They Might Be Asking, But We Ain’t Answering


Looks like Bloomberg must have funded a major survey of gun ownership that didn’t just ask whether you had a gun in the home, but how many. Data shows that the number of gun owners has increased, but not at the same rate as population. The trend is apparently driven by men owning guns at a lesser rate, even as women are owning them at an increasing rate.

I think all of these social surveys are going to be limited by how many people are willing to talk to surveyors about a topic that’s a sensitive one. So even if the survey mythology it tip top, it’s always going to have that limitation. Personally, if someone calls asking about the number of guns I have in the home, and not just about whether I own one, I’m going to become very suspicious and hang up the phone.

Azrael, one of the study’s authors, said she was surprised that the detailed questions on gun ownership received no pushback. “People didn’t write back to GfK and say, ‘You have no right to ask these questions.’”

“It was encouraging,” she said. “It didn’t feel fraught. It felt that we were talking about a regular consumer product.”

Yeah, because if I were participating in that survey company’s response pool, I would just check off “no, not a gun owner” and send it back if I didn’t want to go there. I think the more they try to extract information, the lower the response rate is going to be. Low response rates are probably why this survey came up way short on the total number of guns we know (from ATF manufacturing data) are out there.

That said, I think the idea that most of the 300 million guns in this country are owned by a subclass of “super owners” as they call them in this survey is probably on the mark, and as Gary Kleck notes in the article, “That’s probably true for just about any consumer good.”

Most people reading this blog are probably “super owners.” Would you respond to someone with a long list of questions about your status as a gun owner? I sure as hell wouldn’t. But at the same time, Bloomberg is obviously funding these surveys for the exact purpose mentioned in this study: “this survey sounds like part of the ongoing effort to minimize gun ownership to make more gun control seem politically achievable.” Yep. You’re far better off talking to your elected representatives about how you feel about gun ownership than you are Bloomberg’s social surveyors.

26 thoughts on “They Might Be Asking, But We Ain’t Answering”

  1. This is somewhat of a double edged sword, isn’t it?
    They could twist this to imply gun ownership is declining.


  2. What the heck is a super owner?

    Given that surveys and pollsters cannot even get people to opine on who they will vote for correctly, I am pretty deeply skeptical of surveys these days. All results can be manipulated by demographic assumptions about the non-respondent. In A+ voters surveys including landline and telephones, the response rate these days is typically 10%. That means the survey is 90% horseshit. And, any criticism of these gun surveys is met with “well, that’s why we need a national gun database.”

    SMH, I can make up any number I want out of these studies. The state of social science “research” is at an all time low, rife with bias – even in economics. And if I were given 300 million like Bloomberg just gave to Hopkins, I guarantee the number would be whatever Bloomberg wanted it to be.

  3. Hilarious. I participated in a recent survey that asked this very question. Since there was no answer that allowed me to talk about my recent boating accident, I simply indicated that I don’t own any firearms. And I don’t–damn boats! ;)

  4. Sadly all of mine were lost in a tragic gasoline fight accident…

    but in all seriousness, my answer to pollsters has always been to mess with them and give them inconsistent results, mostly because they always call during dinner.

  5. Sorry. A stupid question is one based on ignorance, so my question above was stupid.

    This question of “super-owner” (at least as defined by the Bloombergites) was answered in that article.

    Their surveys are used to justify the idea that 50% of guns in the US are owned by 3% of American adults, averaging 17 firearms “amassed” by each of those owners. This is what they are painting as a “super-owner.”

    So 17 or more, you are a “super-owner.” Kind of like magazines … 11 rounds or more and you are a “high capacity” magazine. Unless you’re in New York, where 8 or more was “high capacity?”

    It’s as absurd as it is arbitrary.

    1. They started off by saying “averaging” 17, as you quoted above. Then, they said there are 7.7M super-owners, “who own between 8 and 140 guns.” (See the third paragraph under the Gun Nation video.) Later in the article (right above the VCDL quotes), they muddy the water and talk about interviewing super-owners “who own more than 17 firearms.”

      It’s confusing, but the definition of a super-owner appears (to me, at least) to be 8-140 with an average of 17. I have no idea what’s above super-owner. Patron? Benefactor?

  6. For a long time I have believed that all polls are biased by, the only people who participate in them are so stupid they will answer questions from a stranger who calls them on the phone.

    Whether they are giving their real opinions or not, only stupid people are giving them.

    Pile that on top of, they are so stupid they pick up the phone to answer a strange number calling. But I suppose not everyone has caller ID.

  7. Let’s play along and say there are 7 million super-owners. When politicians try to ban firearms those highly invested super-owners would make a marvelous army to march on DC. It would probably take 50 pissed off people to shut down a state like California with a few rampages against government thugs.

    Bloomberg is full of sh!t and his “research” is pathetic. The minions who do his research should be banned from academic research. I hope I get one of those manuscripts to review and I will destroy it.

  8. Hasn’t the number of guns in America been at 300 million for like, the last 20ish years? Shouldn’t that number be a lot higher? Aren’t there like 10-20 million guns sold each year?

    I mean, I’ve been hearing 300 million guns my entire life. Haven’t more than 100 million been sold just during the Obama administration? Even when you discount used guns, that still means there are at least 50+ million in circulation that weren’t there when Bush was in office.

      1. Exactly! During Obama’s tenure, approximately 100 million more firearms were produced in the US. Do that many old firearms fail & tossed, get picked up on the street, and turned in at buybacks? Highly doubtful.

        Even without imports, collectibles, milsurp, and those others not ‘manufactured’, we’ve bumped the number in circulation by a minimum of 30% over the last 8 years. That’s the number we should be proud of. I’ve personally helped at least eight friends in eight years choose their first firearm, half of which are women.

        P.S. I like being super at anything I do: go big or go home!

        1. “Do that many old firearms fail & tossed, get picked up on the street, and turned in at buybacks?”

          Nah, only a tiny fraction of firearms are lost that way. Most are “lost” in boating accidents, or were “sold” to a friend of a friend. So obviously the correct figure is around 100 million guns left, give or take…

          And guns are *never* made by machinist hobbyists who might have a slight distrust in government!

    1. There’s 300 million guns just like there’s 11 million illegal aliens, yeah right.

  9. How come no one, not even Kleck doesn’t mention the obvious? This is an unpublished study. None of the media reporting on it has actually seen it before. Who knows what the methodology is?

    This is a new tactic by Trace/Bloomberg. Remember the study that will supposedly validate that 40% of guns are transferred without a background check? Still waiting for that one.

  10. Guns? I ain’t got no stinking guns! Don’t need no stinking guns!
    I like large bowie knives. Disembowelment is much more fun than shooting someone. Next question.

  11. “People didn’t write back to GfK and say, ‘You have no right to ask these questions.’”

    Is that GfK Custom Research North America? As I see them mentioned nowhere in the sources, is there a different GfK?

    Reason I ask is I am a Knowledge Panel member for GfK Custom Research North America. They have never had a survey I’ve seen that asks about gun ownership. Opinions on gun ownership and various laws being considered yes, but never a do you own guns question.

    1. Nevermind, found my answer, finally….

      “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.”

      They must not have selected me for that survey?

      1. Wait, 4000, out of what, 300 million Americans??? hardly a good sample size IMO…

        1. Actually, when you have a properly randomized sample of 1000 Americans, statistically, it doesn’t matter how big the population is — any more, and you’re not really going to improve your measurements.

          Now, the question we have left is, is the sample properly randomized? If not — people with guns use Caller ID because they’re tired of getting surveys, for example — then we have a little bit of a problem.

          I made a mistake: I said the question. I should say a question, because we’re also left with questions like “how many people are telling the truth?” and “what do we do about people who refuse to answer” and so on.

          Statistics are funny things. If we can do them properly, they can be pretty accurate…but there are so many confounding factors that can interfere with doing them properly, that statistics are fuzzy tools at the best of times….

          I almost forgot to add: statisticians are used to these fuzzy issues, and are always worried sick about them. However, I doubt that Bloomberg is approaching this survey as a statistician, trying to get to the bottom of the truth…

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