Think That Gun Owners Really Know Why They Buy Guns? Think Again.

About thirty years ago the gun industry discovered that people who owned guns for hunting and sport were literally dying out. At the same time, European gun makers like Glock and Sig were bringing their guns into the American market and their hi-capacity pistols quickly began displacing the traditional, six-shot revolvers made by Smith & Wesson and Colt.

sig320              The result of this product change was that handguns, which until the 1980s constituted a sizable but nevertheless minority of all guns manufactured and sold, pulled ahead of long guns – rifles and shotguns – to the point that currently pistols outstrip all other gun categories in terms of sales. The only thing that has kept rifle sales even close has been the continued demand for ‘black’ guns (assault-style rifles.)  In fact, were it not for the sale of assault-style rifles, long guns would probably not account for even one-third of all new guns added to the civilian arsenal each year.

The gun industry messaging promoting handguns and assault rifles embraces two points of view. First is the idea that guns can and should be used to protect society from crime. This is such a pervasive attitude in the gun world that the NRA has even copyrighted the phrase ‘the armed citizen©’ so I better make sure to include it whenever I write those words (I just did.) The second argument to promote handgun ownership is that a gun symbolizes the freedoms afforded Americans by the Constitution because the 2nd Amendment gives us the ‘right’ to own a gun.

One or both of these arguments or their variations are found in virtually every pro-gun statement no matter whose mouth utters the words. Both statements popped out of Trump’s mouth at every stop during the 2016 campaign. There’s only one little problem. Neither of these statements bears any relationship to reality at all.  As in none.  Get it?  None.

The idea that guns have a positive social utility because armed citizens protect us from crime has been floating around since God knows when, but the number of people who can honestly state that they used a gun to protect themselves or others from a criminal attack is pathetically small. The NRA invites its members to submit examples of how they or other armed citizens take the law into their own hands, and the website on which they post those stories has never carried more than 400 stories in any one year. Want to calculate the number of defensive gun uses as a percentage of concealed-carry licenses?  Try .00002%.  That’s it.

Talking about concealed-carry licenses, if John Lott and some of the other pro-gun blowhards really believe that the fact that 14 million concealed-carry licenses make America a safer place, why doesn’t he do a survey and ask how many people with CCW are actually walking around with a gun?  I’ll tell you why this esteemed researcher doesn’t do any research on this issue. Because he knows that most people who could carry a handgun don’t want to bother actually carrying the gun. This is because after the thrill wears off they realize that having a lethal device on your person is more trouble than it’s worth.

As for the issue of gun ownership making us ‘free,’ I won’t even comment on the stupidity of that one, despite the fact that there are even some liberal scholars who hold and promote that point of view. But this argument remains a potent source of pro-gun rhetorical energy because who would dare argue with motherhood, apple pie or the Bill of Rights?

Gun-control advocates should stop citing all these evidence-based studies which prove beyond any doubt that access to guns represents a risk because the other side isn’t interested in evidence at all. They’ll cling to their pro-gun notions for the simple reason that when it comes to forming or holding strong beliefs, emotions override facts every, single time. Don’t believe me? Ask that laid-off factory worker whether he still believes that Trump will bring back his job.


One thought on “Think That Gun Owners Really Know Why They Buy Guns? Think Again.

  1. Eugene Volokh, the Gary Schwartz Prof. of Constitutional Law at UCLA, has his own view of the 2A**; surprised that Lepore did not cite him as he wrote this in 1998. Perhaps Lepore was using Levinson as a straw man?

    That all said, a right to bear arms is a military term, as Gary Wills said in his 1995(?) essay. Just because we have a right to something doesn’t mean it is unlimited. Volokh’s colleague, Adam Winkler, goes through the history of gun regulation in his book Gunfight.

    As far as the 2A being a recent point of contention, the First Amendment experienced a major shift and broadening of its interpretation as well in the decades and centuries since the Alien and Sedition Act and Espionage Acts. I don’t think courts are still using Schenck v US as precedent, are they?

Leave a Reply