Lawmakers in statehouses and the U.S. Capitol who are debating proposed new firearm laws are lacking some key data, says the Wall Street Journal: How many people in the U.S. own guns, and how many households contain guns? Some surveys suggest only 50 million Americans own guns. Others, depending on how they are interpreted, point to a number closer to 90 million. The National Rifle Association puts the total at 100 million.
Household estimates are similarly varied. Some researchers say gun owners may be less inclined to tell pollsters about their guns than they used to be. Some surveys show ownership rates declining, but whether that’s simply because Americans have become less likely to tell strangers they own guns is “an open question,” said Arthur Kellermann of the RAND Corporation. Referring to the General Social Survey’s finding last year that 34 percent of households have guns, down from percentages in the mid-40s in the early 1990s, Dr. Kellermann, an emergency physician, said, “Is it really 34 percent, or are there 10 percent of people out there who told the survey researcher ‘no’ but they have an assault rifle in the closet?” Tom Smith, the survey director, believes most people answer it honestly.