Gun Ownership is Way Down in the US

Gun ownership rates in the US have been declining in recent decades. The National Rifle Association has started to produce denialist rhetoric to obscure this well documented fact. One of the reasons there is less gun ownership is because of changes in the demography of the US population; Angry white men whose recent ancestors were angry white men are declining in numbers and less paranoid and less violent browninsh people often with recent ancestors from other, non gun-happy countries are becoming more common.

You’ve heard about the rush to buy guns that happens every time Obama mentions firearms, or every time a bunch of babies are slaughtered in a school (the idea being that such an event will cause the rest of the country to consider backing off on our national worship of deadly weapons). These things do seem to happen but they are not as large scale as the press seems to tell us and consist almost entirely of angry white males who already own guns using an available excuse to squander more of their household income on their toys.

The gun ownership rate has dropped across all regions of the country and across a wide range of demographics from about 50% in the 1970s to about 35% now. In 1970, about 44% of Americans where white males. In the present year, that number is closer to 35%. In other words, the same guys are holding on to their guns, more or less, as the rest of the country changes. It won’t be long before the number of people who care about protecting gun ownership, for their own personal reasons, will be small enough that a constitutional amendment to repeal the second amendment and replace it with something useful will be a possibility. For instance, we could get rid of the “well regulated militia” thing and replace it with an amendment that says that the Armed Services and federal police can’t treat US Citizens like they weren’t US Citizens. (Eventually one would hope that we would also stop treating non citizens like non citizens as well, but one step at a time.)

Anyway, the gun ownership study is summarized here.

Comments

  1. #1 jane
    March 10, 2013

    “Angry white men … are declining in numbers and less paranoid and less violent browninsh [sic] people … are becoming more common.”

    Whee. First, your numbers regarding how few Americans now own guns may be questionable. The last survey-based estimates I have seen were that over 40% of households had guns. Can you provide an authoritative source for the lower number?

    Secondly, the rate of gun ownership surely has dropped somewhat from the days when most households had guns. I believe that that could adequately be attributed to greater urbanization (easily proven to have occurred; look it up). Those living in large cities, if not well-to-do, usually have little opportunity to hunt or target-shoot, and no need to manage and protect livestock, ergo, usually will see no use for a gun (unless for self-defense, which in my view is virtuous). There is therefore no need for incoherent and irrational race-baiting [inviting people to ask, if "brownish people" are less violent, what's with the reported higher crime rates among minorities?], gender-baiting [about half of the population is female now, just as it was when most American households had guns], and namecalling intended to claim that those whose traditional lifestyle makes them your political opponents are somehow bad (“angry”) or defective (“paranoid”).

    Is it any wonder that rural people, even if they don’t “need” guns to protect themselves or livestock or to hunt, as many do, wouldn’t be eager to Turn Them All In at the behest of urbanites who have such obvious dislike and contempt for them? If they did so, would you stop hating them, or would you just find something else about their culture to pick on? Both morally and practically, your attitudes are wrong. There are angry, paranoid nuts out there – some of them gun nuts, which is a problem, some of them gunless or antigun. They are a small percentage of the population. If you try to shlep 80% of the population in certain parts of the country into this category, you will get a serious backlash as long as we have any democracy left worthy of the name. I am amazed to see such bigotry from an anthropologist who has worked in really different cultures. If you can go live among Pygmies and treat them and their culture with respect, why couldn’t you do the same with Wyomingites?

  2. #2 Jim Thomerson
    March 10, 2013

    I suppose the recent rise in gun prices has priced many out of the market. Maybe there is a need for gun stamps, something like food stamps. If there is a decrease in gun ownership, it may well be correlated with the increasing urbanization of the country. Texas, incidentally, has the largest rural population of any state. Back when I was growing up on the ranch, before the drought of the ’50s, mother would take the 22 and go kill a couple of squirrels for lunch.

  3. #3 jane
    March 10, 2013

    I see where the 35% figure comes from; the NYTimes website has a story about this. It comes from a Chicago survey project called the General Social Survey. I don’t think this survey’s results are beyond question, for several reasons. (1) It’s based on a survey of 2000 people, mostly interviewed in person, some by phone. I wonder whether geographic/cultural coverage can be totally unbiased (e.g., rural areas are harder to survey efficiently in person, and phone surveys that largely call land-line numbers miss people who use only cell phones). (2) The story notes that the Gallup poll reports higher gun ownership and less decrease in ownership; it doesn’t say what the gap is between the numbers, which makes me suspect that it’s considerable. I’m more inclined to trust Gallup for methodology, just offhand. (3) The most extreme drops in gun ownership have allegedly occurred in the South and West. People living in the rural West tend to take gun ownership as a matter of course; the idea that only 40% of households would have guns would be a surprise in many areas. However, because of the cultural divides in this country (which, hint, are not reduced by calling large groups of people angry and crazy), they often have negative attitudes toward “big-city Eastern elites.” I suspect that some of them, if called up unexpectedly by a pollster from a university in Chicago, would lie about whether they owned guns.

  4. #4 sailor
    March 10, 2013

    Of course it is possible that the number of gun owning individuals has gone down but at the same time the number of owned guns may well have gone up – the average gun owner now owning maybe many times as many guns as he did before. The good thing about this is that in general it is hard to use more than one gun at once to its full efficiency.

    “Is it any wonder that rural people, even if they don’t “need” guns to protect themselves or livestock or to hunt, as many do, wouldn’t be eager to Turn Them All In at the behest of urbanites who have such obvious dislike and contempt for them?”

    What is all this whining about? Who exactly is going to take away your guns? I have heard of no one pushing for that right now.

  5. #5 gwen
    March 10, 2013

    @Sailor– OTOH, the thief gets far more bang for his/her break-in. Few of the gun owners I know, own just one gun. Most own arsenals of guns, and frequently post pictures of their small children holding them…something I don’t get AT ALL. And ALL of these people are college educated. I have a teen cousin in rural Texas who occasionally posts a picture of himself hunting which appears appropriate. The rest is pure hubris, and one has to wonder what they are ‘compensating’ for…

  6. #6 Mike Olson
    March 10, 2013

    Well, Gwen, sometimes my ten inch penis and tantric love making techniques just aren’t enough. So I pack up my five AP class taking kids we all go out for family fun target shooting. If my wife can get away from the lab long enough to come with she does.

  7. #7 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    “Whee. First, your numbers regarding how few Americans now own guns may be questionable. The last survey-based estimates I have seen were that over 40% of households had guns. Can you provide an authoritative source for the lower number?”

    Whee. Yes, I can. Click. The. LInk.

    You are probably referring to the Gallup survey which uses a different methodology and has slightly different %’s. The survey I refer to here is a perfectly good survey, and whee, might even be better than Gallup, uses the same methodology over a period of time and shows a decline! Whee!!!!!

    WTF is this “whee” thing, anyway, Jane?

  8. #8 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    Whee! “Secondly, the rate of gun ownership surely has dropped somewhat from the days when most households had guns. I believe that that could adequately be attributed to greater urbanization (easily proven to have occurred; look it up).”

    Look it up. The shifts in gun ownership are mostly even across many of the usual ways surveys are divided up including urban/rural and by region of country. The drop is in immigrants offspring not owing guns. Like I said in the blog post. Brown people are not arming themselves to the extent that white people are, and there are more brown people than white people in 2010 than 1970. Like I said in the blog post.

    All you had to do is read the blog post, Jane. Most of what you said agrees with it but you are angry at me anyway.

    Doesn’t really matter. We’re coming, Jane. Coming to take away your guns!

  9. #9 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    Jim: “I suppose the recent rise in gun prices has priced many out of the market.”

    I was wondering about that as well. Remember the Saturday Night Special laws (in NY, anyway)? This is a bit like Chris Rock’s joke about making ammo expensive. The idea was to get rid of those $25 guns and make them more expensive.

    The same technique is used, by the way in liquor stores. In some urban areas a liquor store must have a minimum price for any alcohol containing product. This means in some case that cheap beer can’t be sold by the six pack, but rather, one case minimum. This eliminates fortified wine and one-off mini-bottles of liquor, etc. This is supposed to address certain highly localized problems of guys begging for cash on nearby street corners so they can get one more shot or one more pint of MD 20-20 every hour or so.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    Jane #3 … That’s better! Reading the post and, if you have questions, clicking through to links is the appropriate first step before ranting about how you don’t like what was said.

    Your point about differences in methodology isn’t impressive. You’ve not compared anything here. You’ve compared your impression of what Gallup must have done because of your beliefs with what is said about the new poll and placed a judgement on the difference.

    But yes, it is possible that the data are incorrect and other studies are better. But if so, get them and demonstrate that, don’t just give us what you think must be true, and don’t assert that something is wrong because your world view tells you it must be wrong or because it is different than what you were thinking was true!

  11. #11 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    Sailor: “Of course it is possible that the number of gun owning individuals has gone down but at the same time the number of owned guns may well have gone up”

    That appears to be the case.

  12. #12 Greg Laden
    March 10, 2013

    “Second, for all the attention given to America’s culture of guns, ownership of firearms is at or near all-time lows. Since 1973, the GSS has been asking Americans whether they keep a gun in their home. In the 1970s, about half of the nation said yes; today only about one-third do. Driving the decline: a dramatic drop in ownership of pistols and shotguns, the very weapons most likely to be used in violent crimes. … Gallup has been asking a similar question since 1959 and has found a less dramatic, but still unmistakable decline. The erratic behavior of the Gallup series may be driven a bit by politics; unlike the GSS its questions about gun ownership are asked directly after questions about gun control. (Not shown on the figure is Gallup’s October 2011 finding that 47 percent of Americans reported owning a gun when asked if they kept a gun “anywhere else on your property;” this time series unfortunately only extends to 1991.)…”

    Source and graphic: http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2012/07/21/the-declining-culture-of-guns-and-violence-in-the-united-states/

  13. #13 Art
    March 11, 2013

    … ” the rate of gun ownership surely has dropped somewhat from the days when most households had guns”.

    After my maternal grandmother died we cleared out the rural farmstead. It had been in the family for over a century. Clearing the property we found only one gun. It was a single-shot break-barrel 12ga shotgun. It was leaning up in the barn, badly rusted, with a cracked stock. On the shelf we found a canning jar with three shotgun shells in it.

    I commented that it looked like they had stopped taking care of it my mother said it was badly rusted back when she was a girl. She also related that it was ‘the family gun’ used to put down farm animals, shoot pest animals, and, very rarely, hunt deer or ducks.

    The point here is that for much of my mother’s childhood there were seven people living on the farm and only one gun, in the barn, neglected, with a couple of shotgun shells.

    I took the gun out into some woods and found I could break the action with some difficulty, load a shell into the rusty barrel and bore, and get it to fire. Good enough for a ‘farm gun’ I figured. Doesn’t take much to put down a cow or ventilate crows. Farmers use a gun as a tool, like a shovel or how, not as a fetishized talisman with the mystical power to holding back tyrants.

    The extended family didn’t have “guns”, they had a “gun”. One gun for seven people.

  14. #14 ron
    March 11, 2013

    comment #8 ended with: “Doesn’t really matter. We’re coming, Jane. Coming to take away your guns!”

    And so we can see people lining up in California, of all places, at a gun show.

  15. #15 jane
    March 11, 2013

    I meant “Whee, what grotesque and ludicrous sexism, race-baiting, and cultural bigotry!” Your implacable hostility toward rural Americans living their own traditional lifeways is a form of anger. You are by your picture obviously a white male. So, you yourself are an “angry white male.” Going to start demonizing yourself now? Your bizarre emphasis on race – even though crime rates are on average lower among white and rural communities – seems intended as a dog-whistle for urbanites: remember, to be a redneck or a conservative white is to be a racist! They’re all still Klansmen at heart, so let’s Us do something about the danger of Them!

    I can’t prove that Gallup is more right than this survey, despite its methodological issues and biased sponsorship. All I am saying is that the latter can’t be taken as The Truth just because it fits well with your world view. Keep trying to get extreme positions enacted into law by demonizing hunters, ranchers, and people who believe in self-defense, and you will learn from exit polling how many of them there are.

  16. #16 Todd
    March 11, 2013

    I have uncovered shocking proof the that percentage of speech that is intelligent, thoughtful, and rationale has been declining precipitously since the advent of the internet (the above post is one example). Clearly angry, lefty, demagogic, and addlebrained males have discovered this means of communication and are swamping it with nonsense. While they are still in the minority, we should band together and amend the constitution to restrict their freedom of speech.

  17. #17 Eu
    March 12, 2013

    If it has gone down just recently people might actually be trying to hide them… hmm.

  18. #18 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    Todd: I know, right!?!?!?

  19. #19 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    Jane, the two surveys show pretty much the same thing.

  20. #20 John Hunter
    March 12, 2013

    Its actually the “Angry White Men” in the rural areas who own the most guns and commit fewer crimes with them. It’s the tolerant, enlightened inner cities that have higher rates of crime in the US.

  21. #21 Jim Thomerson
    March 12, 2013

    I define an ideologue as a person with strongly held beliefs who cannot consider that they might be wrong, and is nasty to any one who suggests they are in error.

    I go to different blogs that those that Todd frequents, because it looks to me like the ether is dominated by right wing ideologues. It is sort of refreshing to encounter a left wing ideologue. I would, however, prefer a rational, non nasty, argument for a particular point of view.

  22. #22 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    What is the left wing ideological point of view that you think is ideological and not rational/non-nasty?

    Also, is nasty vs non-nasty a characteristic of rational?

  23. #23 jane
    March 12, 2013

    “is nasty vs non-nasty a characteristic of rational?”

    Yes indeed, because (a) namecalling and ad hominems do not constitute a rational form of argument; (b) one who relies heavily on them therefore implies that he can’t make a very strong rational argument to support his views; (c) making every debatable question into an occasion for “me hate you” rhetoric leads to retaliatory gridlock not just on that issue but on every issue, which is not rational unless political collapse is actually the goal; and (d) such rhetoric implies that the speaker has a Manichaean worldview that has room to imagine only two positions on every issue, his own Good and everyone else’s Bad, while in the complex real world binary thinking is only adequate if you are a computer.

  24. #24 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    So, then Jane, what are you going to do to improve your approach to these issues. Looks like you’ve identified some of the problems!

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    Oh, and let me be very clear about something; there are those of use who are fed up. If you are seeing anger that follows the killing of 20 babies as somehow problematic, you may need to check your motivations and your thinking on the issue.

    There is a rational argument I’d love to see developed. The second amendment is held sacred by many for two reasons. One, it provides protection from oppression from the government. Two, it provides protection for private firearms ownership. These two things are supposed to be linked. But, over the last 12 years or so the US government and various states have enacted a stream of oppressive legislation, and standard operating procedure of many police departments has become oppressive even without the benefit of legislation. How, then, are we supposed to accept the idea that private firearms ownership protects us from oppression? It seems pretty clear that it does not.

    An alternative explanation is that the whole idea of protection from oppression is a smoke screen to protect a subset of our society (which overlaps, demographically, based on the available data, with those angry white men we are talking about) in the pursuit of a private hobby that benefits no one and endangers many.

    So, where is the rational argument for nearly unfettered gun ownership in the US?

    You see, Jane, there is anger about this, finally, and increasingly, from the rest of us. This anger is not irrational at all. It is the anger that arises when tens of thousands of people die every year, including those 20 babies, because of the gun lobby. There are those of us who have had enough. The argument that we being fed up and angry somehow invalidates our very valid concern over tens of thousands of deaths a year, many in the form of youth suicide and a small but disturbing number because of gun nuts with their 20 round clips, is not appropriate, not honest, not logical, and actually makes those of us who are fed up with the guns even more angry.

  26. #26 Todd
    March 12, 2013

    More angry lefty ranting (I left out white since it is irrelevant). So if you don’t mind infringing on constitutional rights to protect the lives of babies, I take it you are trying to overturn abortion rights as well? This could save about ~1 million babies a year and, unlike guns, the primary purpose of abortion is killing babies. Let’s even step back from constitutional rights, I presume you are anti-swimming pool, anti-bike, anti-car, anti-soda, anti-peanuts, yadda, yadda, yadda. Face it – you are not rational, logical, or honest. You’re just another angry, bespectacled, pale, lefty who wants everyone to live in his image.

  27. #27 ron
    March 12, 2013

    @#25
    Why is it appropriate anger over the 20 Newtown “babies”, but not the millions killed in the womb?

    Aside from that, why is “survival of the fittest” the concept that you aim to teach while banishing the teaching that every HUMAN life is precious because it is a gift from our Creator?

    How can one cling to the worldview that “survival of the fittest” is proper thought and then decry weaker humans being slaughtered?

  28. #28 sailor
    March 12, 2013

    “Why is it appropriate anger over the 20 Newtown “babies”, but not the millions killed in the womb?”
    Maybe for the same reason that if a building you were inside caught fire and you had a choice of rescuing one live healthy baby or 10 tubes of fertilized human eggs awaiting implantation, you would pick up the baby every time. Andi if you chose the eggs, I would think there is something seriously wrong with you.

  29. #29 jane
    March 12, 2013

    Greg: Heh! See, ad hominem and straw man in one message. Have you ever read through the list of logical fallacies on Wikipedia? You might do that.

    See, the vast majority of America’s 80 to 100 million gun owners, hunters and target shooters were just as appalled as you were about the Newtown shooting. Urban Democrats don’t have a monopoly on tender feelings. Neither I nor the vast majority of those millions “see anger [about killing of children] as somehow problematic”. We were angry too. But when you imply that my and their “motivations” are sinister and our “thinking” defective, then start talking about the laws you’d like to pass against us, as if we were all somehow perpetrators, we are smart enough to see that we’re being attacked. You’re defining a very large, like it or not, fraction of the population as not part of the solution, but part of the problem, and when you push people into the role of Enemy, they’ll naturally and properly resist your efforts.

    Remember after 9/11, when people worldwide were so appalled by the senseless mass murder that suddenly almost everyone was pro-American? Even people in places we’ve persecuted for decades, like Iran and Palestine, held pro-U.S. demonstrations. We could have gone to the UN and said in a spirit of sober reflection, let’s all work together to make sure such atrocities don’t happen anymore, and we would have gotten better collaboration than any time before or since. Instead, Cowboy Dick Cheney seized it as an excuse to put our boots on the necks of multiple countries owned by brown folks, there was a massive backlash from the immediate and likely future victims, and nothing good or meaningful was accomplished. This is pretty much what folks like you do at the domestic level when you refuse to try to understand or compromise with anyone who isn’t totally on your team – and let me be very clear that the right wing has more than its share of people making the same mistake.

    As for private firearms ownership protecting us from oppression, right now it’s not, and it shouldn’t. Tragically, we are letting our rights vanish under a representative government that is doing only what the majority approve, or at least tolerate. An armed uprising therefore both would not be just, and wouldn’t have adequate cannon fodder to support itself. However, this does not mean that guns will never be useful for community-level protection. Only a delusionally smug view of history would assume that we will never, ever have a war or worse within the boundaries of the U.S. again. Someday, the U.S. will inevitably break up; that may well involve either a civil war or wars with foreign powers. Or Americans might someday find themselves living under an elected or military regime whose persecution of scapegoat groups and dissidents was so severe and widespread as to make forcible resistance a necessity. I would like to think we could have a thousand years of peace and prosperity, but the odds are very strongly against it.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    March 12, 2013

    Sometimes, ad hominem is the point. Nothing wrong with that.

    World Views … That’s pretty much a bullshit concept.

  31. #31 jane
    March 13, 2013

    Depends upon what you wish to accomplish, I suppose.

  32. #32 Juice
    March 13, 2013

    “We’re coming, Jane. Coming to take away your guns!”

    How will you take them? Of course, the big strong men that come to take them won’t be using guns. I suppose they’ll be holding huge rocks over their heads to threaten people.

    If you weren’t serious about actual gun confiscation, though, how will you enforce any gun control law that you actually favor? I suppose they’ll be enforced using guns, but maybe you have a different answer. If you do indeed intend to enforce your favorite laws using guns, then you’re not really anti-gun. You like some laws and you like when those laws are enforced, so you like guns.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    March 14, 2013

    The idea that a law is difficult or even impossible to enforce is used only selectively, and always politically, in defense of a particular position. It is such a weak argument that it isn’t really worth even addressing.

  34. #34 Jim Thomerson
    March 14, 2013

    The only thing I remember from a required government course is a statement to the effect that the law is what it is enforced as. I think that is a rather important insight.

  35. #35 Scott Breed
    Paris, AR
    March 15, 2013

    Well, Mr. Laden, negative response to your blog has already covered most of my opinion. I will add that your arrogance in criticizing the 2nd Ammendment is particularly surprising since it is my understanding that you are an anthropologist. I would think that your study of man’s history on Earth would have impressed you with the brilliance of the great the great men of history including the founding fathers of the United States of America, whose brilliance anyone studying the process of crafting our constitution would clearly see. As for the discussion of your obvious prejudice, I would also think that a “man of science” would reign in his prejudice when came to his particular field of study. The use of the term “babies” when referring to children 6 years of age is a blatant emotional ploy when the death of a “child” produces more than enough emotion even in us “God fearing, gun loving, angry white men”. One thing your prejudice has accomplished is to make me prejudice of you. I hope to not waste time reading your blog ever again, because it is to tainted with your personal prejudice and lacks reasonable consideration and poor extrapolation from facts and reality.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    March 15, 2013

    We’re coming, Scott. We’re coming to take away your guns.

  37. #37 Brad
    Vancouver, BC
    March 15, 2013

    Greg,

    I’m curious if you’ve read Sam Harris’ Riddle of the Gun article:

    http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-riddle-of-the-gun

    I ask because even though I am a leftist, non-gun-owner urbanite from Canada, I see the level-headed rationality of his points as clearly as I see the emotionally-charged rhetoric of your argument, and to be honest, I’m not sure where I stand now. I would be interested in reading any possible debunking of his arguments with a minimum of dramatic phrasing.

    Your source also contradicts his (and others I’ve seen), so I’d argue the stats are far from clear.

  38. #38 Greg Laden
    March 15, 2013

    Brad, first you should read the three years worth of perfectly calm and nonemotional writing by me on gun ownership before I got fed up.

    But thanks for the link. I’ve seen it. Harris may be missing the same point you are missing. Any rational person would personally slit the throats of 20 first graders if that act would end gun violence forever, right? But that is not the world we live in. We live in a world where certain kinds of change only happen when the issue becomes emotionally charged. We’ve had no positive change for years, and suddenly things are changing. That’s the emotion working, not Sam Harris’s appearance of rationality.

    A demand for the perfectly rational and a disdain for the emotional is actually rather inhuman at this point. If you find yourself heading in that direction, I suggest taking stock. If you find yourself needing to discredit change that is not based enough in cold rationality to the extent that change can’t happen than I must insist that you stand aside.

    And by ‘you’ I mean the general you, not you specifically.

  39. #39 Brad
    Vancouver, BC
    March 15, 2013

    I’m struggling a bit to see your point (which I guess could prove you right).
    Even if we need emotional spurrings-on to rally the public into any particular action, we should at least try to not eject rationality from the decision to move towards the action in the first place, no? Otherwise, the irrational is our defacto policy prerogative, and we may very well be choosing more-harmful directions with our emotional reactions.

    I guess I want to understand your goal. Is it to eliminate or reduce mass-spree-killings in particular? Lower the violence rate all-around? Shift violence from guns to other means (presumably lowering mortality in the process)?
    What can we actually reasonably accomplish, and how would we achieve it?
    Then we further need to ask, what are the possible negative repercussions of those actions? Are they even effective at their stated goals against the intended targets?
    There are not many people, for example, who can’t see *some* value in having firearms in *certain situations* (at the very least, police work). Do certain avenues of gun control really reduce damage more than they enable it? I think that is the fundamental question Harris is probing, and his answer is something like “no… at least not in a society where gun propagation is already extremely widespread.”

    These questions aren’t entirely rhetorical; I certainly have developed a bias for what I think the answers are likely to be after reading Harris’ work and others in recent months, but I’m open to evidence otherwise.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    March 15, 2013

    My goal is not to focus on mass spree killings, but it would be nice. As I said, I’ve been writing about this for a few years, and I’ve made my point many times. At this point, however, my starting point for negotiation is this: Repeal the second amendment because gun nuts and the gun manufacturing lobby have been using it as a get out of being rational card forever. The second amendment itself is not a rational thing, it is out of date, irrelevant, and any of the things people attach to it don’t work or don’t matter. I would like the ownership of deadly firearms to be a privilege, not a right. Then we can start to talk about who can own what and for what reason.

    Harris is about as right about guns as he was about profiling. I suspect he regards himself as too smart to need to know stuff.

    Here’s a simple well defined situation. A very large number, thousands, of youths take their own lives every year with firearms. We know that young people who try to commit suicide and fail often eventually get past that, with help, and ultimately go on and lead their lives. We know that the success rate for suicide with all the various methods generally used that are not firearms is pretty low. We know that the success rate with firearms is very high (close to 100%). We don’t know as much as we would like about where these kids get these guns, but it is felt that most of the time it is a poorly secured weapon owned by a family member.

    The widespread practice of keeping loaded guns in unsecured locations probably fuels this wastage of thousands of lives a year. It is not irrational to be concerned about that and it is perfectly fine to also be emotionally charged up about it, because it is mostly unnecessary. Rational gun laws would require people to keep their private firearms locked up and secured, and rational laws would hold those who on the guns responsible for the deaths of those who use the guns to kill themselves. Obviously guns that are well secured would carry very little culpability, just like cars. If you park your car on a street corner and leave the keys in and the motor running and some 9 year olds takes a joy ride and runs over the mayor, that’s your fault. If the kid breaks into your car, hotwires it, runs over the mayor, that is not your fault. Our society and our legal system already deals with issues where there are ranges of responsibility.

    The gun lobby and the gun apologists argue that these kids would kill themselves with string if they needed to. That’s wrong. Some argue that it is the kids right to kill themselves. But that is wrong, this is transient mental illness. There are a number of similar arguments, generally wrong, generally falsifiable rhetoric, generally wrong.

    The most amazing argument, though, and the one that ties the 2nd amendment, gun ownership, the angry white male syndrome (not always white not always male) and all of it is this: You can’t tell people that they can’t keep a loaded gun on their nightstand, because that is the reason they have the gun to begin with, and that is their right because of the second amendment.

    Which brings us back to my first point. Repeal the 2nd amendment, then we can talk.

  41. #41 Average Joe
    March 16, 2013

    Greg,

    I’m actually really curious to get a response to the questions Brad asked, particularly about what your goal is. I have just stumbled upon this post, so if you have clearly given the ultimate goal for gun control in the past, feel free to link to it. If the arguments above are your goal (e.g. to prevent successful suicides or stop people from being killed), then just confirm that is your goal. If there is a deeper goal, I’d like to understand it.

  42. #42 Jim Thomerson
    March 16, 2013

    Greg, I am a well educated, widely traveled, intelligent, and an all around good fellow, even though I am white. My response, on reading your diatribes, is the stock answer. You can take my guns from my cold dead hands.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2013

    Jim, you sound angry.

  44. #44 Jim Thomerson
    March 17, 2013

    I try not to be angry because I have seen too many instances of anger and stupidity being Siamese twins. I’m just saying how I expect to respond if it gets right down to it. It is not a conclusion reached in anger, but rather in sorrow. Hopefully, your kind will not prevail, and it will never happen.

  45. #45 Greg Laden
    March 17, 2013

    My kind? The kind that insists that the carnage must stop? The kind that sees that this miserable excuse for a conversation or debate is a farce? The kind that calls out the gun lobby for screaming “we must protect ourselves from government oppression” while at the same time paying off congress to suppress research on firearm safety? Is that what you mean?

  46. #46 James
    Alabama
    March 18, 2013

    several problems: 1st is if this was accurate it would have been rolled out every time this issue has come up. But it has not. Many gun owners are not dumb enough to tell random joe claiming to be a pollster anything about their gun ownership. The sampling six is to small and poorly drawn to reflect anything close to accurate gun ownership statistics. further the respondent may not know about the gun another owns in the house

  47. #47 Greg Laden
    March 18, 2013

    James this decrease in gun ownership has been noted numerous times. Polls have methods that you could critique if you knew much about them.

    Having said that I’m sure you’re right about that last point. I myself have discovered guns people didn’t know they had. Never mind why I was riffling through their stuff. But yes, there are guns people technically “own” but don’t even know about. This underscores and makes more urgent the problem, of course.

  48. #48 Greg Laden
    March 18, 2013

    This is a comment I just received by email from a gentleman who’s email is “glaciers_of_ice@rocketmail.com” and who seems to hail from the Miami area using the name “Desmond” sometimes using the email “bluei.ce@hotmail.com.”

    Apparently I tossed one or more of his previous comments in the trash, or they were caught by the spam filter, and he is mad. Here’s what he had to tell me this morning:

    “Just to let you know, the Second Amendment isn’t about hunting, but bashing commietard skulls in. We can’t wait for this little war to start.”

    So, there’s your angry white guy for you.

  49. #49 jane
    March 18, 2013

    But you, as a rational man, wouldn’t dream of using Desmond as a synecdoche for 99,999,999 other American gun owners, many of whom are not angry, not white and/or not male. (What is this obsession with the supposed evils of whiteness anyway? I don’t believe that white people commit a disproportionate number of firearm-related or total homicides. If it’s a dog-whistle meaning “redneck”, maybe you should just say that.)

  50. #50 Verne
    Behind you
    March 21, 2013

    Speaking of “angry white men” who’s the tool who wrote this drivel?? We don’t need to amend the constitution, we need to ban GunFree Zones. They invite crime.

    Remember, the police will always be there in time to write a report. They will not be there to protect you and they certainly won’t assist in the event we need to remove a tyrranical government. Whatever happend to “for the people BY the people”?? As your rights and freedoms are slowly eroded year after year, the gov gains more and more power to oppress the public. When/IF the day ever comes that they do manage to disarm the american public, you’ll see their TRUE adjenda unfold in a hurry.
    I pray that day never comes!

    the spear fishing monkey was cool tho.

  51. #51 Greg Laden
    March 21, 2013

    Verne, if all the people who were not like you had guns, and the people who are like you didn’t, that would be fine.

    I regard “behind you” as your “location” to be a threat. At this point you need to step away from this blog. While you are backing off, an apology would be in order.

  52. #52 James
    NY
    March 21, 2013

    I have a question perhaps someone here can answer…
    It involves a mathematics problem…and facts!
    In 1973 the US population was 211,908,788 and 47% of the population owned…for example…guns.
    How many people owned guns? 99,597,130
    In 2011 the US population was 311, 800, 000 and 37% of the population owned guns.
    How many people owned guns? 112,248,000
    Did the number of gun owner’s increase or decrease and by how much?
    I believe the answer is the number of gun owners increased 12,650,869…so while the percentage is of gun owners is decreasing 12 million more people own guns…

    Statistic Verification Source:
    US Census Bureau (population various years)
    Gallup Inc, Gun Owners of America Date Verified: 7.20.2012

  53. #53 Greg Laden
    March 22, 2013

    James, a “rate” is a scaled number. Number of persons per unit number. Like, percentage. A term like “X-ship” as in “gun ownership” is a reference to rate. If 10 in 100 people own guns, the gun ownership rate is not 10 people, it is 10%.

    So, the statement “Gun ownership rates in the US have been declining in recent decades” is correct.

    Your arithmetic is great, but this is advanced math, more pre-algebra level.

  54. #54 Jim Thomerson
    March 24, 2013

    I like that. You can be happy that number of gun owners has decreased as a percentage of the total population. At the same time others can be happy that, over the same period of time, the total number of gun owners in the population has increased. Sounds like a win-win to me.

    I realize that I have bought only one gun in my life, a single shot 22 rifle for my kids. Otherwise, my guns were either inherited or a gift. Also, I have never sold a gun, but have given away more than I have kept.

  55. #55 Roger
    March 25, 2013

    Greg, you make one of the same points I make on my blog, and I love it (recap below):

    Guns do not protect their owners from a tyrannical and oppressive government (certainly not one armed with tanks, helicopters, and cruise missiles). The next time you read about a piece of oppressive legislation (I don’t know, the Patriot Act certainly comes to mind) being successfully rejected by a militant compound dweller will be…the first time.

    However, there is a very difficult quandary asked above (and not addressed), and that is: is it even possible to put the genie back in the bottle at this point? 112M gun owners, many owning multiple guns, millions more with unregistered or otherwise illegal firearms.

    Finally, there’s this (asked by Jane): Wayne LaPierre represents the “angry white male” ideal, but Newtown represents a tiny, tiny fraction of the thousands of deaths every year by gun violence, the vast majority of which are not from assault rifles. Inner city gangs and thugs – REGARDLESS of race – are not going to turn in their handguns when they will still be surrounded by crime on a daily basis; when their “proving ground” involves violence and machismo.

    How do we stop that? How do we stop mass shootings when we don’t take care of mental instability? How do we stop thousands of homicides every year? You can make anything illegal that you want, but murder itself already IS illegal; crack dealing is illegal; robbery is illegal. I don’t see repealing the 2nd Amendment changing any of the above facts; I don’t see it putting the genie back in the bottle.

    [Disclosure: I'm not a fan of the 2nd Amendment, or the zealous disregard for rational discourse embraced by gun nuts. The entire Bill of Rights IS abridged; your right to free speech, free expression, expression of religion, a fair and speedy trial, illegal search and seizure....ALL of these "rights" are, in fact, far from unlimited. Yet, somehow, the poorest-worded and most outdated amendment of the bunch is the one and only sacrosanct instruction in the constitution, apparently, the only one not subject to abridgement or revision. Yet, it's the lefty liberals who are "irrational," apparently.]

  56. #56 Greg Laden
    March 25, 2013

    “Guns do not protect their owners from a tyrannical and oppressive government (certainly not one armed with tanks, helicopters, and cruise missiles).” … or, as you point out, armed with the ability to make laws!

    ” is it even possible to put the genie back in the bottle at this point?”

    Yes, it is. The gun culture is self perpetuating at many levels, including the guns but also including other things. The argument that it is too late could have been made at any time over the last 200 years, and can be made at any time over the next 200 years. And, it can be made of any behavior we might decide is illegal or any substance or thing we might decide people should not own (or not own without a permitting process). The argument applies to laws in general, and to civil society in general.

    What if spree killings were all done with machine guns imported form Belgium and street crime and felonies were all committed with hand guns made in Massachusetts and suicides were all carried out with hunting weapons from Montana, and each of these had their own lobbies, sources of supply, ammo type, ownership patterns, etc. etc. It wouldn’t be hard to separate out the problems.

    Most car accident fatalities were at one time caused by the lack of seat belts, while very few were caused by exploding gas tanks. One would not argue against fixing the gas tank problem because the seat belt problem was bigger.

    Street crime used to be carried out with the SNS. They were banned. SNS are no longer used in street crime.

    Repealing the second amendment would not put any genies back in any bottles, but it would make the discussion a fair fight. That’s all I want.

    I’m actually in favor of the right to own guns, just not unfettered or with rules that are ridiculous.

  57. #57 Roger
    March 25, 2013

    Greg,

    I hope you’re right. Certainly, your penultimate paragraph sums it up well (“…but it would make the discussion a fair fight. That’s all I want.”). Maybe, in the long term, this is something we can fix.

    I remain optimistic that we must try, but pessimistic at the result (at least in the short term).

  58. #58 James
    NY
    March 27, 2013

    Greg
    I understand the mathematics; the importance of normalizing the data; the influence of factors such as population age distribution shifts; multiple gun owner homes, persons per house hold etc. But I have more questions regarding the sources of the numbers, rates and the use of them rather than the concepts. It seems like if one can The figures I quoted came from articles citing US Census and Gallop Inc. However, tonight I read a web article indicating a higher percentage for gun ownership for 2011 (dated October 26, 2011). The article was titled, Self-Reported Gun Ownership in U.S. Is Highest Since 1993 (http://www.gallup.com/poll/150353/self-reported-gun-ownership-highest-1993.aspx) and indicates, “Forty-seven percent of American adults currently report that they have a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property.” Would it be fair to interpret this to indicate about 146,546,000 people (50 million homes) that are pro gun? Regardless, I now understand this might not be accurate and is not as important as the rate of nearly 50% of the homes that have firearms (10% higher than the number I previously quoted). The New York Time article, Share of Homes With Guns Shows 4-Decade Decline (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/us/rate-of-gun-ownership-is-down-survey-shows.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&hp ) dated March 9, 2013 indicates gun ownership rates are in decline. If one looks at the numbers the trend if any is cyclic and over the past 15 years has increase to the high of four decades ago (must be time to get the numbers down) I find it interesting that between October 2011 and March 2013 (the timing of both articles) there has been an incontestable increase in the number of US citizens filing for pistol permits and purchasing other firearms for their first time. Yet the New York Times article suggests the opposite.
    The New York Times is often thought of as being a reputable newspaper. However, when one considers the influence of the plutocrat Carlos Slim on the NY Times and his “business relationship” (Obama-phones) with the current president the NY Times article becomes implausible. The reputation of the Gallop Poll (a division of the Gallop Company led by the very competent Jim Clifton) precedes itself. Given Gallop is in the business of research and is “the source of statistical information” I have to go with the Gallop rate… I challenge the statement “Gun ownership rates in the US have been declining in recent decades”. It appears gun ownership is cyclic and the trend for the past 15 years has been an increase…

  59. #59 Jim Thomerson
    March 27, 2013

    Hey Greg, I have an idea for you how you can make money promoting the good of humankind.

    Talking with a friend, he told me he had a 12 gage pump shotgun under the bed; the kind with a pistol grip and seven rounds in the tube magazine. He figures if anyone breaks in , he will take it out from under the bed and work the pump to put a round in the chamber. That action makes a loud and recognizable sound. He figures that will be all it takes.

    Here is my suggestion. Create an app for cell phones which does the pump shotgun loading sounds loud and clear. Think of all the non gun owners who would buy and thank you.

  60. #60 Greg Laden
    March 27, 2013

    That’s a great idea; along with a barking dog app and a Joe Friday app we should be covered.

  61. #61 Joe Johnson
    May 10, 2013

    there is no gun violence in Mexico because guns are illegal there…….

  62. [...] The demand is coming from existing gun owners. There may be an increase at the margin from new owners of guns. But the percentage of gun owners in the U.S. is below 40%. [...]

  63. #63 Daniel Shawen
    Maryland
    May 13, 2013

    There is a National Hammer Association (not associated with Marion P, Hammer, former NRA President. I like the caveman picture. Should there also be a “National Rock Association”?

    There is an Urban Dictionary term: “Bag of Hammers”, that is short for the old saw: To the man who possesses only one tool that is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Owning a wide assortment of hammers, like owning a wide assortment of guns and ammo, is not a very elegant solution to most problems we might face in life, except to someone who is a “Bag of Hammers”.

    Automobiles are much more dangerous than guns, but they are (and should be) licensed and heavily regulated. If cars were guns, some gun owners would allow their eight year olds go out and see how well they could drive on the open road, require everyone to have a car, & etc. “Bags of Hammers” indeed.

  64. #64 Sgt. Schultz
    May 13, 2013

    The ownership data appears to be based on self-reporting, which people might be inclined to lie about when there’s talk about gun bans, “assault weapon” bans, registration, etc.

    I mean, if someone conducting a survey at the University of Chicago called you on the phone and asked if you owned guns, would you REALLY answer the question honestly and tell them that you did?

    Remember, a phone survey taker has your phone number, and probably from that could easily get a name and address.

    Answering a question like that honestly is liable to land one on certain “lists.”

    Guns? What guns?

    Best to do a Sgt. Schultz

  65. [...] The demand is coming from existing gun owners. There may be an increase at  the margin from new owners of guns. But the percentage of gun owners in the U.S.  is below  40%. [...]

  66. #66 Wrightclick
    USA
    May 14, 2013

    Oh please. What self respecting gun owner would answer a cold poll call ‘Do you have guns in your home?’

    What a bunch of dribble.

    Gun and ammo sales have been off the charts since Obama usurped power in 2008. Ammo makers can’t crank it out fast enough. The shelves are bare. In Florida the number of CCW permit holders has swelled to well over a million. Classes are full nightly all over the state. The class I attended was over half first time gun owners. Gun shows all over the country have 1 hour waiting lines or more all day long just to get in. NRA membership has sharply jumped by more than a million members in the last 2 or 3 years. And there are many other groups that are growing as well. You don’t need a poll to see that gun ownership is not only rising but rising fast.

    You should go back to digging rocks or whatever it is you do.

  67. #67 Wrightclick
    May 14, 2013

    One additional point.

    The NYT article states:
    “It lines up, he said, with two evolving patterns in American life: the decline of hunting and a sharp drop in violent crime, which has made the argument for self-protection much less urgent. ”

    Gun ownership has not been just about hunting, ever. Especially in the last 50 years. Any time a politician starts talking about the Second Amendment and hunting in the same sentence you can safely dismiss anything further he has to say.

    Secondly, and this is the one that liberals just don’t get, did it ever occur to you that violent crime is down BECAUSE gun ownership is up? Why would crime be down otherwise? People are just becoming more honest? Police are getting better at stopping crime before it happens? The planets are in closer alignment?

    No, the correlation is unmistakable. More guns means less crime. Somebody should write a book on that. Oh wait, John Lott already did.

  68. #68 Greg Laden
    May 14, 2013

    All the evidence we have suggests that increased gun ownership does not decrease gun related injuries and fatalities, but rather, increasing it, and that it has little effect on decreasing violent crime, so yes, Liberals, as thinking people, have thought about that idea and rejected it based on consideration of the evidence.

    I agree that hunting does not have a lot to do with the 2nd amendment.

    We have had a drop and/or plateauing of gun ownership and a decrease in violent crime. That’s a correlation. Having said that, I doubt that this correlation means a causal connection.

  69. #69 Jerry M
    Long Prairie, MN
    May 18, 2013

    It is too bad that the right wing has taken over the Republican party. There isn’t going to be an constructive discussion about gun violence in the US when almost all those on the right use the same NRA talking points. The US has a lot more gun violence than Europe because we have a lot more guns. No amount of bs will change that. The US has a violent gun loving culture. That can be changed if we want. It will take time. Making the US constitution into holy writ is foolishness. The second amendment is being used as a cudgel to stop efforts at gun violence. We don’t need to eliminate all guns, we do need to make sure that those who have them are no criminal and not insane.

  70. #70 shawnreees
    were yts don go
    May 22, 2013

    THIS IS RACISn, YO CENSORE CAUSE I AM BLACK? WHERE IS MY COMMNET????

  71. #71 quinn
    July 11, 2013

    gwen, we’re compensating for you worthless, ignorant liberals.

  72. #72 Greg Laden
    July 11, 2013

    Quinn, you’ll now apologize to gwen for that crappy remark.