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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.

Nevertheless, despite other nationally recognized polls showing an increase in gun ownership, The Guardian and The Trace are touting a new survey claiming that gun ownership is shrinking.

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 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.

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  1. Polls and surveys will always yield the result preferred by the pollster or survey organization.

    My own poll of women volunteers in the desirable 18-35 year old demographic proves that I’m hotter than George Clooney. And yes, all the volunteers were extremely well compensated for their participation.

      • You want Ralph to compensate you for your participation in his survey?

        Gotta say…I’m a bit surprised by this development.

    • Not so. Many polls are done by people who don’t care what the results are, for starters, and many others who run polls are honest.

      But any outfit doing self-selected sampling is either lazy-ass useless or has an agenda.

      • Yeah, no.

        They might not be openly biased to produce a certain result, but the fact remains that social scientists have known for the several decades I’ve known about it that surveys are among the WORST data collection mechanisms in existence.

        I distinctly remember this being openly discussed in nearly all the Sociology classes I took 30 years ago. Of course, ‘science’ has changed a lot since then. Data does not really matter as much these days as political messaging.

        On that note, I recall one conversation with a Sociology Ph.D. candidate in the 90’s when I was working on the same degree in a ‘hard science’ field. She swore up and down, adamantly, that the goal of ‘science’ was to PROVE YOUR HYPOTHESIS. Not test it. Prove it. So, there’s that to consider when one explores how surveys are written/conducted.

        Perhaps in some cases it can be argued that ‘bad data is better than no data,’ but no rational person accepts self-reporting studies (like surveys) as “really good data.”

        • For what it is worth for those playing along at home, there is a difference between cherry picking factual data and arguing bad data is good data.

          Good data is good data. If it’s cherry picked to make a point, that does NOT by itself render the hypothesis false.

          Bad data is bad data. It does not support ANY hypothesis on the basis of it being…wait for it…bad data.

          Another point about ‘Cherry Picked’ data. That’s an easy claim to make. But, keep in mind that in a rational, dialectic argument, I only need to present sufficient data to support my claim. I have no obligation to present ALL data. If you claim my data is false, it’s ON YOU to show how and why.

          The so-called “cherry picked” data in your example has not been shown to be “false.” It is only claimed by you to not support YOUR conclusions. But, you conveniently ignore the myriad examples and logical arguments that have been made against you over the last year or so on THIS site alone.

          You won’t be convinced by any amount of data. Your mind is made up to believe something. Enjoy your dogma, as irrational as it is.

        • Your condescending and defensive response means my comment struck a nerve. BTW, interested if you care to extrapolate on the “myriad examples and logical arguments that have been made against you over the last year or so on THIS site alone”. Notice you avoided the word “successfully”, maybe a subconscious, honest omission?

        • The goal of a PhD dissertation is to prove your hypothesis so you have something you can spin off published research papers from next year. (/cynic mode)

        • In no real science discipline would survey data be considered valid, because the experimental units (respondents) are self-selected, not randomly selected. I’ve read where the response rate to telephone surveys is about 9% of those contacted. Even if the original contact pool was randomly selected (doubtful), the respondents are selecting themselves by sitting still for the questions. A possible explanation for their behavior is they are people who are desperate to talk to anybody and so don’t well represent the population. I’m doubtful that the original pools are random also. I once made the mistake of responding to a telephone survey about some political topic or other. For weeks the phone rang off the hook with survey takers. I suspect that after the first call, I went into a pool of “likely respondents” they kept coming back to.

        • Just what I thought JR. Reminds me of forum trolls screaming about science backing their positions, but NEVER being able or willing to produce it.

      • On second reading of your post, I see we are KINDA saying the same thing.

        But, I responding specifically to this part:

        “Many polls are done by people who don’t care what the results are, for starters, and many others who run polls are honest.”

        The thing is, these pollsters ARE presenting their ‘data’ as ‘good data.’ They may not ‘care what the results are,’ but they ARE presenting their results…to the consuming public at least…that the data are meaningful.

        That’s the issue I was trying to raise. The insiders might know about and accept all the caveats associated with “but it’s poll data,” but lay folks don’t. All these pollsters should be plastering their Press Releases and what not with “BUT IT’S POLL DATA, SO CAUTION!!!!”

        But they don’t do that. They give it to the willing press that just publishes and reads FAR, FAR more into the true value of the numbers than is really warranted.

        That’s my point…not that there is ALWAYS overt bias in the survey itself, but that they sure don’t like to bring attention to the fact that the very instance of presenting “survey results” as “data” is itself misleading.

        Hope that clarifies.

      • Polls about gun ownership are just not accurate. I asked a few of my gun owner friends how they would answer a “do you own a gun” poll question. All said the same as me: “No, I don’t.” OTOH, there are some hard statistics. John Lott of the Crime Prevention Center, has stats on the number of concealed weapons permit holders over time, for the whole US. In 1999, around 1.3% of the adult population had concealed weapon permits. In 2013 it was up to 4.7%. That’s just concealed permit holders–3.6 times as many in 2013 as 1999 (actually more than 3.6 times, since the population has also increased.) My LGS guy tells me that easily half his sales over the last five year are first time gun owners.

        This is just more anti-gun fake research to “prove” that gun owners are a fanatical super minority of the population.

    • The Guardian and The Trace…

      Well that’s all I needed know. I accept at face value anything those two bastions of fair and honest reporting would say.

  2. Pretty much every anti gun study I have ever bothered to read has serious flaws in data collecting/analyzing/ignoring and is almost always backed by the likes of Bloomberg or the Joyce Foundation, etc (scientific method be damned). When I defended my graduate thesis, my grad board would have told me to start over if I turned in the crap these guys produce.

    • No need to compare to grad school; any science course I took above the freshman level would have kicked back any paper turned in with such sloppy methods.

    • Having been a super-visitor of gun shops and shooting ranges all over the country for the last ~16 years, I can state with complete certainty and zero reservation that there are more first-time gun buyers, carriers, and shooters now than ever before, and it is a trend that I have personally been noticing very clearly since at least 2009 if not earlier. Before then I feel like the crowd at these places was consistent — same experienced people, same quantity — but at some point around then, I began seeing more traffic in these places and all of that additional traffic was folks new to firearms — going to the range for the very first time to rent some guns and learn how to use them, buying a gun for the first time, enrolling in intro classes, etc. Eventually first-timers often became most of the people I’d see at gun stores (those with on-site shooting ranges in particular). My local range + store has at least tripled the number of intro classes they teach (intro to gun safety, use, maintenance, ownership. intro to concealed carry & defensive gun use. women-specific intro classes) over the last 4-ish years and they’re still booked solid 6+ months into the future. I have not once gone into their shop over the last few years when there wasn’t somebody (or somebodies) speaking with the sales staff about buying their first gun. Especially handguns capable of being concealed. In fact, Spokane, WA in my area made national news a few times for CPL (concealed pistol license) fingerprinting lines down at the courthouse that were so long they had to close a couple hours early to get through the line of people by the time actual closing time came around. This was due to record-setting (record crushing) numbers of people applying for a permit to carry for the first time ever. Many of them hadn’t yet even purchased a handgun or any type of firearm before and started learning and shopping at the same time they were applying to carry. We’ve seen new CCW applications around the country skyrocketing in a similar fashion, and it isn’t “super owners,” it’s predominately people either new to firearms or at least new to handgun ownership.

      Anyway, that long-winded reply is just a way to say that, no matter what some stupid opt-in survey shows, everybody in nearly every part of the industry will tell you with complete honesty and confidence that they’ve seen more first-timers than ever before and it has continued to account for a larger and larger percentage of their customers.


    One need only go to any gun range USA and find the real answer. The number of “newbies” has increased dramatically in the past 8 years. End conversation.

    • You’re right, every time I go to the range or LGS, it’s full of people there for the first time, just having fun and putting lead downrange! I often see whole families there as well as people on dates or just those who want to give shooting a try.

      Basic pistol & LTC classes seem full, all of which (anecdotally) points to more and more new folks getting into shooting. Mind you, this is in the Houston area so I can’t speak for the US as a whole!

    • How true. My gun club has seen over 300 new members in the past 24 months. I’m always meeting new people at the indoor range and most are newbies who will ask questions and take advice. Any survey coming from The Guardian should be used only to line the bird cage.

  4. We all know data manipulation is what they do best.
    We know that we have seen record purchase rates month after month since 2008.
    We also know that first time buyers, millennials, and women specifically make up a large portion of the demographic. Sure we don’t have specifics, but let’s face it, the data is strong enough to push manufacturers to cater to those groups.
    I tend to lean that the numbers from this poll are in fact wrong.

  5. Pure bullshit. My own informal observations right here in the heart of lib land show that a whole lot of first time buyers are taking a lot of the gun store guys time. Especially women.

    This poll was never taken. It’s a complete lie from start to finish. But then the left are getting desperate as hillary’s hopes circle the drain.

  6. Hey, Bloomberg: If you give me $1 million to show how likable you are, I guarantee you you will be shown as likable.

    I’m serious. Call me… /;-D

    • Better be a lot more than a million. If I’m going to sell my soul to Bloombags, I”m going to assuage the guilt with a lifetime of high living afterward. Ten million after tax, minimum.

  7. They’re probably not wrong in that established gun owners are stocking up, and that’s where SOME (or maybe even most) of the new gun production is going. It’s a fun hobby and if you take good care of your guns they will retain a fair chunk of their value – and in a societal meltdown scenario, they may gain significant value – unlike golf clubs or “track day” cars.

    But based on very unscientific, anecdotal data from my nice, middle class suburb, the number of gun owners is increasing – several of my neighbors have recently become gun owners, and I don’t know anyone who’d ceased to be an gun owner.

  8. More guns being bought by a smaller number of people has increasingly been coming up lately. I just don’t buy that that’s the only reason gun sales are increasing. How much money do they think we have? Most gun owners that I know, only have one gun (at least that’s what they tell me). Folks are buying and not just because they want to get into the “culture”. A friend is planning on buying his first gun, he’s 30 y/o, doesn’t give a crap about getting training or going to the range often, he just wants a gun at his house, in case. That’s where I’d bet most of the uptick is coming from; people want a 12 ga. to keep under the bed, and a handgun.

    I’m glad to know that I am a gun super-owner by the way.

  9. Interesting, for some time, this was also reported in Czech Republic in the 1H2015 – weapons up, owners down.

    While the number of applicants for the gun permit was reported up by the shooting ranges (they provide the space/weapons to perform the exams). And the waiting period for the exam (since the date a request was filed with the police) rose from 2 months to half a year. Very interesting uncorrelation indeed 🙂

    On the other hand, quite a few people fail to pass that exam, some just don’t pass the paper tests (mostly law matters), some may be quite dangerous while manipulating/disassembling the gun and some are just too nervous to hit the target as the law prescribes.

    Well, at least those who didn’t pass the manipulation/shooting may repeat it at the spot or within a month. Those who didn’t pass the paper test are at the beginning, with new exam application after three months soonest.

    • Nothing says fair, accurate, and thorough like releasing an attention-grabbing advance summary only to your two biggest supporters and no one else.

      And the full info won’t be available until 2017, when no one will know or care what’s in it. Yep, quality work, I’m sure.

      • “And the full info won’t be available until 2017, when no one will know or care what’s in it.”

        Yep, well after the election. That’s the point. Release the “advance summary” so they can spin it now. By later, it will be forgotten news.

        What’s funny is that at this point they still think we don’t notice their BS games.

        • We’re not the ones they are trying to convince. They know we are “a lost cause”, as far as they are concerned. So their garbage just might work, unfortunately.

  10. Hard numbers from Illinois:
    2008, we had 1.2M Firearm Owner ID cardholders. People who go to the trouble to spend money and jump through regulatory hoops to be lawful firearms owners.

    Earlier this year, we surpassed 2M FOID holders. A growth approaching 60%, more or less since Obama’s inauguration.

    Saying that fewer People of the Gun own more guns is asinine and ignores reality.

    Then again, the anti-gunners been ignoring reality for generations.

  11. “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.”

    Just three? I keep more than that in my frickin’ car.

    I’ve got that many on my person sometimes.

  12. While this “study” is likely a means to the authoritarian end—private disarmament—it looks to be neither the most comprehensive, nor the most “authoritative.”

  13. In the last 3 years I have introduced 8 new shooters to guns, and helped 5 of them make their first firearm purchase. So I know the number of gun owners in the past 3 years has gone up by at least 5.

  14. I don’t know why we complain about such “polling data.”

    There are at least six states that require a government-issued permission slip to lawfully own firearms, including Illinois. The number of active Illinois FOID cards continues to grow, not shrink. How about one of you TTAG writers doing some research on the other states? I would love to see the data.

    But in truth, I want the gun haters to think there’s only a few of us, and that our numbers are shrinking. I want them to think we’re such a tiny voting block that we can’t influence elections, and that they have much to gain by demonizing us.

    There are many, many gun-owning Democrats in southern Illinois, and I want Hildebeast to continue to throw them in her “basket of deplorables” between now and election day.

  15. In the last paragraph, I think you meant to say comprehensive and authoritative rather than …comprehensive and authoritarian…, but I could be wrong.

  16. Nothing to see here folks….same 3 OFWG’s buying up all the weapons in the US and setting NICS records each month. Man, those 3 OFWG’s must be rich….and have a lot of storage space for millions of guns and ammo.

  17. What Curtis said. NEW gun ownership is exploding in Illinois. I don’t participate in polls but I see vast multitudes at every gun shop. THIS is BS. Period…

  18. they finger these so-called “super owners.”

    I think they’re on to something. I personally bought 25 million guns last year and signed up for 7.2 million CCW licenses.

    So I’m not just super, I’m super deluxe.

    • Who’s doing all this ‘fingering’? They might want to be careful, sure sometimes it’s fun, but not everyone likes it.

  19. Being kind, math requirements for reporters is not stringent. And do not started on there understanding of of statistics. Its always interesting to point out that the number of concealed carry permits has gone from approximately 4 million in 2008 to and estimated 14 million nation wide. Many of the new new CCWs are reported as being first time gun owners.

    And these numbers don’t even take into account how many people now carry in the 11 states that have Constitutional carry now.

  20. We try to train Son to keep his mouth shut. Doesn’t work well.

    I know one couple who own one pistol apiece, I know one man who would make the late Charlton Heston envious.

  21. “… under Barack Obama’s administration, the total proportion of Americans who say they own guns has fallen slightly …”

    The key word there being “say” … because more and more people have lost trust in government during Obama’s administration and refuse to admit whether they own firearms.

    Fewer people saying that they own firearms does not mean fewer people own firearms. It only means that fewer people are saying that they own firearms.

  22. There is another GINORMOUSLY important aspect to the reliability of data collected in supposed surveys: how do they collect the data?

    Do they ask via:
    (1) face-to-face?
    (2) landline telephone?
    (3) cellphone?
    (4) online survey?

    When do they ask:
    (1) early morning
    (2) late morning
    (3) mid-day
    (4) afternoon
    (5) evening
    (6) night

    Where do they ask:
    (1) poor areas?
    (2) middle-class areas?
    (3) wealthy areas?
    (4) urban areas?
    (5) suburban areas?
    (6) rural areas?

    What politics dominate the regions where they ask?
    (1) Progressive Boston-Washington D.C. Megalopolis?
    (2) Ultra-progressive Southern Coastal California?
    (3) Ultra-conservative Bible Belt in the Southern U.S.?
    (4) Agriculturally dominated fly-over country?

    Those questions reveal that dozens of factors can totally skew survey data. Unless the surveyor polls thousands of people across all manner of locations (spanning all types of income, political ideologies, faiths, local economy engines, etc.), all times of day, all races, all ages, all sexes, all contact methods, etc., their survey results could be horribly skewed.

  23. gun owners tend to be family-oriented and marry younger as well. Typically, the only person who actually goes and buys guns in the family is the patriarch, and the kids (whether children in shooting sports, or adults with a good relationship with dad) are “borrowing” the guns from their parents.

    Heck, I only keep a small safe for my sidearm, since I’m still in my early 20s and move around a bit; my rifle and my shotgun live with my parents, since they have secure storage for them.

  24. I just have to opine that this new polling fits very handily into the gun-grabbers’ narrative. Fewer gun owners would mean fewer votes, or at least the perception of fewer votes. “Super owners” can be a new synonym for “gun nuts,” a group to be “othered” and vilified.

    I say what difference does it make? There are still way too many gun owners for the government to effective kick in all their doors to get their guns. There are still plenty of gun owners to be a force to be reckoned with if you really pissed them off. There are still enough guns out there to put “one behind every blade of grass.”

  25. I did a recent scientific research poll on gun ownership and came up with between 55-60% of households in America own at least one firearm. This poll has a margin of error plus or minus 3 percentage points. This is up since my last one a couple months ago that found 50-55% of households with at least one firearm, same margin of error. It’s still too soon for a trend to be confirmed. Will post back with more BS next time around.

    • In stead of just accounting fow ccw holders and FOID possessors, you need to account for HUNTING LICENSESS SOLD. Unless they are bow orr muzzle loader hunters, they all have guns (well, except the guy who hunts bear with a spear), and exery bow hunter I know have guns as well.

  26. OK, Guardian, let’s use your numbers and try a little math exercise.

    3% of gun owners are super owners with 8 or more guns.
    7.7 million gun owners are super owners with 8 or more guns.
    How many gun owners are there?

    7,700,000 ÷ 0.03 = 256.7 million gun owners.
    Methinks that makes a supermajority in a country with a population under 350 million.

  27. On the one hand, I can see maybe this being correct. For example, I know people with enough in their arsenal to fall into the 8 and 140 category. However, in my limited experience, Ive see a lot of first time gun owners. I see them at the range trying to remember what they’ve just been taught and the gun stores I go they take the test to get their first firearms license which isn’t a license (can you guess which state I’m from)?

      • I always answer NO to gun ownership questions by anyone. Doctor, VA, polls. It’s either none of their business, or I can’t confirm how they might use the information. The only place I ever disclose that I might buy a gun is on a 4473.

  28. I know people who have always had guns; I know people who have never had guns. I also know people who are new to guns in the past year or two, but I don’t know any people who have had guns and gotten rid of them.

    Does any one here know of people who’ve said: “I’m through with guns” and sold them off? Short of lots of gun owners passing away, that’s the only way I know of which would cause the number of gun owners to decline….

  29. Like I’ve said before many times, name another industry with record breaking sales year over year with a declining ownership base? The answer of course is none. So why does this mythical unicorn exist only with firearms?

  30. It could be one person that owns all 300 million + guns in America. Who cares? The 2a still applies, regardless of how many people choose to exercise it.

  31. How odd…..Pew says 37%…Gallup says 34%…so I am going to assume a plus or minus error of 3-5%. ( other sources place it near 60%, but this is just going to be a quick math exercise)

    That being said, how did these people arrive at 3%?

    What was their methodology and sample size? What was the demographics of the sampe?

    Assuming the latest census was correct: @ 322,762,018, 3% of that is: 9 682 860.54

    Assuming 300,000,000 guns….( low estimate, I know) then the math says each of those 9.6 million owns about 310 guns. ( actually, 309.8..but I wont quibble)

    my math may be a bit rough, but you get an idea of how absurd their claims are….the numbers simply do not support it.

    So…where are all these well armed citizens??

    • I wonder if one of the people polled happened to be the Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army. “How many firearms do you own?” “Eighty-five million, seven hundred sixty-two thousand, four hundred thirty-two…give or take a hundred thousand or so.” That would seriously skew the averages, wouldn’t it?

  32. Just gotta point out that surveys are an awesome source of both confirmation bias and p-hacking, and usually in that order.

  33. i;’m seeing new shooters everywhere i go, shops, ranges etc…

    hell, they formed a West Hollywood & North Hollywood Pink Pistols this summer, despite a backlash from their “community”.


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