By Rob Morse
Our society is changing and those changes have resulted in many of us choosing to buy a firearm. We see crime rising around us. We notice that criminals are no longer routinely caught by police or prosecuted in the courts. The response is entirely predictable.
We make decisions like considering a move to a safer location (see: California, Illinois, and New York) We decide that owning a gun for personal protection makes sense. That may sound like mere speculation but a number of recent surveys have confirmed these trends. Almost 14 million of us bought a gun for the first time in 2020 and 2021. More than half of us now own firearms.
Personal protection is the main reason we buy a gun today. By a two-to-one margin, more of us think crime is getting worse rather than getting better. Sixty percent say it’s getting worse in our urban areas. Those opinions come from a Harvard-Harris poll conducted only a few weeks ago.
Democrats think the increase in crime is because of a worsening economy while Republicans think it’s because criminals aren’t being prosecuted and punished for their crimes. Most Republicans think that the police are afraid to do their job while most Democrats disagree.
By a four-to-one margin, voters in both parties think that laws about minor crimes like shoplifting should be rigorously enforced…except for Democrats. A majority of us blame “woke” Democrat politicians and district attorneys who won’t prosecute crimes. Most of us think that the US justice department is focused on politics rather than stopping gangs and crime syndicates.
A majority of voters in both parties now think that it is necessary to own a gun for personal protection. Including independent voters, 63-percent of us now believe it’s necessary to own a gun to prevent criminal attacks.
Americans have acted on those beliefs and gun ownership has grown over time. We’ve seen record gun sales for the last 50 months. We have some data on the number of new gun owners. A Pew research poll from August said that 41 percent of us live in a household with a firearm. That estimate may be on the low side since a Gallup poll put the number at 44 percent. A recent NBC poll put the number at 52% of us who live with a gun in our home. The variance between different polling organizations are significant, but the trend of increased gun ownership is consistent.
We have to be skeptical about these polling numbers. Recent research indicates that many of us don’t tell the truth to strangers on the phone when the strangers ask if we own firearms. As many as 60 percent of adults might own a gun as compared to 30 percent or so indicated by other polling.
That’s another indication of our changing society. It makes increasing sense that we are reluctant to tell strangers whether or not we own firearms. Gun owners don’t want to be targeted and have their guns taken. Households without guns feel more vulnerable if they admit they are disarmed. More of us are increasingly concerned about having our personal information gathered and sold.
It’s undeniably true that the face of gun ownership is changing. The stereotypical gun owner used to be an old, white, rural male. Gun owners now are increasingly young, urban female, and of a minority group. In short, gun ownership now better represents the population at large. The older stereotype of gun owners was that they were politically conservative. It doesn’t follow any more that new gun owners will follow suit and vote Republican.
Gun ownership is unlikely to significantly change voting patterns. Party affiliation is a stronger predictor of attitude towards firearm regulation than is gun ownership. In general, Republicans who don’t own a gun are slightly closer to Democrats. Democrats who own a gun are slightly closer to Republicans. That said, the difference between the political parties is larger than the difference between gun owners and non-gun owners within those parties.
Owning a firearm is only one of many cultural differences that separate liberal from conservative politics. The Democrat party may have adopted firearms prohibition as a basic party plank, but most liberal gun owners ignore that and vote for liberal candidates anyway.
As usual, change happens at the margins. A centrist Democrat who recently bought a gun may now see the Democrat party’s gun prohibitions as the issue that changes his vote. But old habits die hard. That’s not something anyone should count on.
This article originally appeared at Slow Facts Blog and is reprinted here with permission.
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