Washington: The Pew Research Centre just dropped a massive new survey measuring Americans’ attitudes toward gun ownership.
Overall, the America’s Complex Relationship With Guns survey of 3900 Americans, including more than 1200 gun owners, paints a complicated picture – from demographics to National Rifle Association (NRA) membership and views on gun policy.
As a group they’re more diverse in opinion than the NRA would have the public believe and more demographically diverse than they are sometimes caricatured.
For starters, here are seven facts about gun ownership from the Pew study that complicate the NRA’s narrative about guns in America.
- The overwhelming majority of gun owners are not members of the NRA
Among the 1200 gun owners Pew surveyed, 19 per cent said they were members of the NRA. That works out to about 13.8 million Americans, which is considerably higher than the 5 million members that the NRA itself claims.
Pew’s larger figure likely includes a number of gun owners who may strongly identify with the NRA but who aren’t dues-paying members.
- Nearly three in ten gun owners say the NRA has too much influence over gun laws in the US
Among gun owners, 29 per cent say the NRA has too much influence. Another 53 per cent say it has just the right amount of influence, while 17 per cent say it wields too little influence.
Overall, adults are split on the influence of the NRA, with 44 per cent saying the organisation has too much and 40 per cent saying the NRA’s influence is just right. About 15 per cent would like the NRA to have more influence on gun laws.
- Some key NRA policies have little support among gun owners
Only one-third of gun owners support permitless or “Constitutional” carry laws that allow people to carry concealed firearms in public without a permit. The NRA characterises such laws as “the next step in expanding law-abiding gun owners’ constitutional right to self-protection.”
Conversely, 82 per cent of gun owners support banning gun purchases by people on terror watch lists. The NRA opposes a blanket ban and insists that due process protections be put in place for potential gun buys on terror watch lists.
Perhaps most surprising is that more than half of American gun owners support creating a federal database to track gun sales. The NRA has worked diligently to oppose any nationwide system that might resemble such a database.
- Many gun owners want stricter gun laws
Among Americans overall, a majority (52 per cent) would like to see stricter gun laws, while 18 per cent think gun laws should be less strict than they are today.
Nearly 30 per cent of gun owners say that gun laws should be stricter in the US, while 44 per cent say the laws are fine the way the are. Conversely, 27 per cent say gun laws should be less strict.
Furthermore, 89 per cent of gun owners favour banning gun sales to the mentally ill. That figure is identical to the share of people without guns who favour banning such sales.
The survey found other areas of common ground when it comes to a couple of other gun policy proposals. Large majorities of both groups said they favoured background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows (84 per cent overall) and said that they supported barring gun purchases by people on federal no-fly or watch lists (83 per cent overall).
- A quarter of gun owners say guns are very important to their personal identity
In countless videos and speeches, the NRA places gun ownership at the centre of American identity. But most gun owners don’t see things that way: only a quarter of them say gun ownership is very important to their overall identity.
This view, however, is more common among individuals who own multiple guns: While just 15 per cent of people who own a single gun say their firearm is at the centre of their identity, 42 per cent of those who own five or more firearms say the same.
- Americans say gun violence is shockingly common
More than 40 per cent of Americans say they know someone who has been shot either intentionally or accidentally. And nearly 25 per cent say someone has used a firearm to threaten or intimidate them or their family.
- Gun owners are three times as likely to have been shot as non-gun owners
Six per cent of gun owners say they’ve been shot, compared with two per cent of non-gun owners.
These numbers say nothing about causality, of course. People who have been shot may be more likely to then purchase a firearm for self protection. On the other hand, people who own a gun are, for obvious reasons, more likely to accidentally shoot themselves than individuals who do not own guns.
Gun owners (51 per cent) are also considerably more likely than non-gun owners (40 per cent) to know somebody who has been shot.
On the other hand, there’s plenty for the NRA to like in Pew’s survey, as well.
- Gun ownership is as high as it’s ever been
The Pew Survey finds that 42 per cent of Americans say they or someone in their household owns a firearm. Many gun-rights advocates have expressed skepticism over poll-based gun ownership measures, suspecting that some gun owners will be shy about admitting their ownership to a stranger in person or over the phone.
Pew sidesteps this question somewhat by administering its survey online, “where people may be more willing to share sensitive information than they would be over the phone or in person.”
Roughly two-thirds of gun owners said they had grown up in households with guns. Three-quarters of gun owners said they had fired a gun before they were 18.
Fourty-six per cent of adults in rural areas say they own a gun. Gun ownership is less prevalent in other parts of the country: 28 per cent per cent of adults in the suburbs own guns, and 19 per cent of those in urban areas.
- Right to bear arms is central to their freedom
While they don’t necessarily define themselves by their guns, most gun owners (74 per cent) say gun ownership is “essential to their own sense of freedom.” This dovetails nicely with the NRA’s contention that “the Second Amendment is about protecting the right of a free people to defend that freedom and to protect their families and communities from threats”.
- Gun owners are by no means monolithic
Nearly 40 per cent of men personally own guns, but so do 22 per cent of women. More than 33 per cent of whites own guns, as do 24 per cent of blacks and 15 per cent of Hispanics. Nearly half of rural Americans are gun owners, but so are nearly 1 in 5 urban Americans.
The NRA has increasingly been interested in promoting diversity among gun owners. While the Pew survey doesn’t fully demolish the white-male-rural gun owner stereotype, it does provide compelling evidence that millions of gun owners don’t fit that mold.
- Future ownership
Most non-gun owners are not firmly opposed to the idea of firearm ownership: 52 per cent say they could see themselves owning a gun in the future.
On the other hand, nearly 75 per cent of Americans who do own guns say they can’t imagine living without them.
- Firearm safety course
Most gun owners, 70 per cent, have received gun safety training, which the NRA places a high degree of emphasis on.
- Politically speaking
Nine per cent of gun owners have contacted a public official to express an opinion on gun policy in the past 12 months, compared with only 5 per cent of non-gun owners.
Gun owners who believe gun laws should be less strict are particularly vocal: 19 per cent of them have contacted a public official to talk guns in the past year.
Overall, gun owners’ greater engagement on these issues is one reason gun-rights groups have chalked up so many legislative successes in recent years.
Washington Post, New York Times