The Democratic presidential primaries have the media off in search of a political unicorn: The Liberal Gun Owner. Two news stories in the past couple of days report on successful hunts.
The NPR affiliate in Seattle reported on “Four Seattle liberals on why they own guns and who they’re voting for in the primary. (H/T to my former student DH for sending this). And the Associated Press ran a story titled “Liberal gun owners face dilemma in 2020 field” (since picked up by many news outlets including The Washington Post).
The AP story included photos of Kat Ellsworth, President of the Illinois Chapter of the Liberal Gun Club, and Kevin Dixie of NOC (No Other Choice) Firearms Training, whose “The Truth” pistol commemorates the Tulsa race massacre of 1921 in which whites attacked black residents of the Greenwood District and destroyed what was known as “Black Wall Street.”
In addition to the Liberal Gun Club there is also a Liberal Gun Owners organization, headed up by Randy Miyan, who was a guest in my Sociology of Guns seminar last spring. The LGO gets less press than the LGC, but you can sometimes find its members hiding in plain site sporting the signature LGO liberal snowflake.
As people have been asking me about “liberal gun owners,” I decided to start looking at some data from the 2014-2018 General Social Surveys (GSS). The statistics reported in the Associated Press story noted above were actually provided by me to the reporter, though she does not attribute them to me. (Not that I am bitter or anything.)
The GSS asks respondents to self-identify as extremely liberal, liberal, slightly liberal, moderate, slightly conservative, and extremely conservative. The responses form almost a bell curve centered on “moderate.” I combined the liberals and conservatives together to create 3 categories (liberal – 29% of respondents, moderate – 38.6%, conservative – 32.4%). And then I looked within those groups at those who say they personally own a gun (as opposed to having a gun in their household).
Recognizing that there is under-reporting here, gun owners break down politically as follows:
- LIBERAL GUN OWNERS: 19.25% of all gun owners
- MODERATE GUN OWNERS: 36.2% of all gun owners
- CONSERVATIVE GUN OWNERS: 44.6% of all gun owners
19.25% equates to at least 11.8 million adults in the United States.
So, liberals are underrepresented among gun owners, but 1 in 5 gun owners are liberals. So, it’s a glass 1/5 full vs. 4/5 empty situation. I think it is a sizeable group worth of consideration, and in combination with self-described moderates, they are a majority of gun owners.
Demographically, I didn’t have a chance to do a complete analysis, but liberal gun owners (compared to conservative gun owners) are slightly more female and less white, slightly less likely to be married and hunt. Also, as mentioned in my National Firearms Law Seminar talk, new gun owners tend to be more liberal than longstanding gun owners.