GSS noted key factors for the decline in household and personal gun ownership, including the decreasing popularity in hunting, end of the military draft, increase in single-parent homes headed by women and aging of the current gun-owning population — primarily white males. Fewer women than men own guns, the survey found.

Half of Republicans live in households with at least one gun, a figure twice as high as ownership among Democrats or independents.

The survey was published as the National Rifle Association (NRA) is backing legislation in at least 15 states that would force colleges and universities to allow people to carry concealed, loaded guns on campus. Nineteen states have introduced legislation that allows guns in K-12 schools.

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Last week, a bipartisan group of federal lawmakers introduced a bill aimed at expanding background checks to prevent criminals and people with severe mental illnesses from buying guns during every commercial sale, including from unlicensed dealers. The same measure was introduced in the previous session of Congress, but Republican leaders blocked it.

But the declining number of households with guns doesn't mean the number of firearms purchased is decreasing, The Associated Press noted. In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of background checks completed, which suggests the total number of guns purchased is rising, according to data from the FBI's National Instant Criminal Background Check System. But the results of various surveys suggest the number of firearms is increasing among prior gun owners.

Even a Gallup poll published last October showed 42% of households owning a gun, down from a high of 51% in 1993.

The GSS, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago, has been monitoring societal change and studying the growing complexity of American society since 1972. Questions and topics range from demographics, to behaviors and attitudes of the public. Data from the 2014 survey was released last week.