This Statue Doesn’t Lie

posted on November 6, 2023
Lexington Minuteman statue
Art: Gary Locke

You will presumably be shocked—shocked!—to discover that a significant number of the Americans who own firearms do not wish to tell strangers about it. Per the results of a new study in Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, the United States has between 18 and 86% more gun owners than is usually assumed. Depending on the degree to which Americans are withholding information, the real number of American households containing guns could be as high as 60%.

To which I would say, simply: Duh.

The plain truth is the Lexington Minuteman statue (depicted above), located in Lexington, Mass., says a lot about America.

So, when people ask why anyone would lie to a pollster, the answer is, when it comes to guns, a better question is why wouldn’t they? Whether or not a law-abiding citizen chooses to exercise his constitutional right to own firearms is nobody else’s concern—and it is certainly not the concern of the random guy with the clipboard who has stopped him on the street or called his cell phone unsolicited. For many people, the question “do you own a gun?” is akin to the question “do you have good locks on your house?” It’s private information that deserves to stay private.

That’s before we get to the political disincentives. Some Americans may worry that if they tell a stranger they own a gun, that information could be added to a database. There is a simple reason that gun registries do not exist almost anywhere in the United States—and that gun registries ought to be illegal literally everywhere in the United States—and that reason is that if the government does not possess that information in the first place, then there is no way for that information to be abused by bad actors.

Sometimes, such abuse is deliberate: In 2012, for example, a local New York newspaper printed the names and addresses of every licensed gun owner in Westchester and Rockland counties, while the troll-website, Gawker, did the same for New York City. On other occasions, such abuse is inadvertent (ostensibly); for example, in 2022, the California Department of Justice accidentally released the personal information of every individual in the state who had applied for a concealed-carry permit during the previous decade. In both cases, the data was made public in a way that it could not have been if it had simply not been collected in the first place.

Polling is not the same thing as gun-registration, but the skepticism against both is similar in motivation and in kind. A participant in a survey does not know what the person questioning him is going to do with the information provided. He does not know if his answer will be kept in a file, or linked to his phone number, or sold to the highest bidder, or leaked out onto the internet where criminals can find it. This being so, it makes sense for him to stay quiet.

I have long been dismissive of the media’s oft-repeated claim that only a third-or-so of American households owned guns because it seemed to be so obviously at odds with my experience. Not only have I struggled to square this number with the number of Americans I know who own firearms, I have struggled to reconcile it with how badly the gun-control movement has done in its relentless attempt to cast gun-owners as rare or unusual or extreme. If one were to take opponents of the Second Amendment at face value, one would have no choice but to assume that it is wildly eccentric to have a gun in the house.

It’s not. It’s normal. 


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