We know that we’re in the midst of one of the greatest run on guns since the Second Amendment was ratified in 1791, with more than 21-million firearms sold last year and estimates of more than 8-million new gun owners over the past twelve months. Still, there’s a lot we don’t know about those Americans embracing their right to keep and bear arms, as well as those adamantly opposed to it.
A new research project called the Guns in American Life Survey is providing some interesting new data, however, and on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. we take a closer look at the survey’s findings and a new article from University of Kansas professor Margaret Kelley that highlights some surprising results from the examination into the mindsets of American gun owners.
First off, though, let’s acknowledge that, like the vast majority of studies involving gun owners and Second Amendment issues, I think there’s some anti-gun bias on display in the presentation of the data. That doesn’t mean that the data itself should be discarded, particularly when we’re simply talking about who gun owners are and why, as opposed to trying to measure support for any particular gun control law.
In fact, the survey does something that I’ve seen few opinion polls do; it separates respondents into three groups; gun owners, non-gun owners who are open to buying a gun in the future, and non-gun owners firm in their conviction that they’ll never own a gun. As it turns out, open-minded non-gun owners have a lot in common with those who are already exercising their Second Amendment rights.
Kelley said, “We approach the topic thinking this is binary: You own a gun or you don’t, and people have characteristics that go with one of those categories. But it is not that straightforward. For example, there’s evidence that 20% of gun owners are liberals. That goes against our expectations of who might own a gun.”
Among the most common assumptions about gun owners is they gravitate toward the weapon out of fear.
“This is an overgeneralization that people buy guns because they’re afraid,” she said. “That’s part of it. But that’s not all of it.”
Instead, Kelley also delves into the positive aspects of ownership, which she terms “gun gratifications.” She found these are frequently divided by gender, with men feeling more empowered by guns, while women are motivated by the sense of protection granted. (The survey collected responses from more than 3,100 individuals, offering a strong representative data set of the U.S. public.)
On the other end of those studied are persons who claim they will never own a gun. This is mainly populated by respondents wrestling with an ideological issue. Many don’t believe guns are a part of “the good society.”
“Also factoring in is the fear of violence,” Kelley added. “In many studies, guns are specifically equated with violence. In fact, the vast majority of guns will never be involved in a negative outcome. Yet it is hard to disassociate that connection, given the very severe violence that does happen and the fear that is generated by mass shootings and things.”
From a political perspective, one of the more interesting findings (to me, anyway) is that Democrats are more likely to say that they’re open to the idea of buying a gun than political independents. I would have assumed it was the other way around, with Republicans most likely to be open to buying a gun, independents in the middle, and Democrats far less likely to do so. That suggests, along with the survey’s findings that 20% of self-described Democrats are gun owners, that there is room on the Left for pro-gun Democrats, even though the vast majority of them have been run out of the Party.
Ten years ago, fully 25-percent of the Democrats in the House of Representatives were rated “A” by the National Rifle Association. Today it’s zero percent. The media narrative is that the NRA has become less bipartisan, but the truth is the the Democrat Party’s become more anti-gun. With Democrats in control of Congress and the White House, there’s little appetite for moderation, at least at the national level, but in red states in particular, I think there’s both room and a need for Blue Dog, pro-gun Democrats on the ballot.
That wasn’t the only surprising result of the survey, however. As Kelley writes:
For example, past victimization differentiates the maybes from the nevers but not from the owners. Worry about mass and school shootings leads one away from gun ownership, while worry about terrorist attacks leads toward it. Curiously, greater confidence in the police is highest for the maybes. They are solidly in the middle on other ideological issues, including beliefs in justifiable violence and gun “science” research. We find different ideological issues come together as a continuum of gun ownership status.
I think it’s very good news that American gun owners aren’t just becoming much common, but are becoming much more diverse as well. Across the political, racial, religious, socio-economic, sexual orientation, or any other spectrum you can come up with, you’ll find a growing number of gun owners, and that’s a very good thing for the Second Amendment movement. These new gun owners won’t all become activists, and they certainly won’t all become absolutists, but I would hazard a guess that very few of them bought a firearm as a short-term possession either.
The right of the people to keep and bear arms is best defended by as many people as possible, and Gun Culture 2.0 and the Great Gun Runs of 2020 and 2021 have swelled the ranks of the 2A community even as our elections have given almost complete control of the federal government to anti-gun politicians. Second Amendment activists need to give a lot of thought on how to turn these new gun owners into defenders of their right to keep and bear arms, rather than just those exercising it.