Far be it from me to inject a note of pessimism into the gun industry’s continued success in convincing America that guns are a benefit and not a risk. After all, would anyone have predicted the recent Gallup poll which shows that a majority of us now believe that we need less, rather than more gun laws? And how does the gun-control community deal with the latest research from Pew which shows that a majority of Americans now believe that guns keep us safe from crime? And then there’s the proliferation of concealed-carry licenses which were virtually unknown in most places twenty years ago but are now issued without question in more than 40 states. And let’s not forget, of course, the legal imprimatur handed to the gun industry with the Heller decision in 2008.
While it’s been a tough, uphill battle for the gun-control movement of late, I’m not sure that anyone should consider throwing in the towel. Because what’s really interesting about all those success indicators noted above is that they seem to be happening just at the point in which certain trends which might foreshadow a very rocky road ahead for the pro-gun community are beginning to emerge. And don’t get me wrong – I’m not pro-gun or anti-gun. I’m just, as always, trying to tell it like it is. And this is how it is.
At the same time that legally, socially and culturally gun ownership seem to be more mainstream, the number of Americans who own guns keeps going down. The latest studies indicate that slightly more than one-third of American households contain a legal gun, but this percentage was as high as 53% in 1976. And since the average American household has slid from 2.9 to 2.5 persons during this same period, even the absolute growth in the total population means that the number of Americans who have access to legal guns continues to go down.
Once we begin to qualify gun owners beyond the raw number who own guns, the trends become even more bleak. The industry has made a valiant effort to build a market among women, minorities and new shooters in general, but the truth is that gun ownership is still largely a choice embraced by older, White men. And it is precisely the older, White men who are lagging behind the growth of such demographics as single women, new immigrants and minorities – the latter groups responsible for the increase in America’s population as a whole.
But if there’s one trend that should concern the gun industry vis-à-vis the future of gun ownership, it’s a trend that isn’t tied to gun ownership at all. Rather, it concerns how the millennial generation is shaping its view of the world which will ultimately determine what American society thinks about everything, including guns. What Pew Research refers to as the “relative liberalism” of Millennials is a serious, long-term problem for the pro-gun community because if there’s one thing that defines and divides conservatives and liberals it’s the issue of guns. I’m not saying there aren’t a few liberals out there like me who happen to be gun nuts in their spare time. But I can’t remember the last time a member of the Democratic Party addressed a meeting of the NRA.
Here’s a new survey which should give the gun celebrants some pause: Only 19% of the age group 18-29 gets their news from Fox; more than 50% learn what’s going on around them from NBC, ABC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC and Public TV, and another 10% rely on Jon Stewart or Colbert! None of those media outlets are in any way or shape pro-gun, and this could be a decisive factor in determining the place of guns within our society in the years to come.