that they have a firearm in the home has been declining since the late 1950s. While the estimates vary from year to year, all three surveys indicate a decline in the percentage of households possessing firearms. From 1980, when the percentage of households owning a firearm was between 45 and 48 percent, ownership has decreased by 5 to 16 percentage points to a prevalence of 30 to 43 percent. In discussion with the committee, Cook has suggested that the decline in ownership per household while individual ownership remains constant may be due to the increase in female-headed households during this period. Despite these overall reductions in household ownership, the relative distribution of firearm ownership across attributes of gender, race, age, education, income, and region has been remarkably consistent over time (Maguire and Pastore, 2002: Table 2.70).
Of households owning a firearm, between 59 and 62 percent reported owning a handgun (Maguire and Pastore, 2002: Tables 2.69, 2.71, and 2.72). All three surveys indicate that gun owners are more likely to be male, white, and middle-aged or older. Furthermore, gun ownership was higher among those who live in the South, had less education than a college degree, and had a higher than average income. Among respondents reporting household gun ownership, the percentage of blacks reporting handgun ownership was 6 to 9 percent higher than for whites, and the percentage of blacks reporting long gun ownership was 11 to 29 percent lower than for whites (Maguire and Pastore, 2002: Tables 2.71 and 2.72).
Recent research has aggregated the individual survey responses about firearms ownership across U.S. communities (Baumer et al., 2002; Rosenfeld et al., 2001). The GSS is based on a national area probability sample composed of 100 primary sampling units (PSUs) (in the 1990 sampling frame) designed to represent the population of people age 18 and older in the United States. Each PSU is a “self-representing” geographic unit, in the sense that the respondents are representative of the PSU adult population.
Aggregating the individual survey responses to the PSU level permits comparisons of the aggregated items, including firearms ownership, across a representative sample of U.S. geographic areas. Figure 3-1 shows the geographic distribution of household firearm ownership for the 100 PSUs in the 1990 GSS sampling frame, covering the period 1993 to 1998.
The figure shows substantial variability in firearm ownership in the United States. The prevalence of household ownership varies from roughly 10 to 80 percent. Most of the PSUs cluster around the mean ownership level of 43 percent, with fewer PSUs located near the extremes of the distribution.