Guns Again.

Americans buy a bunch of firearms.[1]  In 1994, 25 percent of American households owned at least one firearm; and 44 million people owned 192 million firearms.  That is an average of 4.36 firearms per firearm-owning household.  In 2015, 22 percent of households owned at least one firearm; and 55 million people owned 265 million firearms.  That is an average of 4.81 firearms per firearm-owning household.  However, this apparent increase in firearms per owner may be deceptive.  About half of all firearms are in the hands—well the extensive gun-safes—of only 3 percent of owners.  That means—I think that 19 percent of the population owns the other 50 percent.  Roughly—watch my math, never my best thing—3/22 of Americans own 50 percent of 262 million guns.  So, 3 percent own 131 million firearms.  On the other hand, 19/22 own 50 percent of the firearms.  So, 19 percent own 131 million guns.  So, of 55 million owners, 1/7 or 7.8 million owned 131 million firearms for an average of about 16 weapons each.  Therefore, of 55 million owners, 6/7 or 46.8 million, owned 131 million firearms, for an average of about 2.8 weapons each.  If, 42 percent of these are hand-guns, 33 percent are rifles, and 20 percent are shot guns, then that suggests that the typical forearm-owner has a rifle, and either a couple of hand-guns or a hand-gun and a shot gun.

Americans started buying guns in increasing numbers during the 1960s, with the numbers rising from about 75 million total firearms in private hands in 1965 to almost 200 million by 1995.  Soaring rates of violent crime and civil disorder appear to have driven the boom in firearms sales.  Violent crime and homicide rates have been dropping for almost a quarter century.  All the same, some Americans felt safer in 1994 than they do today.  In 1994, 46 percent of gun-owners who responded to a national survey cited self-defense as a major reason for owning a firearm; in 2015 63 percent cited self-defense.  While total homicides are down, highly-publicized mass shootings are up.  The expansive definition of mass shootings used by the EffaBeeEye and gun control groups have helped overstate the danger to ordinary citizens.[2]

This shift in motivation is reflected in the composition of the stock of firearms in private hands.  In 1994, 34 percent of firearms were hand-guns (revolvers and semi-automatic pistols); in 2015 42 percent of firearms are hand-guns.

The composition of ownership also is interesting.  Women firearms owners are almost twice (42 percent) as likely as men (22 percent) to own a hand-gun.  African-American firearms owners are almost three times as likely (57 percent) to own a hand-gun as are white firearms owners (20 percent).

Media coverage adds more heat than light.  While the New York Times article cited above conjectured that a “24-hour news cycle has made the world feel more dangerous,” the only human being in their article is a woman who bought her first pistol after a man with a gun invaded her daughter’s middle school and took five girls hostage.  Recently, some members of the media reported the discovery of a previously unsuspected “gun culture” of people who like shooting, know something about it, and talk about target shooting and hunting the way golfers talk about golf.  Now their attention has shifted to a “concealed carry culture.”

These numbers suggest that the contentious debate over firearms and gun-control is likely to continue for some time.  Worse, Americans are talking past one another on this issue.

[1] Julie Turkewitz and Troy Griggs, “Looking for Security, More in U.S. Pick Up a Handgun,” NYT, 15 October 2016.

[2] As best I recall, the current standard has become four or more people shot in a single event.  However, this allows many crime-related gang shootings to be assimilated to events like Newtown and Orlando.

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