The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

America has more guns in fewer hands than ever before​

Flickr user <a href="" target="_blank">Kenny Louie</a> (CC)

You've probably heard by now that the Obama administration has been a boon to the U.S. firearm industry. Gun manufacturers boosted production by 31 percent between 2011 and 2012. National tragedies from Newtown to Ferguson are accompanied by stories of surging gun sales.

But data released this week from the General Social Survey, widely regarded as the gold standard for social science survey research, shows that in 2014, the number of American households owning guns remained at 40-year lows.

In 2014, guns were present in fewer than a third of U.S. households -- 32 percent -- according to the survey. That's 22 percentage points lower than the high of 54 percent recorded in 1977.

So this raises a question: where are all those newly-manufactured guns going?

Most likely, they're being added to the stockpiles of people who already own guns. If gun sales are up and household-level ownership rates are down, that's the only real logical conclusion.

Naturally, gun-rights advocates tell a different story. They point to different polls, like Gallup, which show higher rates of gun ownership than the GSS. But even the most recent Gallup data paints a picture of fewer houses owning guns: 42 percent in October of last year, down from a high of 51 percent in 1993.

The disparity in ownership rates between various polls has long vexed researchers, journalists and advocates. But regardless of which survey you prefer, the decrease in household ownership rates is unmistakeable.

There's no question that gun rights groups like the NRA are winning the battle for hearts and minds on the issue. A December 2014 Pew Research Center poll showed that for the first time in two decades, there is more support among Americans for gun rights than gun control.

So far, gun rights advocates haven't been able to capitalize on this sentiment to broaden the base of gun ownership. But they have been able to convince their supporters to keep buying more firearms.