The recent Florida school shooting and its causes has been addressed on this site in this question which addresses whether factors other than access to guns are significant based on statements by the Governor of Kentucky suggesting that factors such as the prevalence of violent video games were more important.

The governor made several statements on this topic. In this interview on Youtube he repeats several related claims. But the specific one, not apparently addressed elsewhere here, is this (I hope I'm transcribing his words accurately. The statement starts about 10s into the clip.):

...a hundred years ago and even fifty years ago we had more guns per capita than we do now. It's not a gun problem.

Are his specific claims about the trend in number of guns in the USA correct (specifically that the USA now has a lower level of gun availability than it used to have)?

  • There are numerous graphs on the web from reputable sources (some from pro-gun outfits) that show that gun ownership has increased and is at or near a record high for the past 50-100 years. (I previously posted several links, but someone's deleted them.) – Daniel R Hicks Feb 25 '18 at 13:18
  • Question for moderators: what happened to the comments on this question? There were several useful ones but they disappeared very quickly. – matt_black Feb 25 '18 at 13:28
  • @DanielRHicks I saw some of the in my mobile feed but they had all gone by the time I returned home to my desktop. I've no idea why. – matt_black Feb 25 '18 at 13:29
  • It's fairly clear that one of the moderators has a strong pro-gun stance. – Daniel R Hicks Feb 25 '18 at 13:34
  • @DanielRHicks My first explanation would actually be a software glitch (there have been some serious ones in the last week here). Moderators have explained their actions on the other big question on guns, for example. – matt_black Feb 25 '18 at 13:38

TL;DR: No, not guns per capita, but the reverse, percentage of households with guns is decreasing.

This may have simply been clumsy speaking. Guns per capita is increasing while the percentage of households with guns is decreasing. CNN:

The number of households owning guns has declined from almost 50% in 1973 to just over 32% in 2010, according to a 2011 study produced by The University of Chicago's National Opinion Research Center. The number of gun owners has gone down almost 10% over the same period, the report found

Another way of saying this is that the number of guns per gun owner is increasing faster than the number of gun owners (on a percentage basis) is decreasing.

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    Taken together, these two facts mean that the civilian gun stock is increasingly looking like a small number of people who each own a larger and larger number of guns. – probably_someone Feb 25 '18 at 4:46
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    @BenVoigt This isn't quite true; one 300-millionth of 300 million is 1, which isn't a large number by most people's standards. Anyway, I don't see how that's relevant to this discussion. Care to elaborate? – probably_someone Feb 25 '18 at 19:48
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    @BenVoigt Who said that the size of the army was the boundary between a "small number of people" and a "large number of people"? More to the point, why is 10 million being a "large number of people" (by your definition) even important? What's your point? – probably_someone Feb 25 '18 at 20:13
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    @DanielRHicks But if you're really that concerned aboit semantics, here's a revised version of my first statement: "Taken together, these two facts mean that the civilian gun stock is increasingly looking like a shrinking minority of the population who each own a larger and larger number of guns." It essentially doesn't change my point. – probably_someone Feb 25 '18 at 21:54
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    I would note this data is self reported. I would not be totally surprised to learn that underreporting changes over the decades, and I would guess that with the fear of confiscation being spread recently it would be higher than average now. – user36688 Feb 26 '18 at 16:25

There doesn't seem to be much public data on the number of guns per capita one hundred years ago, but the part saying that "fifty years ago we had more guns per capita than we do now" is definitely incorrect. Quoting from a Congressional Research Service white paper on the issue of gun control (found here: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32842.pdf):

Per capita, the civilian gun stock has roughly doubled since 1968, from one gun per every two persons to one gun per person.

  • I'd be interested to see a discussion of alternative estimates which might give us an idea of the reliability of the conclusions. single sources are always a little suspect. – matt_black Feb 25 '18 at 12:11
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    @matt_black - Google "gun ownership by year in us" and look at the "images". You will easily find a dozen sites which confirm the basic statement in this answer (many of them from pro-gun sites wanting to take credit for falling gun deaths). – Daniel R Hicks Feb 25 '18 at 13:31
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    @DanielRHicks I'd be interested to see a credible review of those looking at the original sources and reliability of the data (eg, although it isn't the most relevant stat here, the "households owning a gun" stats are somewhat contradictory). – matt_black Feb 25 '18 at 13:35
  • @matt_black - Google the charts, go to the pages they're on, and see what sources they quote. (And while you're doing this you will note that the data is remarkably consistent, even between far-left and far-right sites.) – Daniel R Hicks Feb 25 '18 at 13:45
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    @matt_black The main issue with finding multiple original credible sources for this matter is that the US government has been severely restricted from funding or publishing gun violence research for 20 years, due to the Dickey and Tiahrt amendments. Incidentally, the Dickey amendment in particular was mainly pushed by an NRA lobbying group; make of that what you will. – probably_someone Feb 25 '18 at 19:17

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