Possible Problems With Standard Surveys of Gun Ownership

Paul Gallant
Joanne Eisen
David Cowan
Paul H. Blackman, National Rifle Association

Over the past two decades some respected standard national surveys on gun ownership have shown a marked drop of about ten points in the percentage of households with firearms. At the same time, the proportion of persons reporting personal ownership of a firearm has not changed. While many surveys do report a drop in households with guns, others have shown no such decline, resulting in findings that are well outside statistical margins of error for the different studies. One hypothesis for the changes over time and between studies is that demonization of gun ownership by the media and others may have caused more gun owners to falsely deny household ownership. We conducted survey of gun magazine subscribers, an anonymous survey but of a self-selected group of gun owners. The survey findings support the theory that a substantial minority of gun owners may lie about ownership when asked questions by telephone or in-home. There is an even greater likelihood of dishonest reporting of the number of guns owned, even where gun ownership is acknowledged. Concerns included the true anonymity of the surveys. Accurately measuring gun ownership in the United States by standard survey methods may have become problematic.

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Updated 05/20/2006