Millennials and Guns Updated

Just about a year ago I wrote here about the decline in gun ownership among those Americans who have come of age since the Kennedy Administration. Starting with the “Boomers,” rates of gun ownership by household have fallen by about ten percent each generation. Among those coming of age since the turn of the 21st Century, the “Millennials,” only 19% reported living in a household with a gun present.

Those results were based on the responses to the General Society Survey, which has been conducted periodically by the National Opinion Research Center since 1972. My earlier results were based on the combined surveys from 1972 through 2010. Now that the 2012 installment is available, I have reproduced the results of my earlier analysis with those respondents included. The entries report the percentage of households with a gun present for each combination of generational cohort and age when interviewed.


The new data gives us the ability to estimate the ownership rate for two groups not present in the 2010 sample, but the size of each sample is fairly small. Boomers now reaching retirement age show a higher rate of gun ownership than younger people in the same cohort, but that 50% for the oldest Boomers is based on just 34 people and is not statistically reliable. A chi-squared test of ownership against age group among Boomers does not reach significance.

More disturbing perhaps is the reported 28% rate of ownership among the 53 Millennials just now reaching their thirties. That figure is eight points higher than the rate for younger Millennials, but again the difference between the age groups does not meet the usual criteria for statistical significance (p < 0.20). Still if we see continue to see increasing ownership rates among Millennials as they age, my earlier rejection of a role for life-cycle factors in the decision to own a gun may have been premature. Since all the over-29 Millennials were interviewed in 2012, their higher rate of ownership could be the result of historical events that took place between 2010 and 2012. Evidence from sources like Gallup suggest that household ownership rates spiked in 2011 after years of stagnation. FBI records of the number of background checks performed show a similar spike in purchases that year. Breaking out the rates of ownership by year of interview in the GSS shows some corroboration for those trends.
age_trends_2008-2012The reported rate of ownership in 2012 for the country as whole hovered in the mid-thirties during the Obama years. Ownership estimates for the oldest cohorts declined sharply in 2010 then rebounded in 2012. For the “New Deal” cohort, aged 83 or older in 2010, these fluctuations can be attributed to small sample sizes. That is a less plausible explanation for the “Silents” (aged 65-82 in 2010); their samples each year ranged from 196 in 2008 to 144 in 2012. I have no explanation for the variation among these older Americans.

More striking is the consistent increase in household gun ownership rates among the Millennial generation, rising from 17% in 2008 to 25% four years later. With a sample of 243 people in 2008 and 310 people in 2012, this eight percent increase in gun exposure is “statistically significant” at the 0.02 level. Future posts will look more deeply into the reasons for this rise in gun exposure.