Why Do (Many) Americans Own Guns?

All my friends in the gun-control movement keep telling me that we can reduce gun violence by just enacting some ‘reasonable’ or ‘common-sense’ laws. I suppose that what they mean are laws that even gun owners will agree should be passed, like extending background checks to personal transfers, red-flag laws, ‘common-sense’ things like that. Our friends at the Hopkins group have published a big study which proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that most gun owners really do support those ‘reasonable’ laws.

That’s all fine and well except for one, little thing. If you asked the average gun owner what he thinks would be the best way to reduce gun violence, he’d probably say that we should get rid of all gun-free zones. Or maybe put armed guards in all schools. Or better yet, allow everyone who wants to carry a gun to carry it from state to state.

In other words, all these ‘common-sense’ gun laws whose benefits are touted by every gun-control organization are only considered ‘reasonable’ by people who, for the most part, don’t own guns. And if all those folks really want to find a way to communicate with gun owners in order to come up with some ‘reasonable’ regulations that might really gain Gun-nut Nation’s support, maybe they would start out by trying to figure out why people own guns. After all, a gun isn’t like a car- you don’t need to own a gun in order to get to work. And you also don’t really need to own a gun to protect yourself from ISIS, or a street thug, or even from gun-grabbers like Joe Biden or Crazy Bern.

Back in 2015, our friends at Harvard published a very detailed study on who owns guns in America and why they own their guns. What they found is that gun owners own handguns primarily for protection  and own long guns for hunting and sport. It took a whole study to figure that one out? After all, it’s not as if you can’t take down Bambi with a Glock, but that’s not the way it’s usually done.

If our public health friends want to really help us figure out how to talk to gun owners about how to reduce gun violence, they might ask whether just knowing that people buy handguns for personal protection really tells them anything at all. Colt began making and selling a self-defense pocket pistol in 1903, which was long before Dana Loesch got on NRA-TV to warn all America’s housewives to defend themselves against street ‘thugs.’

It’s not as if walking around with a Glock in your pocket is the only way people can protect themselves from crime. In fact, most people aren’t wandering around with a Glock and they don’t seem to feel any more vulnerable than the guys and a few gals who walk around armed. If public health researchers think they are really explaining anything when they publish another study showing that the number of people who actually use a gun to prevent a crime is somewhere between zero and zilch, maybe they should think again. The folks who come into my gun shop to buy a gun for ‘personal protection’ couldn’t care less what some egg-head from Harvard believes.

All I know is that the rate of violent crime across the U.S. continues to decline, but the percentage of the population which believes that having a gun around is more of a benefit than a risk continues to increase. How do we account for such cognitive dissonance when it comes to the question of guns?

We don’t. We simply pretend that somewhere, somehow we can create a magic formula that will get gun owners and non-gun owners on the same page. In the meantime, deaths from intentional shootings have increased by more than 25% over the last ten years.

Isn’t it about time we substituted the word ‘effective’ for words like ‘reasonable’ or ‘common -sense’ when it comes to promoting new gun laws?

8 thoughts on “Why Do (Many) Americans Own Guns?

  1. I’m curious. Why do you like the word effective better. Is it your opinion that the “reasonable” or “common sense” solutions proposed wouldn’t be effective?

  2. “Common sense” has become a political pejorative, i.e., if you don’t agree with my proposal, you must lack common sense. So it is equivalent to insulting the opposition. David Yamane posted a long essay on that over at his web site. Plus, it once was common sense that the earth was flat because people never sojourned far enough to know otherwise. One needs analytics when writing law or one is possibly guilty of just putting one’s personal belief system into law.

    Plus, no one bothers asking most gun owners what we think in my neck of the woods. During the last legislative session, when I was the PR director of a 1300 member gun club, I had a discussion with the President of the state shooting organization and both of us had gotten complaints from members that we were not getting responses from our legislators, who were busy talking to the non-gun people who were handing out checks to legislators from Mike Bloomberg’s account.

    Mike Weisser is spot on with this. If you want to know why people own guns, ask them. Also, ask their opinion on what could lead to safer gun ownership. Me? The main reason I own pistols is that I like to shoot pistols. I never bought a trap gun because for years, my stepdad put me to shame in trap and skeet, so I gave up. I own a mountain bike and a cyclocross bike because I like to ride bicycles on dirt trails, and own two road racing bicycles because I like to ride on the road. Its simple.

    Finally, its nice to say that guns are used in a vanishingly small number of self defense incidents but the uncertainties on that number are likely an order of magnitude greater than the number itself–the data collection is poor and rarely do we define what is actually a self defense moment. Does it mean shooting someone? Aiming a gun at someone? Merely unzipping your coat when someone is threatening you (I did that back in the late seventies). Plus, the urge to be “self reliant” is not based on egghead science but on feelings of personal vulnerability. If you live in Albuquerque and every newspaper is describing a drive by shooting, home invasion, or that the city is on a record setting pace for homicides, you might think that old expression is handy: When seconds count, the police are minutes away. Politics, personal choices, etc. are rarely analytical. That’s why everyone and his dog bought a hulking SUV instead of a fuel efficient car: fear of the unlikely event of being hit.

    • Thank you for that explanation. The word reasonable can be taken the same way. I’m not sure “effective” is the best word choice, but I can’t think of anything right at this moment.

      • Effective implies some sort of cause vs. effect, at least in my world. So if you give me an antibiotic and it kills off the infection, its effective. If the MD gives me an antibiotic and the germs are antibiotic resistant to it, its ineffective. Its harder to do that with gun laws because in spite of what Donohoe or Webster say, I don’t put ultimate stock in these synthetic studies since its a tough sell to say that they can manage all the variables. I think its common sense to say if few people have guns, fewer will go off inappropriately. When one is looking at nuance, it gets murky.

        With some of these laws, I could agree its “common sense” to keep guns from prohibited persons, at least sensu lato. But the fine print matters:

        Do all “prohibited persons” deserve to lose their gun rights, i.e., someone who was suicidal thirty years ago and fine today, or someone convicted of a non-violent felony drug offense such as selling dope in college? I think some sort of statute of limitations on losing rights is consistent with public safety. I think a lot of people think these folks should not lose other rights such as voting.

        Is the bureaucratic hurdle created by a new law justified by the effectiveness at crime reduction vs. the amount of (Constitutionally allowed) hassle it imposes on the law abiding? That would be an interest balancing approach that the Courts sometimes use as far as interpreting ConLaw (strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, interest balance, etc)

        Thanks for asking. Hope I added more light than heat.

  3. Most people buy guns because they like them. And they like shooting. Some already have many weapons suitable for defense but yet they buy another one “for self-defense”.

    • I don’t have a problem with self defense, but I do have a problem with suggesting so-called solutions to problems that are potentially, more harmful than solving the underlying problems. For example, if your house is a firetrap, is it better to leave it a firetrap but put fire extinguishers in every room (and carry a small one on your belt) or is it better to clean the clutter out of the house? Did you also put in fire sensors so you can wake up? Also, do you know how to use each class of fire extinguishers so you don’t use the wrong fire extinguisher on a grease or electrical or flammable liquid fire?

      Admittedly, cleaning the crime-creating clutter out of the nation is harder than me getting rid of fifteen years worth of bike magazines and academic papers I’ve not worked on since I finished my Ph.D, but I think the analogy works: fix what is broken and you won’t need quite so many fire extinguishers.

      And I did finally get rid of those 1970’s journal reprints…but the bike magazines stayed!

  4. Banning or regulating guns hasn’t worked and cannot work. You can draw a parallel with the war on drugs.
    The vast majority of crimes utilizing guns center on urban areas with populations that are lacking in education and economic development.
    Until this population has an alternative, you won’t see a change in this reality.

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