Our friends at the Hopkins-Bloomberg School have mounted a very impressive online curriculum on gun violence which I will review when I complete the course of study itself. In the meantime, the initial lecture by Daniel Webster opens with a reference to the Pew survey on gun owners, which is one of several recent efforts (note the survey from Harvard-Northeastern) which attempts to describe the kinds of folks who own and use guns.
What these surveys have found is that, generally speaking, gun owners tend to be White males who live in smaller cities or rural areas, they start buying guns in their 20’s, but most of them are now in their 40’s or 50’s, a majority live in Southern and Midwestern states, they are married and they vote the GOP line. These surveys also show that the percentage of homes with guns has declined from roughly 50 percent to somewhere between 30 and 40 percent, and that the primary reason for gun ownership has shifted from hunting to self-defense.
I understand that public health research is based on the collection and analysis of enough data to allow for meaningful discussions about the problem that the research is attempting to understand. Hence, the research is usually based on detailed surveys using what is referred to as a ‘nationally-representative’ sample of respondents whose answers are collected either by computer, telephone or both.
I hate to break the news to my public health research friends, but they could save themselves a lot of time and money in this regard by simply choosing a weekend, just about any weekend, and going to four gun shows in different parts of the country to observe what goes on. What they will observe is that the folks who go to these shows, no matter where the shows take place, will exactly, I mean exactly fit the profile which emerges from all those national polls.
In addition to these surveys really telling us what anyone can learn from a few hours at the national guard armory in Wheeling, WV or the VFW Hall in Melbourne, AR, these surveys suffer from two gaps, which until the gun violence research community makes some effort to fill in, reduces the value of these studies to a great degree. And these gaps reflect the fact that the whole purpose of gun surveys is to help us understand how to craft policies that will reduce the violence caused by guns. After all, if we didn’t suffer from 125,000 fatal and non-fatal gun injuries every year, would anyone other than the gun makers be interested in who owns guns?
Gap #1 – These surveys do not (read: not) tell us anything about illegally-owned guns. We have no idea how many illegal guns are out there, where they are located, how often they are sold or traded and, most of all, how such guns start off as legal purchases and then wind up in the ‘wrong’ hands. We also don’t know how many illegal guns are responsible for the yearly, gun-injury toll, but it’s certainly more than half.
Gap #2 – These surveys only ask gun owners about protecting themselves with guns. How about asking non-gun owners why they don’t feel the need to protect themselves with a gun?
If these surveys show that only one-third of law-abiding Americans have decided that a gun in their home protects them from violence and/or crime, does this mean that the other two-thirds of the country aren’t worried about being victims of violence or crime? In fact, the last Gallup poll taken in March, 2019 found that nearly 50% of all respondents ‘personally worried’ a ‘great deal’ about violence and crime. How come they aren’t all running out to buy guns?
If my friends in Gun-control Nation want to have a serious and productive discussion with the folks who live and die for their 2nd-Amendment ‘rights,’ they might consider talking to people who have evidently found other ways besides gun ownership to protect themselves from violence and crime.