Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Gun ownership

There was an interesting report on the news the other day about who owns all the guns in the U.S. It's not exactly news that despite all the debate over things like open carry and the Second Amendment that the vast majority of American do not own a gun of any sort. One of the reasons the National Rifle Association (the primary lobbyist for the gun manufacturing industry) works so hard at trying  to convince the public that their right to bear arms is in imminent danger of being revoked is because the market for firearms has been steadily shrinking for years. Fewer people are hunters, and, with some exceptions, most people recognize owning a gun doesn't really make them safer. This study confirmed that trend in ownership. Turns out that most of the guns are owned by a tiny percentage of the population. According to the study, a mere 3% of the population collectively own over 50% of the guns.

There has been a lot of noise in the news about that 3%. The media spin seems to be that those gun owners are like the fearful soul pictured in the cartoon, a tinfoil hat type huddling in his basement and waiting for some unspecified apocalyptic event: hordes of immigrants pouring across the border, jihadist terrorists attacking the grain silos in his remote rural town, Hillary Clinton personally kicking his door in to snatch his beloved AR-15 from his hands. Oddly enough, that isn't what the study actually mentioned as an area for concern. It's the people who own maybe only one gun.

Why was the study concerned about the people who own only one gun? Suicides. We hear a lot about gun deaths and violence, but many people who die from gunshot wounds aren't shot by anyone else. They shoot themselves. Apparently among the people who do decide to kill themselves, something like two-thirds of them use guns. Over 30,000 people kill themselves annually; health professionals would like to lower that number. Public health professionals aren't actually too worried about the 3% with the large gun collections.

As for why they're not worried about the potential for problems with the gun owners who average 17 or more weapons per person, the study quite rationally points out that it's actually totally normal consumer behavior. It doesn't matter what the product is, whether it's firearms or Precious Moments figurines, there will be a handful of people who are devotees and own a gazillion while most people will purchase only one or two or none at all. Granted, there are few gun owners who have slid over the edge into tinfoil hat territory, but most of the people who own multiple weapons just happen to like guns. Owning a lot of weapons doesn't automatically mean a person is at risk of turning into a mass shooter or a bunker dwelling survivalist.

Plus, of course, if you live in a rural area and happen to hunt, it's real easy to slide into owning what can seem like an outrageous number of weapons to a nonhunter. After all, you don't use the same caliber of ammunition to hunt rabbits that you do to hunt deer, and you're probably going to want something different for going after turkeys or ducks. Pretty soon you've got everything from a single shot .22 rifle (which is how a lot of kids start off target shooting) to multiple shotguns, a deer rifle or two or three (because while you may have inherited a good 30/30 from your Old Man, you really want something that's not an antique), and then you get interested in black powder because it's a way to extend the hunting season. . . and the next thing you know you're looking at the 36-gun capacity safe at Cabela's.


  1. The three percent are simply collectors, I know folks that own over fifty guns and have never shot most of them.

  2. You do serious thinking. Many thanks. The rural hunters I knew in my youth, especially if they were serious owned several long guns, just as you said. Pistols and assault rifles are a problem, I think.

  3. I have a friend that seemed to think that President Obama was going to parachute in the Harlem Globe Trotters to take his guns. Owning guns when I was younger had no nefarious overtone. Where I came from gun ownership was the norm and nothing was thought of it - It is the assault weapons that have changed the equation.
    the Ol'Buzzard


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