How Many Americans Own Guns?


              I have just finished reading (for the second time) what has to be one of the most bizarre and misguided examples of research into gun violence that I have ever read. This article, which comes out of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center at Rutgers University, is an attempt to figure out how many Americans own guns, which has usually been set at somewhere around 30% of all households, but these researchers believe that the gun-owning households may be as high as 60%.

              How does one explain such a discrepancy? It is presumed that gun owners tend to be somewhat sensitive (read: paranoid) to any outside efforts to figure out whether they have guns because such efforts are viewed as a preliminary step towards the confiscation of guns.

              Now in fact, there has never been any jurisdiction in the United States which completely banned gun ownership, although the Illinois town of Morton Grove tried to do it in 1981 but quietly rescinded the ban in 2008. Several other places have banned the purchase of assault rifles, but only another Illinois town, Highland Grove, has passed a law compelling AR-15 owners to either sell their guns or move out of town.

              In other words, the two sides of the gun debate may argue endlessly about the details of gun ownership, like safe storage, permit-to-purchase, concealed-carry and other restrictions, but since 2008, the 2nd Amendment has given Constitutional protection to private gun ownership whether anyone likes it or not.

              On the other hand, it is assumed (without the slightest bit of real evidence, by the way) that the more guns owned by Americans, the more Americans will get killed or injured with guns. This argument was first made by our friend David Hemenway, who has published multiple articles which find a connection between America’s high rate of violent crime and the size of America’s civilian arsenal, with the former rate seven to twenty times higher than what occurs in any other advanced country, and it goes without saying that America’s per capita ownership of guns is also far beyond per capita ownership rates anywhere else.

              If we take the research published by David and supplement it with the work just published by the Rutgers group, the gun violence situation in the United States looks pretty glum. Not only are more guns being added to the civilian arsenal each year, but the absolute number of armed Americans is also getting larger. As Grandpa would say, ‘nisht gut’ (read: no good.)

              Given what I have just said, why do I refer to the research out of Rutgers as being misguided? For that matter, I could apply the same descriptive to Hemenway’s work and here’s the reason why.

              In 2021, the CDC says we had 47,823 intentional deaths from gunshots – 26,328 from suicide, 20,958 from homicide. The CDC has given up entirely trying to figure out how many non-fatal shootings occur each year, but the FBI says there were 146,886 non-fatal gun assaults in 2021.

              So, for the sake of argument, let’s say that the total number of fatal and non-fatal shootings where someone used a gun to try and kill someone else was somewhere around 166,000 in 2021.

              Now, if we put together the research by Hemenway and the Rutgers group, we may be looking at a national gun-violence rate of somewhere around 50, which would put the U.S. in the stratosphere when compared to other advanced nation-states.

              Except there’s only one little problem with the research cited above. Neither Hemenway nor the Rutgers group nor anyone else has ever attempted to figure out how many homicides and aggravated assaults are committed each year by individuals who do not have legal access to guns. And the idea that a guy who has a stolen gun that he bought on the streetcorner and now keeps it under the living room couch is going to admit ownership of this weapon to someone who calls up and says, “Hi, I’m from Rutgers and I want to know if you own guns,” is totally and completely bizarre.

              By the way, neither Hemenway nor the Rutgers researchers have taken the trouble to break out the different types of guns owned by all those gun-nut Americans, as if every type of gun represents the same degree of risk from gun violence. Several years ago I published an analysis of 9,000 guns picked up for homicide, suicide, theft and other violations in various jurisdictions throughout the United States.

              I stuck the entire list in Excel, and then did a word search using the names of the five most popular gun makers who market hunting guns: Remington, Mossberg, Browning, Winchester and Marlin. Together these companies alone have probably added at least 80 to 100 million guns to the civilian arsenal over the years. These names popped up less than 3% of all the entries, and the violations attached to them involved non-violent crimes, such as failing to renew a gun license or hunting without a hunting license.

              Here’s the bottom line, okay? Conducting a survey to help figure out how gun violence occurs without once mentioning the issue of crime, crime guns and criminals and asking gun owners to describe their guns is like publishing research on the transmission of the AIDS virus without asking about condoms or other safe-sex aids.

Are Guns Here To Stay?


              Back in November, the Gallup Organization published its annual national survey on what Americans think about gun control, something they have been doing since 1990, and to the delight of Gun-nut Nation, support for stronger gun laws has slipped back down to where it was somewhere around 2016-2017, having hit its all-time high in 2018.

              This dip in the public’s perception of not needing stricter gun laws was then taken up by our friends at the NRA to kick a little bit of dirt onto the shoes of Everytown and Shannon Watts: “Reality provides clear evidence for why Shannon Watts and other professional gun controllers seek to tie themselves to every unrelated issue and crisis. It’s because their gun control agenda just isn’t popular. Everytown just doesn’t get it. No amount of focus groups, talking points, or double-speak will ever trick the American people into giving up their Constitutionally-affirmed right to keep and bear arms.”

              Of course, if you take the trouble and drill down into the details of the latest Gallup poll, there’s a lot more for the gun industry to be worried about even if the support for stricter gun laws has dropped a couple of points. If anything, the underlying trends found by Gallop point to a real possibility that gun laws might become much stricter in the years to come. Let’s look at the details, okay?

              First and most important question: Do you have a gun in your home? The ‘yes’ was 42%, up from 37% in 2019, but down from 43% in 2018. So, this number hasn’t really changed.

              Should gun laws be stricter? The ‘yes’ was 57% but for women it was 67%, for men it was 46%. As the age of respondents goes up, the ‘yes’ percentage goes down, from 62% for ages 18-34 down to 59% for anyone over 55 years old.

              Here’s the big one – race. White respondents wanted stricter gun laws by 48%, non-Whites – ready – by 75%! Hey – what happened to all those African-Americans out there allegedly getting into guns? 

              Finally – education. Two-thirds of college grads want gun laws to be stricter. 49% of respondents with ‘some college’ opted for less strict gun laws. The phrase ‘some college’ usually refers to guys who get certified in some kind of hands-on skill-set like HVAC or IT.

              For all the talk and hot air coming from Gun-nut Nation about how all these new groups like women and minorities are getting into guns, the American home which contains a gun is still, on average, a household headed by a White male with some college, above age 50 and it goes without saying, considers himself to be a conservative and votes for the red team.

              In other words, when it comes to who comprises Gun-nut Nation, plus ça change, plus la même chose. Or as Grandpa would say, “gurnisht macht gurnisht.”

              And if that’s not a problem for the gun business, I don’t know what is. Because right now, White males over the age of 40 comprise about 10 percent of the total population, and for the first time, a majority of the population under age 16 is non-White.  In other words, the demographic profile on which the gun industry is not only solidly rooted but continues to show basically no change, happens to be a profile which is going to fade away over the next several decades.

              For those of you who are committed to seeing gun violence disappear, twenty to thirty years may seem like a long time. But let me tell you something. When my mother was pregnant with me in 1944, her doctor told her to stop smoking until after I was born. How long did it take the FDA to finalize warning labels on cigarette packs? Try 40 years.

              Guns happen to be a very old technology. More than anyone else, the kids like things that are ‘new.’ There may have been a line in front of some gun shops at the height of the Pandemic, but I have never seen the Apple store anything but filled.

              If I wanted to plunk some money into the stock market, I’d take Apple over Smith & Wesson every time.

Why Are Guns Lethal: 9781536814002: Reference Books @ Amazon.com

What We Know And Don’t Know About Guns.


              Our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg School have mounted a very impressive online curriculum on gun violence which I will review when I complete the course of study itself. In the meantime, the initial lecture by Daniel Webster opens with a reference to the Pew survey on gun owners, which is one of several recent efforts (note the survey from Harvard-Northeastern) which attempts to describe the kinds of folks who own and use guns.

              What these surveys have found is that, generally speaking, gun owners tend to be White males who live in smaller cities or rural areas, they start buying guns in their 20’s, but most of them are now in their 40’s or 50’s, a majority live in Southern and Midwestern states, they are married and they vote the GOP line. These surveys also show that the percentage of homes with guns has declined from roughly 50 percent to somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, and that the primary reason for gun ownership has shifted from hunting to self-defense.

              I understand that public health research is based on the collection and analysis of enough data to allow for meaningful discussions about the problem that the research is attempting to understand. Hence, the research is usually based on detailed surveys using what is referred to as a ‘nationally-representative’ sample of respondents whose answers are collected either by computer, telephone or both.

              I hate to break the news to my public health research friends, but they could save themselves a lot of time and money in this regard by simply choosing a weekend, just about any weekend, and going to four gun shows in different parts of the country to observe what goes on. What they will observe is that the folks who go to these shows, no matter where the shows take place, will exactly, I mean exactly fit the profile which emerges from all those national polls.

              In addition to these surveys really telling us what anyone can learn from a few hours at the national guard armory in Wheeling, WV or the VFW Hall in Melbourne, AR, these surveys suffer from two gaps, which until the gun violence research community makes some effort to fill in, reduces the value of these studies to a great degree. And these gaps reflect the fact that the whole purpose of gun surveys is to help us understand how to craft policies that will reduce the violence caused by guns. After all, if we didn’t suffer from 125,000 fatal and non-fatal gun injuries every year, would anyone other than the gun makers be interested in who owns guns?

              Gap #1 – These surveys do not (read: not) tell us anything about illegally-owned guns. We have no idea how many illegal guns are out there, where they are located, how often they are sold or traded and, most of all, how such guns start off as legal purchases and then wind up in the ‘wrong’ hands. We also don’t know how many illegal guns are responsible for the yearly, gun-injury toll, but it’s certainly more than half.

              Gap #2 – These surveys only ask gun owners about protecting themselves with guns. How about asking non-gun owners why they don’t feel the need to protect themselves with a gun?

              If these surveys show that only one-third of law-abiding Americans have decided that a gun in their home protects them from violence and/or crime, does this mean that the other two-thirds of the country aren’t worried about being victims of violence or crime? In fact, the last Gallup poll taken in March, 2019 found that nearly 50% of all respondents ‘personally worried’ a ‘great deal’ about violence and crime. How come they aren’t all running out to buy guns?

              If my friends in Gun-control Nation want to have a serious and productive discussion with the folks who live and die for their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ they might consider talking to people who have evidently found other ways besides gun ownership to protect themselves from violence and crime.

A New Survey Which Tells Us What Gun Owners Want To Do About Gun Violence.


I just received a fundraising email from one of the many gun-control organizations that ask me for financial help , and they asked me to help them push forward with the efforts to pass ‘reasonable’ gun regulations which even most gun-owners support. How do they know that gun owners are in favor of comprehensive background checks or a bump-stock ban? Because this is what they hear from surveys conducted by gun-control advocates who want to meet the ‘other side’ on neutral ground.

awb            The only problem with this approach is that it is based on the assumption that both sides define ‘reasonable’ gun regulations the same way. But let me break the news to my friends in the gun-control movement, namely, that for every gun owner who supports background checks, I’ll show you another gun owner who believe that he’s doing his best to reduce gun violence by walking around with a gun. In other words, the same gun owner who favors a ‘reasonable’ gun regulation promoted by Brady, will also support a gun regulation favored by the NRA.  But you won’t find anyone at Brady or Everytown ever saying that the NRA is reasonable about anything at all.

In the hopes to make some sense out of these very conflicting views, I ran a national survey which received 1,557 responses from residents throughout the United States. The survey did not ask them to identify themselves as to whether they were gun owners; that’s a toxic question which will lead to all kinds of data-validation problems, believe me. Instead, I listed twelve gun laws and asked each respondent to answer whether they supported each law or not. Half of these laws are the stock-in-trade of the gun-control movement (comprehensive background checks, assault-weapons ban, etc.,) the other half are measures promoted by the gun-rights gang (national RTC, K-12 gun safety lessons, etc.) This is the first time that a national survey has been published which gives respondents an opportunity to express how they feel about gun regulations favored by both sides. You can download a detailed analysis of the survey here.

Some quick highlights:

  • The fault-line between gun control versus gun rights is gender. For virtually every question, women were less supportive of the gun-rights laws and more supported of laws reflecting a gun-control point of view.
  • Not surprisingly, overall support for pro-gun regulations was strongest in the Southeast and Midwest, weakest in the Northeast and West Coast.

I borrowed from the work conducted by various survey groups and assumed that since this was a nationally-representative survey, that 40% of the respondents either owned guns or lived in a gun household, which meant that 60% did not. The question about comprehensive background checks received an overall positive response of 78%, which meant that half the gun-owning respondents also supported CBC. But here’s the bigger news.

Only 2 of the 6 gun-control questions received more than 60% positive response, which might mean that 4 of 6 gun-control strategies didn’t receive any support from gun owners at all. On the other hand, 4 of the 6 pro-gun strategies received substantial support above 40%, and two of them – handgun ownership at 18 and public school gun safety instruction – received more than 60% positive responses, which means these measures were probably supported by many people who don’t own guns.

If my friends in the gun-control community are serious about seeking legal solutions to reduce gun violence, this survey provides a roadmap for understanding what kinds of gun issues could really be discussed on neutral grounds. After all, would it be so bad to make a deal in which comprehensive background checks are approved along with funding for gun-safety training in public schools? The Florida gun-control law imposed a waiting period but also authorized funding for armed school guards; the former now a state requirement, the latter only an option if a school system applies for the dough.

I hope some of my gun-control advocacy friends will look at what I found and share it around. Either we want to meet gun owners on a level playing field or we don’t.


Want To Invent Facts About Gun Violence? Conduct A Survey.

1 Comment

Now that the boys from Fairfax have decided to give Ollie North an opportunity to keep the discussion about gun violence at a level of religious righteousness that precludes the slightest degree of reality entering into the debate from their side, our friends at The Washington Post have decided to create their own version of reality by publishing the results of a national survey which finds that a majority of Americans believe that more people own guns than actually do own guns.

surveys             The Post claims that a ‘representative sample’ of more than 2,000 adults were asked the following question: “Out of every 100 people in the U.S., about how many do you think own a gun?” And the average answer was: 43 percent.  The Post claims that this is a much higher number than either ‘gun-rights’ or ‘gun-control’ groups are willing to accept, although their source for the numeric favored by Gun-nut Nation happens to be Gallup which puts the gun-owning percentage right at 42%.

Trying to figure out how many Americans own guns is a game which has been played since the 1970’s, particularly following the first, major federal gun law passed in 1968. It was this law, GCA68, which ignited the public discussion about guns and spawned a cottage industry of survey-takers who have been trying ever since to figure out how many Americans own guns. Sometimes the surveys asks whether a gun is found within a particular residence, other times whether a particular individual within the residence owns a gun, sometimes the survey requests information on both.

When these surveys first started being published, there was a big hue and cry from the Gun-nut side that the numbers understated ownership because people were afraid to state in public that they owned guns. The funny thing is that when such cautions were raised about the truthfulness of gun-ownership answers, most surveys set the percentage of gun-owning families at 50% or more. Of late, nobody seems terribly concerned about disclosing the presence of guns, even though the gun-owning number has dropped to 40% or less.

Although the gun-rights and the gun-control groups still differ about how many guns and how many gun owners are floating around, what I find interesting is that both sides come down in lockstep on one basic point, namely, that what we believe to be the real number is presumed to represent only guns that are legally owned.  After all, if a legal gun owner might be reluctant to publicly disclose his access to guns, someone who has an illegal gun lying around for sure isn’t about to spill the goods.

This might sound like a rather radical thing to say, but I have never felt comfortable with the distinction between ‘legal’ as opposed to ‘illegal’ guns. The implication is that people who own guns legally are somehow more responsible, whereas illegal gun owners are irresponsible or worse. After all, the definition of ‘responsible’ usually means that someone doesn’t break the law, so, by definition, anyone with an ‘illegal’ gun is already a law-breaker before he does anything good, bad or otherwise with the gun. Which allows the NRA to always refer to its members as ‘law-abiding’ gun owners, but also lets the GVP opposition chase after ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ laws.

The NRA which prides itself on only attracting law-abiding citizens to its ranks is the same NRA that tells its members that the government has no right to determine whether they are, in fact, a law-abiding citizen when they attempt to buy a gun. By the same token, the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement is reluctant to go headlong against the ‘law-abiding’ argument because most of the people who allegedly own ‘illegal’ guns happen to be members of minority communities and the last thing the GVP wants is remind its constituency that a majority of the individuals who commit gun violence also happen to be from one of the minority groups.

In other words, it really doesn’t matter what the Washington Post survey found because the narratives used by both sides in the debate about gun violence have little to do with the truth.


Sign Up To Take This Survey.


SOcial gUn cuLture

Tell us your opinion on guns, gun violence and gun culture.

Please click here to take the survey

This CONFIDENTIAL RESEARCH STUDY examines the knowledge and attitudes regarding guns, gun violence and gun culture in the US. We do NOT collect personal contact information.



Gun violence claims >33,000 American lives per year. Additionally, another 82,000 will be shot and will survive these injuries, only to suffer several health consequences including multiple hospitalizations, emergency visits, premature mortality and several other health and mental outcomes.

What we are studying:

This confidential research study documents and analyses what you think about guns and gun violence in the US, including:

    • Your exposure to gun violence
    • Your thoughts about personal safety and social responsibility
    • Your thoughts about gun ownership
    • Your understanding about gun violence in the US
    • Your thoughts about guns and gun laws

You are eligible to participate if you are:

  1. Currently living in the US
  2. 18 years of age or above
  3. Willing to tell us the year of your birth
  4. Willing you tell us the zip code and state you live in now.

What you may win:

$25 Amazon gift card upon completion of the survey

Please click here to take the survey

Scan the barcode below to take the survey



Flyer 1

Flyer 2

Flyer 3





Do We Really All Support Background Checks?

1 Comment

If I had a nickel for every gun violence prevention (GVP) advocate and/or gun violence researchers who believes that the American public is not so polarized about controlling guns, I would be somewhere at my golf club and not sitting in my office writing, doing emails, answering the phone and doing all the things I do in order to keep my checkbook occasionally in balance. And this GVP belief in the ability to work with the ‘other side’ stems primarily from endless surveys which show that even gun owners and/or Republicans (usually the same thing) support comprehensive background checks.

polls2             The latest pronouncement in this respect comes from one of our leading gun researchers, Garen Wintemute, who is now overseeing a $5 million grant from the State of California to fund research that has been left undone since the CDC stopped funding gun violence research back in 1998. As ‘proof’ that we are not so divided over the issue of background checks, I quote Wintemute from a recent interview in the Los Angeles Times: “90% of the general population supports (background checks for all firearms purchases), 80% of gun owners support it and 70% of self-reported NRA members support it. Things are not as polarized as they seem.”

I’m assuming that Wintemute took these numbers from the Pew poll published back in June which found, among other things, that 19% of all gun owners were members of the NRA. If this were true, the $165 million they pulled in from dues in 2015 would be chump change compared to what they would really rack if the 19% ‘NRA members’ were paying annual dues. Try about $250 million, okay?

But since the Pew researchers made no effort to ask people why they said they were members of America’s oldest civil rights organization, for the moment let’s accept the number as true even if it’s not. Here’s a bigger truth. The NRA has come out officially and publicly against any expansion of background checks. Period. No compromise whatsoever. So what the Pew researchers should have asked, and perhaps one of Wintemute’s research colleagues will get around to asking at some point is this: ‘If you favor background checks, would you drop your NRA membership because the organization is opposed to background checks?’  Or perhaps instead of that question, the researchers would ask something along the lines like this: ‘Would you vote for someone whose stance on issues included expanding background checks?’

Remember a political candidate named Hillary Clinton? She used a very strong GVP argument to knock Bernie out of the box. The only problem is that the same argument didn’t work in the general election worth a damn. I’m not saying that Trump won the election only because of his stance on 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ What I am saying is that asking the average person if they favor expanded background checks doesn’t really tell you very much about how that individual will really line up and be counted when a new gun law is being debated in the jurisdiction where that individual happens to live.

I’m also not saying that gun owners are ignorant of the importance of background checks for the transfer a gun from one set of hands to another set of hands. Nor am I saying they are lying when they tell a survey-taker that they support expanded background checks. But asking someone to respond to a specific question about guns doesn’t really tell you how the answer to that question lines up with other thoughts the same person holds about guns and how best to use public policies to diminish the violence caused by guns.

The same gun owners who told Pew they favored comprehensive background checks also said they wanted teachers to carry guns in schools and in case you don’t remember, arming teachers was the NRA’s response following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

If only the gap between ‘us’ and ‘them’ could be measured by responses to a single question in a poll.

Why Do Americans Like Guns?

1 Comment

When I was a kid growing up in Washington, D.C. during the 1950s, my two favorite places to visit was the NRA Museum and the FBI.  I loved looking at all the old and historic guns at NRA headquarters because I was a gun-nut by the age of five, and I loved the FBI tour because the last stop was at the shooting range where one of the agents would fire a 45-caliber tommy gun and I could take home the empty brass.

sales             The funny thing about those childhood experiences, however, was they took place at a time when Americans had much more positive views on the importance of regulating guns than we have today. Don’t believe me?  Take a look at the gun surveys conducted by Gallup, several of which started when I was a kid. For example, Gallup has been asking this question since 1959: “Do you think there should or should not be a law that would ban the possession of handguns, except by the police and other authorized persons?” In 1959 this question was answered affirmatively by 60% of the respondents; the last time this question was asked, in October, 2016, affirmative responses dropped to 23 percent.

Here’s how the views on another hot-button gun issue have changed, the question being asked: “Would you vote for or against a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell or possess semi-automatic guns known as assault rifles?” In other words, how do Gallup respondents feel about an assault rifle ban?  In 1996, the first time this question was asked, 57% said they favored such a ban, last year the pro-ban percentage was 36 percent.

Finally, in 1993 Gallup asked respondents for the first time about whether guns made them safe: “Do you think having a gun in the house makes it a [safer place to be] or [a more dangerous place to be]?” The first time this question was asked in 1993, guns making a home safer got 42% of the responses, the last time it was asked in 2014, the ‘safe’ vote was up to 63%. Taking these three questions together, the pro-gun views on handgun ownership, assault weapons and guns for safety have all become more positive by at least half.

It would be easy to put this shift down to one of two arguments: 1) the country is becoming more conservative; 2) the NRA is doing a great PR job about guns. Unfortunately, both arguments can easily be shot through (pardon the pun) with holes. The country is becoming so much more conservative over the time-period covered by these surveys that abortion is law of the land, ditto gay marriage even in the most pro-gun states. As for the vaunted NRA noise machine, the percentage of Gallup respondents who always agree with the NRA on gun issues has stayed exactly the same from 1996 to 2012 – a whole, big 6%.

Our friend Mark Glaze was recently dragged over the coals by the NRA which discovered a survey that his ‘radical’ group, Guns Down, published after the shooting of Steve Scalise. The survey showed firm majorities for more gun control and less guns in circulation, so obviously any public opinion polling, including Gallup’ surveys, has to be treated with care. But the value of the Gallup polls is they ask the same questions year after year and no matter how you slice it or dice it, the message seems to be that Americans aren’t afraid of guns.

Most people are a lot more afraid of things they believe guns can be used to protect them against – crime, terrorism, danger in a generic sense – I don’t know anyone who can’t tell me exactly where they were and what they were doing on the morning of September 11, 2001. And as long as we continue to believe that the world has become a more dangerous place, simply giving folks the results of a gun survey won’t persuade them to agree with what the survey says.


How Many Members In The NRA? Depends Who’s Talking.


When the Pew Research Center released a detailed report on U.S. gun owners, I knew it wouldn’t be long until the organization which claims to represent all gun owners – the NRA – responded in kind. And the response appeared on the NRA-ILA website which tried to explain how and why Pew’s estimate that the NRA has 14 million members may have been wrong but was actually right.

NRA building             What Pew did was ask its survey panel, which they claim to be representative of a cross-section of Americans, to indicate whether or not they were members of the NRA. And then extrapolating the ‘yes’ answers against the percentage of Americans which Pew claims own guns, you wind up with 14 million people who say they have joined America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization,’ as the boys in Fairfax like to say.

Now since the NRA itself claims only to have 5 million members, how do we explain that all of a sudden the organization has added 9 million more to its membership rolls? Here’s how the NRA is handling it as of today: “we have millions more Americans who support us and will tell pollsters they are members, even when they are not.” And to underscore this point, the NRA website also linked to a story from The Washington Times (a real, balanced piece of journalism) which states that the Pew report shows that 21% of gun owners had contacted a public official about gun policy at some point in their lives, but only 12% of the nonowners said they did.

Now before everyone in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community gets all hot and bothered about a tidal wave of gun owners out there who are endlessly surging forward to defend their ownership of guns, let me inject a bit of reality into the NRA’s membership claims. In 2015 the organization claims to have received $165 million in dues, which happens to be $10 million less than what they picked up in their biggest year, which was 2013.  At the current rate of $40 a year, this works out to slightly more than 4 million members, although there are various multi-year deals which might alter those numbers somewhat.

The other way to estimate the NRA membership is to figure out the circulation of their four magazines – American Rifleman, American Hunter, Shooting Illustrated, America’s Freedom – one of which every dues-paying member receives. But if you take a look at their press kit, you’ll notice that the figure for American Rifleman of 5.5 million refers to ‘total audience,’ which is based not on circulation of the magazine, but on a survey conducted by a firm, GfK, which does consumer research about all kinds of things. In fact, this same company conducts surveys for Pew.

How many members does the NRA really have?  As many as they want to have as long as their numbers aren’t totally crazy or based on things they say which simply can’t be true. But if, according to Pew, 9% of gun owners contacted a public official this past year as opposed to 5% of nonowners, then what these numbers tell me is that, pace what the NRA is trumpeting about the political activism of their members, the numbers don’t show that at all.

Remember that Pew reported gun ownership as representing 30% of the adults who answered the poll. Which means that there are 73.5 million who own guns in the United States and 171.7 million who don’t. And if you do the math on the percentages of both groups who contacted a public official, the gun-owning group numbers 6.6 million but the non-owning political activists topped 8.6 mil.

I would be willing to bet that gun owners, by and large, probably reach out more frequently to lawmakers because the NRA has its communication strategies down pat. But if anyone believes that the playing field over gun rights hasn’t become more level since Sandy Hook, they better think again. The NRA is hardly moribund, that’s true, but the other side seems to be keeping pace.

I’m Not Sure We Really Know Why People Own Guns

Leave a comment

What concerns me about surveys which report on why Americans own guns, is the surveys all make the mistake of asking respondents who say they own a gun whether the gun is owned for hunting and sport shooting or for self-defense. And survey after survey claims that while in the olden days people owned guns for hunting and sport, now most guns are kept around for self-defense.

sales   I happen to think that such surveys don’t really tell us anything about why people own guns. Because people are much more complicated and if you ask them questions about how they think or how they behave, you need to give them ways to respond which will let them say what’s on their minds. The problem is that the people who usually create and conduct gun surveys aren’t for the most part people who own guns. And people who don’t own guns don’t usually have much contact with people who do. So what you end up getting in these surveys, like the recent survey conducted by Pew, are answers to questions that people creating the survey believe to be important but might not be important to the person who takes the survey at all.

I have been running some surveys through Survey Monkey and have so far received more than 1,100 responses from residents of 47 states. The surveys ask respondents to identify themselves either as gun violence prevention activists (GVP) or gun rights activists (GRA) advocates, and members of each group can take three surveys which cover: (1). basics demographics; (2). knowledge of gun laws; (3). facts about gun violence and guns. This is the first time that surveys will be published that generate data not from ‘average’ Americans who may or may not own guns, but from the people on both sides whose energies and activities create and sustain the gun debate.

Links to all surveys are here:

Survey #1 – GVP survey   GRA survey.

Survey #2 – GVP survey    GRA survey.

Survey #3 – GVP survey    GRA survey.

I have recently posted another survey which asks people to respond who not only own guns, but explain how they are really used. For example, the survey question about why people own a gun has four possible answers: (1). self-protection, (2). hunting and sport, (3). because I like it, and (4). I don’t know. Believe it or not, so far 85% of the gun owners who answered this question say they own a gun because they like owning a gun.

Another question asks respondents if they reload ammunition. So far, 25% of the responses have been ‘yes.’  This is a remarkable number because it is so high. I used to reload 9mm and 45. There was a sand pit about 5 minutes from my house; I could go out to the garage, run 50-100 rounds through my press in just a few minutes, grab my Colt 1911 or my Hi-Power, drive out to the pit, set up a couple of empty beer or soda cans and bang away.

Someone who reloads today is really into guns because there’s so much cheap, military surplus ammo around that who can be bothered to scavenge some lead, then scavenge brass, then run out and buy powder and primers when you can go down to the gun shop and buy 50 rounds for ten bucks or less? There may be a couple of real gun-nuts out there who reload because they want to carry the single, most accurate hunting round into field. But have you ever seen a gun survey that asked respondents whether or not they reload for theie guns?

My dearest friend and hunting buddy Sherrill Smith passed away last year at the age of 81. He was probably the best deer hunter and reloader in all of South Carolina, which in the Palmetto State is saying something mighty big. Sherill always carried a gun, usually two guns just to make sure. He was also a lifelong member of the NRA. If I had ever asked him why he carried those guns he would have shrugged and said, “Well Mike, I just like those guns.”


Older Entries