Friday, March 15, 2013

Reason #280: Chilling the Fuck Out

This is one of those totally below-the-radar factoids that I just love talking about here: for roughly 40 years now, the percentage of households in the US that own guns has declined by more than a third--from around 50% to around 30%.This is according to the nongovernmental General Social Survey, an annual series of around 2000 interviews conducted by the University of Chicago.

I say "nongovernmental" because for the last ten years or so, the NRA has successfully kept the federal government from tracking any kind of statistical data on gun ownership--which is interesting, because I would think that, if asked, they'd make the case that increased gun knowledge could only help their side. Go figure.

Anyway, this decline is evidence in both the GSS and Gallup's polling--Gallup shows somewhat less of a decline, but the GSS is notable for being the only survey to consistently ask the exact same question, with the exact same wording, for such a long time. What their numbers mean is that, despite the media loving nothing more than to toss around statistics about how the number of guns in America is going through the roof--and, well, it is--these guns are being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people. In other words: they're becoming a boutique item.

My first reaction to that information was to picture less random street crime and greater numbers of batshit militiamen, and while that's probably true to an extent, the GSS remarkably found that the decline remained true across American households of pretty much every imaginable stripe--even in the South. As the New York Times put it in this borderline-Seussian paragraph:
"The rate has dropped in cities large and small, in suburbs and rural areas and in all regions of the country. It has fallen among households with children, and among those without. It has declined for households that say they are very happy, and for those that say they are not. It is down among churchgoers and those who never sit in pews."
For both good and ill, I've always had a very strong tendency to see every issue from a much broader perspective than everyone else. It's my opinion that, whenever a situation seems especially dire, all you have to do is "zoom out" enough and you'll find that the overall human condition tends to get better over time.

That optimism has been a major factor in shaping the tone of this blog, and I'm happy to say it's borne fruit more often than you might think. America's gun violence is absolutely evidence of a sickness, but it's a far more complicated problem than the sheer volume of guns, and making it entirely about that will get us nowhere and make both sides miserable.

Further Reading

Share of Homes With Guns Shows 4-Decade Decline

Gun Ownership among Americans 1960-2008

U.S. Gun Policy: Global Comparisons

Analysis: Fewer U.S. gun owners own more guns

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