A 2011 survey by Gallup gives us a relatively recent snapshot of gun ownership in the United States but, in light of conflicting data from the General Societal Survey which dates back to 1972, the issue is confusing at best.
Let's start by looking at gun ownership statistics from Gallup. Forty-seven percent of American adults surveyed by Gallup revealed that they had a gun on their premises, up from 41 percent in 2010. Here is a graph showing how the level of firearm possession has remained relatively consistent over the past two decades:
Gun ownership rates vary quite widely depending on one's political leaning as shown here:
Historically, the gap between the percentage of Republicans and Democrats who own guns has varied between 16 and 24 percent, however, the 2011 poll showed a dramatic narrowing from the 20 percent in 2010 as gun ownership by Democrats rose by 8 percentage points or 25 percent. In the history of the survey, this level of gun ownership by Democrats was unprecedented.
Gun ownership levels also vary by geographic location as shown here:
Americans who live in the south and midwest are far more likely to own guns than their counterparts in the west and east parts of the country, in some cases by a wide margin.
Overall, 34 percent of adults surveyed personally own a gun with 13 percent stating that someone in their household owns a gun and the remaining 51 percent stating that there were no guns of any kind in their household. Men are far more likely to personally own a gun than women by a two-to-one margin (46 percent to 23 percent). Americans aged 35 to 54 are more likely to own guns than those who are both younger and older. Only 29 percent of college graduates personally own a gun compared to 40 percent for gun owners with no college education.
Now, let's look at recent data from the General Societal Survey (GSS) as published on the Think Progress website. This data almost makes it look like two completely different populations were surveyed, making one wonder which data is more accurate. While Gallup shows gun ownership remaining stable over the past two decades, the General Societal Survey shows the exact opposite as shown on this graph:
Over the period from 1990, the percentage of households owning a gun according to this source has dropped from 46 percent to 32 percent in 2010. Way back in 1974, gun ownership peaked at 54 percent of all American households. As was found in the Gallup survey, the rate of gun ownership varies greatly with age as shown on this graph:
Gun ownership is most pervasive among middle-aged and older Americans and least pervasive among Americans born after 1980 with the rate of gun ownership among younger Americans dropping to less than 20 percent. Notice that in the GSS data set, older Americans born between 1920 and 1939 are just as likely to own guns as those born between 1940 and 1959 in contrast to the Gallup data.
Perhaps some of the confusion over gun ownership statistics stems from one issue; the fear of confiscation. While no one knows for certain, perhaps some respondents are reluctant to reveal whether or not they possess firearms to outsiders for fear of repercussions down the road, in part, as trust in government declines. Just type "gun confiscation in America" into Google and see just how widespread this fear is among Americans as shown in this video: