Tom Gabor: It’s The Guns, Stupid

America is an enormous outlier, relative to other high-income countries, both in terms of its gun ownership levels and its rates of gun mortality.  We have about one gun for every man, woman, and child in the US —about 300 million in all.[1]  No other country has a civilian arsenal that approximates this number.  At the same time, we have 25 times the gun homicide rate when compared to the combined (aggregated) rate for 23 other advanced countries.[2]  We are global leaders in women and children murdered with guns, mass shootings, and school shootings.

shows The obvious interpretation for America’s “exceptional” status as a leader in gun homicide and mortality is its exceptionally high level of gun ownership and widespread access of citizens to guns.  However, gun rights advocates take issue with this interpretation and argue that America’s high rates of gun violence and mass shootings are due to its exceptionally high rates of overall violence, mental illness, and even violent videos.  In fact, the US is around average in its overall violence levels and does not stand out with regard to its rates of mental illness.[3]  Countries like Japan, South Korea, and the UK, each of which have a fraction of America’s gun violence death rates, spend more per capita on violent videos.

To illustrate how a segment of society will contort itself to avoid attributing gun violence to the vast civilian arsenal in this country, consider Tennessee gubernatorial candidate Diane Black’s claim that pornography is responsible for America’s “exceptional” level of mass shootings.  This statement is utterly absurd and displays the challenges of trying to have a reasonable, evidence-based discussion on gun policy with some conservatives.  What’s really pornographic is the continuing refusal of many political conservatives to yield an inch on policy in order to prevent the slaughter of children and other residents of this country.

Unintentional (accidental) shootings illustrate how gun violence and mortality are closely linked to the number of guns in an area, state, or country.  Unlike intentional shootings, one cannot plausibly attribute these shootings to a more violent culture, mental illness, or violent videos because they are by definition unintentional.  Nor can one make the argument, as if often made in relation to gun homicide and gun suicide, that in the absence of guns people will merely substitute another method to kill another or oneself.  This argument does not apply where there is no intention to harm others or oneself.

Therefore, the examination of unintentional shootings provides a good test as to the role of gun availability in firearm-related deaths.  If there are more accidental shootings where there are more guns, there are few conclusions one can draw other than the obvious one:  more guns equal more gun deaths.

When we compare Japan and the USA, the impact of the difference in the prevalence of firearms is striking. The US has about two and a half times Japan’s population. However, according

to the most recent data available, the USA has over 120 times Japan’s number of unintentional gun deaths.  Adjusting for population differences, the USA has about 45 times more unintentional gun deaths than does Japan (2.7 vs. .06 deaths per million people). This is an astounding difference. Is this due to the enormous disparity in gun ownership or are Americans just much more accident prone and careless with guns than the Japanese?

The USA has about 88 times the rate of gun owners per million people as Japan. Recent surveys show that in the USA about 22 % of the population are gun owners; whereas, in Japan, there are about 2.5 licensed gun owners for every 1000 people, well under 1 % of the population.  Are Americans more prone to gun accidents due to carelessness or other factors? I calculated the fraction of gun owners who die from a gun accident and found that in Japan there is approximately one fatality for every 42,000 gun owners. In the US, there is an unintentional gun fatality for every 81,000 gun owners, illustrating that the average American gun owner is less likely to die of an accidental shooting than his counterpart in Japan.  Thus, US owners are not more accident prone and the massive gap between the two countries in fatal gun accidents is very likely due simply to the much higher level of gun ownership in the USA. This is the case because the number of these fatalities is far higher—45 times higher adjusting for population differences—in the USA despite the fact that the average Japanese gun owner is about two times as likely to be the victim of a fatal gun accident.

Researchers in the US support the idea that accidental gun deaths are simply a numbers game.  Harvard researchers examined the link between gun availability and state unintentional gun death rates over a 19-year period. For every age group, states with more guns tend to have more accidental gun deaths than states with fewer guns. The death rate was seven times higher in the four states with the most guns compared to the four states with the fewest guns.[4]   Douglas Wiebe of UCLA, using national data, found that the relative risk of death by an unintentional gunshot injury was nearly four times greater for subjects living in homes with guns than those living in homes without guns.[5]

In his book Lethal Logic, attorney Dennis Henigan recounts the story from his childhood of a neighbor who was shot accidentally by her husband while he was cleaning his handgun at the kitchen table. It is an obvious truth that people are rarely killed during the cleaning of knives, baseball bats, or other potential weapons.   Henigan explains that, apart from their greater lethality, guns are more susceptible to accidentally injuring the user or others because they are more complex than these other weapons.  For example, accidents often occur because people, often children, are unaware that a gun is real or loaded. In other cases, a gun discharges after it has been dropped. In still other cases, hunting accidents are enabled by the long range of rifles and shotguns as people are mistaken for game.  Henigan notes that Americans are six times more likely to die from an accidental firearm discharge than from an accident involving a knife or other sharp object.  This is the case despite the fact that knives are present in far more homes, are greater in number, and are used more frequently than are guns.

 The most obvious explanation for high levels of gun violence is a high level of gun ownership.  From the gun lobby and gun rights advocates, we get many convoluted alternative explanations as they try to find every conceivable reason for America’s unacceptable levels of gun mortality other than the most obvious one:  we are a nation awash with guns.

Thomas Gabor, Ph.D., is a criminologist, sociologist, and author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.

[1] https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers

[2] https://www.amjmed.com/article/S0002-9343(15)01030-X/abstract

[3] http://fortune.com/2017/11/07/texas-church-shooting-donald-trump-mental-health/

[4] Miller M, Azrael D, Hemenway D. Firearm availability and unintentional

firearm deaths. Accid Anal Prev. 2001; 33(4): 477–484.

[5] Wiebe D. Firearms in US homes as a risk factor for unintentional gunshot

fatality. Accid Anal Prev. 2003; 35(5): 711–716.

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A New Survey Doesn’t Tell Us What Gun Owners Think About Gun Violence.

In the endless quest to locate ‘responsible’ gun owners who will support ‘reasonable’ gun restrictions, Gun-control Nation has just been given a new road map courtesy of the gun-control research group at Johns Hopkins, who have released their third national survey comparing the attitudes of gun owners to non-gun owners regarding different laws and policies for regulating guns. I notice in all these surveys, by the way, that gun-control advocates and organizations never find it necessary to look for ‘responsible’ folks on their side of the argument, the assumption being that anyone who wants to reduce gun violence is, by definition, a responsible and reasonable sort.

may22             That being said, the Hopkins survey asked the two groups of respondents how they felt about 24 different gun-control policies, setting as an agreement – disagreement baseline between the two groups of 10% or more.  In other words, if 75% of Gun-control Nation supports a certain policy but only 65% of Gun-nut Nation supports the same idea, the survey authors pronounce such a gap to mean that the two sides don’t agree. Fair enough.

The publication of this survey was greeted by huzzahs on the gun-control side because universal background checks, Gun-control Nation’s most endearing policy change, was supported by both groups to the tune of 85.3 percent for gun owners versus 88.7 for non-gun owners, basically a dead heat. There were also significant and high rates of agreement for yanking licenses from ‘bad apple’ dealers, mandated proficiency testing prior to issuance of a concealed-carry license and tightening up reportage to NICS of individuals who are nut jobs either because they have been stuck away in a loony bin or some judge said they don’t know their right minds.

What I found most interesting about this survey was that of the 24 policies which respondents were asked to support or not support, only one of these policies was something that Gun-nut Nation has been trying to achieve; i.e., allowing legally armed citizens to bring a concealed weapon (CCW) into a public school. Not surprisingly, at least not to my surprise, this was the one policy in which the gun owners showed themselves to be more strongly supportive than non-gun owners, the gap being 42% to 20%.

The survey is described as an effort to determine public support for ‘gun violence prevention policies,’ but excepting the policy that would allow CCW access in schools, every one of the other 23 policies happen to be policies that will reduce gun violence as defined not by the general public, but by a slice of the general public, otherwise known as the advocates and researchers in favor of gun control.

This may come as a great shock to my friends at Johns Hopkins and other academic centers where gun violence is studied as a public health risk, but there happens to be large numbers of Americans who do not necessarily subscribe to the ideas proposed by Gun-control Nation to reduce the carnage caused by guns. The fact is that a majority of Americans, contrary to the standard mantra of the gun-control movement, actually believe that a gun around the home is a benefit rather than a risk. And I guarantee you that if a ‘nationally representative’ survey asked gun owners and non-gun owners how they feel about such gun-violence reduction strategies as a national, concealed-carry license or ‘constitutional’ carry, the gun-owning respondents would support these ideas with the same degree of fervor and unquestioned belief that gun-control advocates embrace comprehensive background checks.

A survey which tests attitudes of gun owners and non-gun owners based almost entirely on gun-control policies dreamed up by one side in the debate is a survey whose results are nothing more than whole cloth. And worse, such a survey creates false expectations about the degree to which gun-control advocates will be joined by a broad swath of ‘responsible’ gun owners in the effort to strengthen gun-control laws.

There may be some gun-control scholars who define their role as shaping false beliefs. This scholar, for one, doesn’t agree.

 

 

Does Every ‘Responsible’ Gun Owner Hate The NRA? Don’t Count On It.

Now that a new momentum seems to have infected the gun-control movement, the media has responded by publishing all kinds of surveys and personal testimonies which claim to show that many gun owners aren’t just the red-blooded defenders of God-given gun rights, but are responsible, reasonable people who not only accept the idea that gun ownership needs to be regulated, but even go along with such radical ideas as extending background checks to secondary transfers and sales.

eva             One of the recent surveys that caught my eye was published by Huffington Post, which asked gun owners who weren’t members of the NRA the reason(s) why they opted not to join America’s ‘oldest civil rights organization.’  The survey was taken by 1,000 adults of whom HP says includes 184 gun owners who are “not members of the NRA.” And when asked why they were not NRA members, almost half the gun owners said that the organization didn’t represent them politically or otherwise. If this survey is correct, it tends to verify a cherished and long-held belief on the part of gun-control activists that the people who are most adamant about protecting their beloved 2nd Amendment, may not represent the ‘average’ gun owner at all.

Which brings us to the most salient question floating around since Parkland, namely, how do you sustain the energy and activity of the ‘silent majority’ (or near-majority) of gun owners who might be willing to support more regulation of gun ‘rights?’ Yesterday, the Governor of Oklahoma vetoed a bill which would have basically ended gun regulations in the Sooner State, and if gun ‘rights’ can be curbed in Oklahoma, they can be curbed anywhere.

The day before Governor Mary Fallin told Oklahoma gun-lovers to stick their guns up their you-know-where, the 9th Federal Circuit Court basically said the same thing to California gun nuts, when it upheld a county ordnance preventing a gun shop from operating within 500 feet of a residential zone, the majority opinion citing the 2008 Heller decision which said that the 2nd Amendment did not prohibit the government from regulating the sale of guns. This opinion will be appealed by Gun-nut Nation to the Supreme Court in the hopes that with a conservative majority still intact, the ruling will be overturned. Don’t bet on it.

Meanwhile, to help the gun-control contingent promote their new-found strength and public élan, Huffington published ‘An Open Letter From Hunters About Gun Reform’ (note the substitution of ‘reform’ for ‘control’) that was signed by ten members of what is called the Circle of Chiefs, which is what the Outdoor Writers Association of America refers to as their ‘conservation conscience,’ whatever that means. Their letter promotes the standard laundry-list of gun-control items which have taken on a new life since the appearance of the Parkland kids – an assault weapon and high-cap magazine ban, comprehensive background checks, no bump stocks – the usual things. These new ‘reforms’ are referred to as “responsible limitations that do not infringe the ability of Americans to hunt, shoot or protect themselves and their families.”

The last gun shop that any of these letter-signers entered was probably the Dallas Gun Room, where the cheapest gun is a Holland & Holland shotgun that cost at least five thousand bucks. I didn’t have time to stop off there when I came to Dallas last week for NRA, and I’ll bet I wasn’t the only person at NRA who didn’t have time to stop by that store. What I like about NRA are the number of people I meet whom I have seen at previous shows. It might be difficult for Gun-control Nation to accept this idea, but NRA is just like a Boy Scout jamboree – you go because it’s fun.

Either the good folks who seriously want to reduce gun violence will figure out how to attract gun owners to their cause or they won’t. They certainly won’t do it by getting behind a small group of ‘gentlemen hunters’ who wouldn’t know a $200-dollar shotgun if they tripped over one at a local or national gun show.

Khalil Spencer: Gun Owners Need A Credible NRA.

Ebenezer Scrooge, in Charles Dickens’ memorable novella A Christmas Carol, uttered the equally memorable phrase “I’ll retire to Bedlam” when he thought everyone he was talking to had gone nuts. In the heated and often unfocussed rhetorical aftermath of the Parkland, Florida shooting I wonder if its time to do the same.

bears1The National Rifle Association has gone off the rails. It promotes a toxic view of citizenship as well as gun ownership. With hunting on a downward spiral, perhaps its goal is to gin up a gun market designed around self-defense, even if we aren’t sure from whom we are defending. Furthermore, prominent NRA organizational spokespeople Wayne LaPierre and Dana Loesch compete with people like Alex Jones for who can be the most outrageous.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Ohio wrote a bill equating innocuous, 22 rimfire hunting and target rifles from the ninteen-sixties to so-called “assault rifles” used to mow down people at the Parkland Fl school. “Kill the NRA” is a popular hashtag. On the local front, a thoughtful leader of a local gun violence prevention organization demands that school, law enforcement, and government organizations purge themselves of anyone with NRA affiliations, which amounts to McCarthyism. This in spite of people like NRA Life Member Mike Weisser being an outspoken critic of NRA leadership and an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention on his blog and in the pages of the Huffington Post. My stepdad, also an NRA Life Member, dutifully follows the most recent NYS Safe act, putting ten round plugs in his magazines. Breaking with his single-issue tradition, he refused to vote for the Orange Loose Cannon.

As far as the NRA, gun owners need a voice in government. It’s a fact of life that any party subject to government rulemaking needs a competent, full time representative in the halls of the various legislatures to make sure its voice is heard and story understood; gun owners will be heavily impacted by any state or Federal gun control legislation. Indeed, the gun violence prevention community has multiple full time advocates, such as those funded by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety. Mr. Bloomberg’s people don’t always get it right on the details. Neither does the NRA. Most thoughtful gun owners work full time and cannot descend on their elected representatives. We depend on competent spokespeople lurking in the halls of government. I wish we had more

An example of a glaring misunderstanding that could affect legislation was recently provided by Lois Beckett, a thoughtful analyst who extensively covers US gun issues for the UK based Guardian. She noted that in a recent CNN poll indicating 57% of Americans would ban “rifles capable of semi-automatic fire such as the AR-15” the pollsters never defined semi-automatic firearms nor the difference between traditional autoloading hunting rifles and assault-style semiautomatic rifles based on military models.

The problem with the NRA isn’t that its claims that someone needs to represent the interests of gun owners is invalid. The problem is that the NRA leadership no longer represents gun owners; it has become a voice of the far right in the culture wars rather than a voice representing the bulk of the estimated 30-40% of Americans who own firearms. Likewise, many on the left see “guns and bibles” through the eyes of left of center culture warriors.  Thus, we don’t discuss the actual problem of gun violence so much as the overprint of our cultural values. That’s what we need to fix.

If I were still an NRA member, I would demand that the entire NRA Board of Directors be recalled and that the organization find spokespeople who understand the role of guns in society rather than competing for the Atilla the Hun Award. How about we start there?

Tom Gabor – Concealed Carry Reciprocity.

In the aftermath of the two deadly mass shootings in Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs, Texas, Congress should be protecting Americans from gun violence by strengthening our gun laws, not weakening them. Instead, in a party line vote last week, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 38), a National Rifle Association (NRA) priority.

CCW1If this bill is enacted into law, each state would be required to honor a concealed carry permit issued by another state, even if the permit holder’s state of residence has much lower standards or no permit requirement at all for those carrying concealed weapons. This would be a dangerous law, as it would allow people to seamlessly carry guns across state lines, regardless of the vetting and training required by the state issuing the permit.

It is ironic that during a period in which gun deaths have been increasing and mass shootings are claiming an unprecedented number of victims, our first national law in many years would prioritize the rights of gun owners rather than enhance public safety. It is also a paradox that we would have a national law that, rather than setting a high national standard for individuals who carry lethal weapons, would instead preserve a system of disparate state laws in which the lowest standard would be imposed on all states. The NRA and Republicans also violate conservative doctrine by undermining the right of states to protect their residents through the imposition of rigorous requirements on gun permit applicants.

Asserting federal authority in gun policy might be worth considering if there was compelling evidence that such an approach would improve public safety. However, research clearly shows that increasing gun carrying offers few advantages and imperils public safety. John Donohue at Stanford University has shown that right-to-carry laws have increased state violent crime rates by 15%. An FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents from 2000 to 2013 found that just one of these incidents was stopped by an armed civilian. Louis Klarevas, author of Rampage Nation, found that just one in every 2,000 potential or actual mass shootings is successfully stopped by an armed civilian. Meanwhile, the Violence Policy Center has documented over 1,100 killings by concealed carry permit holders since 2007.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Gun carrying also raises the risks of deadly mistakes and confusion in active-shooter incidents. In 2016, an individual shot five Dallas police officers as the officers were providing security at a rally attended by open-carry activists armed with assault weapons. The police chief stated that these activists impeded responding officers, creating confusion as to who the shooter was and whether there were additional shooters.

Currently, 12 states do not require a permit to carry a firearm and about two dozen states require no training in the safe handling and use of firearms.  Even states requiring such training do not approach the standards recommended by experts.  Joseph Vince, a leading national expert,  states that training should include mental preparation, knowledge of the law, judgment, and expertise and familiarity with firearms.  Just a handful of states take training seriously and, under the proposed Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, they would be forced to allow individuals to bring in guns from states that require no training at all.

With gun violence and mass shootings presenting grave threats to Americans, this bill represents a retreat in standards governing the carrying of guns.  This retreat would ignore the shortcomings of civilian training, as well as polls showing the public’s increasing desire for stricter regulation of firearms.  Congress should reject this bill in favor of one that will actually keep America safe.

Thomas Gabor is author of Confronting Gun Violence in America.  This op-ed was originally published in Fortune Magazine.

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.

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?