Gun Rights And Gun Ownership Are Part Of Mainstream American Culture

posted on January 23, 2024
woman holding firearm
Photo: NRA

For decades, a core component of the firearm prohibitionists’ strategy has been their attempt to stigmatize guns and gun ownership to push both out of mainstream American culture.

Sometimes this effort has been made explicit. In 1994, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) National Center for Injury Prevention Director Mark Rosenberg told The Washington Post, “We need to revolutionize the way we look at guns, like what we did with cigarettes… dirty, deadly—and banned.” In 2013, Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts penned an opinion piece likening her war on gun rights to the campaign against drunk driving—arguing that “same type of cultural shift must happen with guns.”

Often the tactics are recognizable, but a little less on the nose. Gun-control advocates and their media allies characterize any person or group that stands in the way of their agenda as “radical” or “extremist.” Gun-control groups and anti-gun researchers push dubious narratives about declining gun ownership.

It’s not for a lack of trying, but the survey data is clear that the gun-control crowd’s campaign to vilify guns and otherize gun owners isn’t working.

From Nov. 10-13, polling firms commissioned by NBC News asked a sample of registered voters “Do you, or does anyone in your household, own a gun of any kind?” The majority of respondents, 52%, affirmed that they or someone in their household owns a firearm.

The finding is more significant considering the number of times NBC News has polled Americans on this topic. NBC News has periodically asked this question at least 17 times since 1999. November’s 52% figure is the highest household gun ownership rate in the history of the NBC News poll.

Moreover, the overall trend in recent years shows American gun ownership is resilient and growing. In 1999, 44% of respondents reported living in a gun-owning household. In the seven times NBC News has asked the question since 2016, not once did the survey register a household gun ownership number below 44%. Micah Roberts of Public Opinion Strategies, who helped conduct the poll, told NBC News, “In the last ten years, we’ve grown [10 points] in gun ownership. That’s a very stunning number.”

Announcing the results of their survey, on Nov. 21, NBC News ran an article titled, “Poll: Gun ownership reaches record high with American electorate.” As encouraging as that headline and the topline survey data are for gun owners, some of the crosstab data is just as interesting.

The piece explained that the observed widespread gun ownership crosses the political divide. Forty-five percent of independents reported that they or someone in their household owns a firearm, while 41% of Democrats confirmed the same. America’s burgeoning firearm-owning households are also diverse. The NBC piece reported that 41% of black respondents reported living in a gun-owning household, which is “a 17-point increase among that group in just four years.” Earlier survey data from an academic at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found that from January 2019 through April 2021, about half of those who became new gun owners were women.

Further, the research shows that the encouraging NBC News gun-ownership numbers could be a severe undercount.

Gun owners have good reason to guard their privacy. Gun-ownership data could prove valuable to criminals. In an era when politicians regularly call for gun confiscation, gun owners are justly concerned with protecting their rights and property from government overreach. Owners who interact with anti-gun individuals or institutions may fear political reprisal.

In 2015, polling firm Zogby Analytics asked likely voters, “If a national pollster asked you if you owned a firearm, would you determine to tell him or her the truth or would you feel it was none of their business?” A significant 36% of those asked responded that gun ownership is none of a pollster’s business.

Drilling deeper into this question, in June, researchers from Rutgers University published an article titled “Predicting potential underreporting of firearm ownership in a nationally representative sample” in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. To try to get a better estimate of the gun-ownership rate, the academics used data obtained from known gun owners to construct profiles of likely gun owners.

The group’s results suggested that there could be between 18 to 86% more gun owners than is often measured. The top end of the estimate suggested an over 60% gun-ownership rate.

Moreover, a large percentage of those who say they don’t own a firearm at present are open to owning a firearm in the future. A Pew Research Center poll conducted June 5-11, 2023, found that, when they asked non-gun owners about “whether they could see themselves owning a gun in the future,” about half responded that they could.

Back in the 1990s, President Bill Clinton dressed up as a duck hunter to try to curry favor with gun owners. NRA responded with a campaign explaining, “If Bill Clinton thinks hunting ducks will give him a pro-gun image, he’s daffy,” and “Mr. Clinton, the Second Amendment is not about duck hunting.” Polling shows that the former president’s tactic would be wildly out of step with today’s electorate.

In 2009, CNN asked Americans whether the Second Amendment “was intended to give individual Americans the right to keep and bear arms for their own defense,” or if it “was only intended to preserve the existence of citizen-militias.” Seventy-seven percent of those polled responded that the Second Amendment preserves the individual right to bear arms for self-defense.

Further, a supermajority of Americans agree that the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms outside the home for self-defense.

On June 23, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court decided the NRA-backed case New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. At issue was the modern version of New York’s 111-year-old Sullivan Act, which left it up to government discretion whether a law-abiding person would be permitted to legally carry a firearm outside the home for self-defense. This left most law-abiding citizens unable to carry unless they demonstrated a “special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community” to the government’s satisfaction. The Supreme Court’s decision found the discretionary nature of the permit system to be unconstitutional, making that the Second Amendment protects all law-abiding citizens’ right-to-carry.

Concerning Bruen, a Marquette University Law School poll conducted Nov. 2-7, 2023, asked registered voters the following, “In 2022, the Supreme Court ruled that, subject to some restrictions, the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home. How much do you favor or oppose this decision?”

Over two thirds of respondents, 67%, stated that they favored the Supreme Court’s pro-Second Amendment ruling.

This reality stands in stark contrast to gun-control advocates’ hysterical ravings following the decision. Billionaire Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety claimed, “Today’s ruling is … out of touch with the overwhelming majority of Americans….” Giffords lamented, “This extreme ruling by the Supreme Court’s conservative supermajority…[is] thwarting the will of the people….” Brady, formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and Handgun Control, Inc., wailed “The majority opinion has demonstrated that they do not care about what the majority of Americans want and support.”

In a press release, then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) whined that the Bruen decision was the result of a “supermajority of the Supreme Court” that she described as “radical.” In a similar screed, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) accused the “extremist” Supreme Court of issuing a decision “far out-of-the-mainstream.”

As the Marquette poll shows, it’s Pelosi, Schumer and their gun-control comrades who are radical, while the Supreme Court’s mainstream decision was in line with a supermajority of the American electorate. However, some might question the need for a poll to explain the obvious. At the time of the Bruen decision, shall-issue right-to-carry was already the law in 42 states.

Americans’ legal understanding of the Second Amendment matches up with the practical realities of defensive gun use.

A 2021 survey conducted by Georgetown University Political Economist William English determined that “guns are used defensively by firearms owners in approximately 1.67 million incidents per year.”

This finding was in line with earlier surveys conducted by Florida State University Criminology Professor Gary Kleck and the CDC. Kleck’s examination of the 1993 National Self-Defense Survey found that “each year in the U.S. there are about 2.2 to 2.5 million [defensive gun uses] of all types by civilians against humans.” Upon examining the CDC’s defensive gun use survey data, taken from 1996 to 1998, Kleck determined that the results indicated that there are likely more than a million defensive gun uses per year.

It should come as no surprise, then, that a Harvard Center for American Political Studies poll conducted last Nov. 15-16 found that voters view firearms as essential for self-defense. Specifically, the pollsters asked, “Do you think you need to have a gun today in case you are attacked by criminals, or do you think owning a gun is unnecessary?” Sixty-three percent of respondents answered that a gun is necessary.

As with household gun ownership, the answers didn’t fit the neat partisan categories politicians and the press seek to perpetuate. An overwhelming majority of Republicans stated that firearms are necessary in case of criminal attack. However, majorities of Independents and Democrats also shared this view.

These findings fit with polling on the reasons people own firearms. A June 5-11, 2023, survey by the Pew Research Center found that 91% of gun owners cited “protection” as a reason they own a firearm, with 72% stating it is a “major reason” they own a gun. “Protection” was far and away the number one reason for owning a firearm, outpacing other legitimate options such as hunting, sport shooting and collecting.

With more than half of voter households owning firearms, a supermajority of voters supporting the Supreme Court’s pro-Second Amendment jurisprudence, and more than 60% of voters viewing firearms as essential for self-defense, gun owners can feel confident that their culture and views are well within the mainstream. As for any Second Amendment-denying firearm prohibitionists concerned with policing the bounds of mainstream discourse, they would do well to look in the mirror.


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