Don’t Forget That Guns Are Different From Every Other Product That I Can Buy.

If there’s one thing that makes guns different from every other consumer product, it’s that the damn things just don’t wear out. And this lack of product obsolescence, planned or otherwise, impacts every aspect of the gun business and should alert my friends in the gun violence prevention (GVP) community to be careful when they promote policies and strategies that have worked to lessen risk and injury from other consumer products (ex. automobiles) but won’t necessarily work when it comes to guns.

westinghouse             I own a Colt 1911 pistol that was manufactured in 1919.  The finish is perfect and it works flawlessly. I even have about 10 rounds of 45acp ammunition made in 1920 by the Remington factory in Bridgeport, CT in the original 20-round box which was shipped with the gun as a promotion and the ammo still works too. In other words, I am still using a consumer product that was made and first sold almost one whole century ago!

How many cell phones have I owned in the past 15 years? Probably at least ten. How many new cars have I purchased in the past 15 years?  I’m on my fifth one.  How many bags of potato chips have I consumed in the last month?  I’d rather not say.  The point is that virtually everything we purchase either wears out or is consumed and therefore has to be replaced. And the companies which make those cell phones, those t-shirts, those crummy I-Pads and everything else know that if they can get me to buy their product for the first time, they are usually looking at repeat business for the remainder of my life.

Not true with guns.  Last year our friends at Harvard and Northeastern made the astounding discovery that roughly 3% of all Americans owned roughly half of the privately-owned guns. Which works out to an average of 17 guns apiece. But if you buy your first gun in your 20’s and now you’re in your mid-50’s, which happens to be the average age of gun owners today, this works out to a gun purchase every other year.  Which is basically the same rate at which I have purchased a laptop – one every other year. But the laptops are junk, so is my droid, so is my GPS.  They all break or simply one day don’t work.  Guns don’t break.

About five miles from my office is the rubble of a factory, Westinghouse New England, which was built in 1915 and produced nearly 1 million Moisin-Nagant rifles that were supposed to be shipped to Russia during World War I. Then something known as the Bolshevik Revolution occurred, the whole deal went south, and the U.S. government which had paid for the tooling was stuck with the bill. The Feds ended up selling off the rifles as surplus guns to civilians for three bucks apiece. I happen to own one of those guns and it shoots just fine. The factory is rubble.  See the pic above. Get it?

Gun makers have never figured out how to overcome the fact that unless your product needs to be replaced on a regular basis, sooner or later you’ll go broke.  The good news is that every other Presidential administration since FDR has tried in one way or another to get rid of guns. And the political effort to regulate (read: prohibit) gun ownership has become, for the gun business, what product obsolescence is for everything else that we own.

I don’t blame the gun industry for inventing the idea that a gun can protect its owner from crime. Because at least criminal behavior is a constant factor which never seems to go away. So if gun makers can make people believe they should buy this particular product because it’s an effective way to deal with crime, at least there’s a chance that sales won’t collapse even if the current Administration has no plans to take away the guns.

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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

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.”

 

Want To Help Figure Out What People Really Think About Guns? Take A Survey.

Right now I am conducting two online surveys to get a better feel for what and how people think about guns. The surveys can be accessed here and if you have not yet participated, feel free to do so.  The surveys are actually sitting on the Survey Monkey website so I can only see answers to survey questions – there is not the slightest possibility that anyone’s identity can be captured, up to and including the I.P address of your machine.

survey1             I am also beginning to post some of the results of the surveys – they have attracted more than 650 participants to date. As of this morning, respondents to both surveys were residents of 43 and 44 states, so I think the information being received is a valid profile for how gun owners and non-gun owners think. I have also posted some initial results from the two surveys covering the gender and age of participants, with more results to come.

The surveys are designed to elicit information from two groups: (1). People who are involved or interested in gun violence prevention activities; and (2). people who consider guns to be important to them. The surveys are not mutually exclusive – if you are a GVP supporter/activist but also are a gun-nut like me, feel free to take both.

I am conducting these surveys because I have been saying for a long time that we need to find common language and common ground that will enable people on both sides of the gun issue to talk to each other in reasonable and reasoned ways. To do that, we need to know how you folks really think about guns, both pro and con, and we need to understand your thoughts as you really think, not as someone else tells us how you think.

Last week the Pew Research Center released their latest and greatest on how Americans think about guns. It’s a very detailed survey but again and again it asks respondents to answer questions that may or may not have much to do with what they actually think about guns. For example, respondents were asked how they felt about such policies as background checks and banning assault rifles with, of course, the non-gun owners favoring both policies to a greater degree than the folks who own guns. They were also asked about what they thought about gun-free zones. The gun-owners were opposed to it by a margin of two to one. Gee, what a surprise.

I think about my guns all the time – which one do I want to trade, which do I want to shoot today, what’s the next gun I’m going buy – thoughts like that swirl through my head all the time. Know when was the last time I thought about background checks? The last time I was contacted by Pew to answer questions in their poll. And since I’ve never been contacted by Pew, I don’t remember the last time I thought about background checks.

After I get done collecting enough responses to get a fairly good take on the basic demographics of the folks on both sides of the fence, I’m going to put up two more surveys and ask people to respond again. Incidentally, I recruit respondents to these surveys through Facebook promotions but again, I have no idea who is actually answering these promotions and taking the polls. Facebook simply tells me how many people click through the promotion and land on my survey page.

The next two surveys are going to ask gun owners and non-gun owners to tell me the questions which they would like to be asked about guns. And in this way what I hope to accomplish is to let the discussion between the two sides be based on what each side would talk about if they ever found themselves in a reasoned conversation with the other side about guns.

Who knows? Something new and interesting might actually emerge.

A New Survey Which Raises Issues We Need To Better Understand.

The Pew Research Center is often considered to be the authoritative source for figuring out what Americans think about a wide range of social, political and economic issues. Its survey findings are also used by many groups and organizations to help develop or shape their strategies for the kinds of public policies and the messaging about those policies that should be put forth into the public domain. In other words, when Pew says something about an issue like guns, people tend to listen. But the question has to be asked: what are they hearing?

pew            This week Pew published, with appropriate fanfare, a detailed survey on what Americans think about guns. The results come from a “nationally representative panel of randomly selected U.S. adults,” whose answers are then weighted appropriately to take into account gender, age, race, region and the usual statistical blah, blah, blah which survey machers claim will make what they tell you to be more or less true.

I not only read every word of this report multiple times, I also closely read the detailed reports on each topic where I often found very important results that did not make it up to the overall summary of the report.  Like they say, ‘the devil is in the details,’ and I therefore urge everyone who reads this document to get as granular as possible and read all the fine print.

The survey on which this report is based was conducted in April, which means that it was taken before the shooting of Scalise and the others last week. I suspect that if that same survey was conducted today that some of the attitudinal findings would be different on both sides, in particular respondent attitudes about regulating assault rifles and hi-cap mags

I’ll forego a discussion of the overall findings of this survey because that information will no doubt be broadcast here and there. I understand why pew ties so much of its survey findings (in this and every survey they conduct) to political leanings, votoing behavior and such. But probably 60% of all guns in the civilian arsenal can be found in 13 Confederate states, 3 border states and the rural parts of 4-5 midwestern states. Gee, what a surprise that the white residents in those places always, always vote resoundingly red. That’s new news?

There is, however, a remarkably interesting finding peeping out in the details covering gun-owning demographics, namely, that the percentage of people living in safe or unsafe neighborhoods who cited personal protection as the chief reason for having a gun was roughly the same. At the same time, nearly three-quarters of all gun owners who said that ‘the world’ was less safe cited personal protection as a reason for owning a gun, and nearly seven out of ten survey respondents, gun owners or not, said the world had become a less safe place.

These findings tell me that the spread of gun ownership and, in particular, the ownership of highly lethal but concealable handguns is not so much a function of people worrying about their personal safety, as it is about safety fears in a more general, almost generic sense.  I’m not saying that people who buy or walk around with a concealed weapon are necessarily a threat to themselves or anyone else.  On the other hand, don’t ask me how or why, but somehow an awful lot of those little guns get stolen or lost and wind up in the street.

If the gun violence prevention (GVP) community is looking for some messaging that will make people think twice before assuming they can protect themselves with a gun, they might think hard and long about the mentalities detailed above and ask themselves how to respond to a daily media bombardment which makes the average person feel unsafe in some general way because this so-called War on Terror just drags on and on.

Is America’s continued infatuation with guns a reaction to the age-old fears about ‘crime,’ or is it because we do not yet fully understand how and why we think about the risk of terror attacks?

 

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.

What Policies Will Reduce Gun Violence? Maybe The New York Times Should Ask People Who Own Guns?

The New York Times has just released a very detailed survey of academic experts regarding the effectiveness of various policies to help reduce gun violence.  In addition to the academic experts, the surveys also captured views both of the general public and law enforcement personnel.  The survey queried respondents on 29 specific policies, and compared their responses to views of the general public as well as the gun-control views of the incoming President-elect.

nyt logo             If the purpose of this survey was to contrast the gun-control views of the academic community versus the policies advocated by Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, The Times didn’t need to waste anybody’s time.  The NRA ponied up $30 million in television advertising for Trump after the organization endorsed him at their annual meet, and the one time he briefly deviated from the approved script by calling for guns in nightclubs and bars, he quickly fell back into line. Academics, on the other hand, usually tend to be anti-gun, although in this case The Times made sure that the pro-gun academic community (Kleck, Lott, Kopel, Volokh) was represented as well.

Many of these policies mentioned in the surveys are found in some states, such as expanded background checks, child access prevention (CAP) laws , banning or regulating hi-cap mags. But most state gun laws exist in places with smaller numbers of gun owners and/or states whose electorate is still largely colored blue.  Go into a gun-owning, red-vote state like Missouri or Alabama and see how much support you find for a bill to expand background checks. Meanwhile, states with fewer gun laws tend, by and large, to suffer more violence from guns.

So why is it that none of the ten policies rated to most effective for curbing gun violence, all of which had public support ranging from 63% to 88%, have actually become federal law?  The usual explanation is what you would expect, namely, the power and the money of the NRA.  But when I look at The New York Times survey it actually reflects something much more concerning about why sensible ideas for gun regulations at the federal level never get beyond first base.  And my concern is based not on who participated in the poll, but who did not.

Virtually every single policy which the experts were asked to rate in terms of effectiveness for increasing safety from gun violence would require some behavioral or attitudinal response on the part of gun owners themselves. And while the survey may have caught a few gun owners in the ‘representative sample’ of voters who were queried for this poll, the Times made no effort to reach out to the gun-owning community at all. They did what liberals concerned about gun violence always do – they came up with a ‘balanced’ roster of participants representing both sides and they ended up with results that tell us nothing about how people will react who ultimately be affected by any change in gun laws.

The inability of the gun violence prevention community to communicate with gun owners about the risks of firearm ownership is a much more potent weapon in the NRA’s arsenal than any amount of money dumped into a legislator’s lap.  Public health researchers publish their work in peer-reviewed, academic journals with minimal notice beyond academe;  leading gun-control advocates aren’t invited on the shock-jock media circuit, none of the major gun-control organizations (in comparison to the NRA) has a digital video presence which has become the real information superhighway over the last several years.

For gun owners to understand that sensible gun regulations don’t represent Armageddon, they need to be engaged with language and arguments they understand.  You don’t do this by publishing scholarly articles in JAMA or Saturday Review. Instead, you find a hunter or sportsman to send an article to Field and Stream.  And then you figure out a message that tells gun owners they can be pleased and safe with their guns at the same time.