Billy Johnson: Declining Gun Ownership
Last spring, the New York Times published an article that touted a fou-decade-long decline in gun ownership. This article is often used by gun control advocates to argue that reasonable gun control is being blocked by a small, but vocal minority. It’s based on data from the 2012 General Social Survey that shows gun ownership in the U.S. has declined from 49 percent of households owning a gun in 1973 to 34 percent in 2012.
This argument absolutely baffles me. First, the data is flawed at best, and blatantly misleading at worst. It’s based on self-reported gun ownership, and I think it’s fair to say that a lot of smart, law-abiding gun owners aren’t all that inclined to answer “yes” to a survey when asked if they have guns in their homes. Additionally, there are other surveys that contradict the GSS survey. For example, a 2012 Gallup poll reported gun ownership at 43 percent.
Regardless of the problems with the data, there is, I think, a much deeper problem with the argument. We are essentially being asked to agree to limitations on our constitutionally protected Second Amendment rights because less than 35 percent of Americans choose to exercise that right.
What? When did we set usage requirements on our rights?
I’d be willing to bet that a pretty high percentage of Americans have never engaged in a protest. Does that mean we should consider striking the right to peaceably protest from the First Amendment? I mean, people are hardly using it, right?
I don’t think we should ever link debates about the Second Amendment to stats about gun ownership. The Constitution protects the choice of citizens to arm themselves; it does not mandate it. If there is any shockingly low stat that we should include in the debate over violence and gun ownership, it’s this: Let’s talk about how many people in the U.S. actually commit violent crimes each year.
Again, the data is difficult to pin down. Many violent crimes are never reported. And conversely, the same perpetrator could commit several violent crimes, and each get counted as a separate incident. Still, according to the 2012 FBI Crime Stats, there were an estimated 386.9 violent crimes per 100,000 people in 2012. Even if we make the unrealistic assumption that each crime was committed by a unique perpetrator, that means that less than 0.4 percent of the population committed a violent crime.
So, less than one-half of a percent of the people in the U.S. perpetrate violent crimes. Certainly, many of those don’t involve a firearm. But even if they did, it still means that less than one-half of a percent of the population is using a gun to commit a violent crime. And yet, we are being asked to agree to more limitations on legal gun ownership – a constitutional right – because less than half a percent of Americans abuse that right.
Let me just summarize this for you. Gun control advocates argue that we should limit one of our rights because less than half the population exercises it, in order to stop the half a percent of the population who might be abusing it. Well, if they call that reasonable, I’m proud to be considered an unflinching, unreasonable gun rights advocate.