I’m generally skeptical of the accuracy of gun-related polling. A significant portion of the gun owning population believe firmly in the concept of “operational security” — the less is known about their defensive posture the better. They will refuse to confirm or deny firearms ownership.
The anti-gun rights oriented publications conclude that only a small percentage of gun owners are responsible for the recent increase in gun sales; they finger so-called “super owners.” They say that these mega buyers account for just three percent of all gun owners. From the analysis over at The Guardian:
The new survey’s results do line up with the broader trends of some previous surveys: even as gun sales hit records highs under Barack Obama’s administration, the total proportion of Americans who say they own guns has fallen slightly, leaving more guns in fewer hands.
While there are an estimated 55 million American gun owners, most own an average of just three firearms, and nearly half own just one or two, according to the survey results.
Then there are America’s gun super-owners – an estimated 7.7 million Americans who own between eight and 140 guns.
So, with Pew Research saying that more people in the United States are buying guns (something supported every month by the continual year-over-year increases in NICS checks), what exactly makes these people think that the opposite is actually happening?
It’s hard to tell. The full survey won’t be available until next year. The Trace and The Guardian, though, managed to secure an advance copy of a summary of the study’s results. Neither publication released any of the details. You may not be surprised to learn that the survey was commissioned, funded and “supervised” by the usual suspects . . .
“It’s very rare for other surveys to try to estimate the gun stock,” David Hemenway, the director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and one of the lead authors of the survey, tells The Trace. “Other surveys ask ‘Is there a gun in the house,’ and not ‘How many guns?’”
For those unfamiliar with his work, Mr. Hemenway is a leading gun control advocate. Since 2008, the anti-gun rights Joyce Foundation — an org that “works with law enforcement, policy makers and advocates to develop common sense gun violence reduction and prevention policies that keep our communities safe” — has funded his Harvard Injury Control Research Center. In addition . . .
HICRC has been awarded grants from the Bohnett Foundation to support the “Means Matter” campaign, a social marketing campaign aimed at educating members of the 50 statewide suicide prevention coalitions about the connection between firearms at home and increased risk of suicide. The campaign supplies coalitions with the tools to provide more specific information about reducing the availability of lethal means of suicide at home on their web sites, in their state planning documents, and in their media outreach work.
So the study’s sponsors are not the most objective source of unbiased, reliable gun ownership informati0n. That said, it’s not impossible that The Trace and The Guardian could commission unbiased, reliable firearms-related data — even if they end-up spinning the results to further their anti-gun rights agenda.
What we need to make that determination: a look at the actual study (to see the questions) and an account of its methodology (to see how the answers were gathered). Here’s how The Trace glosses over that particular lack of transparency.
The Harvard/Northeastern study is based on a survey of nearly 4,000 Americans conducted online in 2015 by a market research company, GfK, with a nationally representative panel of opt-in participants who are compensated to complete surveys on a variety of issues.
This raises a whole lot more questions than it answers. The first issue is the sample process.
Traditionally, polling companies will use a list of phone numbers and randomly call people from different areas of the country, trying to get a good sample size of randomly selected individuals to answer the questions. GfK uses an online polling system which pays people to answer polling questions.
Online systems mean that the group of people answering the questions are self-selecting; they volunteer to answer these questions. The results can skew wildly from a proper random sample of Americans.
For example, a poll conducted on Breitbart’s website from self-selecting internet users will show very different results from the same survey on MSNBC.com. The skew might not be as pronounced with GfK’s site, but it’s still there.
Another issue: Gfk’s volunteers are compensated for their results. Once you add the idea that people are paid for their answers, you start to lose the validity of the responses.
Are these people actually providing accurate answers, or are they simply providing the answers that the users think that GfK wants to see? Maybe if they provide the “correct” answers, GfK will pay them more or give them more surveys.
The folks at The Trace and The Guardian are touting this as the most comprehensive and authoritative [ED: not necessarily authoritarian] study on gun owners in the last two decades. While it looks good at first glance, the reality is very different, once you scratch under the surface. And consider who’s footing the bill.