Our good friends at the Center for American Progress (CAP) have just released an important and valuable study, America Under Fire, which I am going to review in detail later this week. But since the report is, so to speak, hot off the presses, I would like to raise one issue which needs to be considered when we try figure out whether gun violence can be reduced through new or expanded laws.
Which is not the intention of the CAP report per se; the tree they bark up is to determine whether gun regulations have any impact on gun violence at all. And with a judicious use of data from a variety of sources, the authors of this report believe, as they state, that “the link between weak gun laws and higher rates of gun violence cannot be ignored.” For the moment I’ll hold off on exploring the ins and outs of that link; my goal today is to raise a wider issue coterminous to the report but not a focus of the report itself.
The latest research from the Harvard-Northeastern team indicates that 22% of American adults admit to being owners of guns. Within this population, two-thirds of these gun owners claim that their primary reason for owning a gun is for self-defense. That gets us down to roughly 15% of American adults who have decided to respond to their concerns about personal safety by going out and getting a gun.
According to other surveys, two-thirds of all Americans also believe that a home is a safer place if it contains a gun. And more than half of all Americans worry a ‘great deal’ about crime and another quarter worry about crime ‘a fair amount.’ So the bottom line is two-thirds of all Americans are concerned about their personal safety, two-thirds believe that a gun will make them more safe, but at best only a small portion of people who are worried about personal safety and believe that a gun is a proper and perhaps positive response to this problem actually invoke that response.
Now the gun industry would love it if everyone would run out a buy a gun, or at least everyone who is concerned about personal safety but has not yet acquired a gun. The industry has been promoting using guns for self-defense for more than twenty years, and God knows a day doesn’t pass without another scam website opening up which promises to deliver the be-all and end-all training for everyone who just received their concealed-carry permit or lives in a state where walking around with a gun for self-protection (or any other dumb reason) doesn’t require any kind of licensing at all.
But the fact remains that most people who claim to be concerned about their personal safety, or at least believe that violent crime getting worse (if you don’t know anyone like that you might try going to the next Trump rally, even though there may not be many more Trump rallies) have made the conscious decision not to protect themselves with a gun. And for all the talk about guns and self-protection, I have yet to see one, single survey which asks people who don’t own guns how they protect themselves from crime. Not a single survey. Not one.
What I think would really move the GVP debate forward would be an attempt to figure out how people deal with their fears or concerns about personal safety without using or buying a gun. Because if we are going to reduce gun violence, no matter how effective we believe certain laws might be, we have to be able to offer viable, non-gun options to folks who simply don’t believe they have any choice except to rely on their guns. If GVP can develop a strategy that makes gun owners feel they can be safe without relying on their guns, this would mark a fundamental change in how the debate about gun violence is currently framed.