New Gun Owners and Firearm Purchasing During the COVID-19 Pandemic

On top of the paper I wrote about last week, I have found a second scholarly publication on firearm purchasing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This one is by a group of public health scholars associated with the Firearm Injury & Policy Research Program at the University of Washington and published in the journal Injury Prevention.

As usual, I skip the parts of these papers that speculate on negative outcomes that could occur and get straight to the data.

Here the data comes from an Amazon Mechanical Turk (MTurk) survey of people from May 1-5, 2020 about whether they had purchased a firearm in response to COVID-19 since January 1, 2020.

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Liberals Own Guns, Too!

With thanks to Rocket Armory for the slogan and visual, liberals own guns, too.

This is a point I have made before. Approximately 20% of all gun owners in the United States — at least 12 million American adults — self-identify as liberal (compared to 36% of moderates and 45% of conservatives).

Although there is a connection between conservative politics and gun ownership, multivariate statistical analyses wash over interesting diversity within the gun owning population. In my Sociology of Guns seminar, I focus some of our limited time on this interesting subgroup.

http://T-Shirt from Rocket Armory (https://rocket-armory.com/)
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Pandemics, Protests, and Firearms Purchasing

There has been a good deal of speculation and anec-data shared about the great gun buying spree of 2020. It is impossible to deny that something significant happened, but the extent and nature of what happened remains to be understood.

Although it does not tell us everything we want to know, “Pandemics, Protests, and Firearms” by Bree and Matthew Lang (economists at the University of California at Riverside) offers some interesting insights. It is available for download on the SSRN website while it makes its way through the peer review process.

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Another Way Gun Ownership Rates Are Underestimated in Surveys

I have written previously about how survey research underestimates the rate of gun ownership in the United States.

The main sources of “false negatives” (people who own guns but tell survey researchers they do not) are (1) people who don’t want outsiders to know they have guns, (2) people who want to avoid the stigma of gun ownership, and (3) people who cannot legally own firearms but do anyway.

Listening to my Sociology of Guns seminar students this semester has highlighted another group of non-gun owning gun owners. Of 16 total students in my class, 3 mentioned that their otherwise non-gun owning parents actually had guns in their homes.

Photo of family heirloom firearms from Sociology of Guns student

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Differences Between New and Long-Standing US Gun Owners by Wertz, et al.

The great gun buying spree(s) of 2020 have raised the issue of NEW GUN OWNERS. We have no reliable data on how many of those millions of NICS checks being run this year are for people who are buying a gun for the first time. Anecdotal evidence suggests a short answer of A LOT.

But it is also the case that even in a “normal” year, there are about 1 million new gun owners. This is one of the many interesting conclusions from a study published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2018 which my Sociology of Guns students are reading this week.

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“My Student Jim” – Mark Joslyn on Emotions, Polarization, and Gun Politics

In these trying times, can we at least all agree that guns are politically polarizing in the United States? Not inherently, of course, but they get drawn up into our divisive political system and culture in a profound way.

I’m pleased to share political scientist Mark R. Joslyn’s reflection on how emotions drive reasoning and division on the gun issue, for better or worse.

These reflections are part of a broader project Joslyn has been working on concerning the politics of gun ownership (see more about the author at the end). Based on this essay, I am really looking forward to getting my hands on his just released book, The Gun Gap: The Influence of Gun Ownership on Political Behavior and Attitudes. See this flyer with more information on the book and order online from Oxford University Press with promo code ASFLYQ6 to save 30%.

My Student Jim

 By Mark R. Joslyn

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How Many Individuals and Households in the United States Own Guns?

Although I’ve addressed U.S. gun ownership levels previously, I realize that I have done so by looking at percentages of individuals and households rather than numbers. Given changing population sizes (the all important denominator), percentages are usually the relevant indicators.

But sometimes you want to know the actual number, so I am posting this to have these numbers handy when people ask. (How I calculated these numbers after the photo illustration.)

Minimum estimates for 2019 are:

# of Individuals in the United States who own guns: 76,414,161.

# of Households in the United States that have guns: 47,892,051

# of People in U.S. Households that have guns: 125,956,094

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On “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners” by the National Rifle Association

The political power of the National Rifle Association (NRA) is both frustrating to and badly misunderstood by many of its critics (as I highlighted recently in response to PBS Frontline’s program on the NRA).

According to Barnard College political scientist Matthew Lacombe, much of the legislative strength of the NRA is due to its ability to politically mobilize guns owners on its behalf. And key to that political “weaponization” has been the cultivation of “gun owner” as a social identity in the first place. (An identity I reflected on from my own perspective in my previous post.)

Here I discuss his recently published article, “The Political Weaponization of Gun Owners: The National Rifle Association’s Cultivation, Dissemination, and Use of a Group Social Identity.” Unfortunately the article is not available open access, but if you would like a copy for educational purposes, let me know.

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Golfers, Gun Owners, and Social Identity

Whenever someone asks me, “Are you a golfer?” I offer a canned response: “No, but I play golf.” I resist the label golfer. To embrace it seems to heighten expectations in an uncomfortable way.

The same can be said of the label gun owner. Do I own guns? Yes. Is being a gun owner central to my identity? Not really.

In fact, the Pew Research Center’s 2017 report on “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” highlights differences in the centrality of owning guns to people’s identities. About half of gun owners say being a gun owner is very (25%) or somewhat (25%) important to their overall identity, and half say it is not too important (30%) or not at all important (20%).

Source: Pew Research Center, “America’s Complex Relationship with Guns” (2017).

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COVID-19 Handgun Purchasing Boom

It’s no secret that the coronavirus led to an unprecedented rise in gun background checks in March 2020. I posted about the coronavirus supplanting Barack Obama as the greatest gun salesman in US history, and reiterated this in a brief interview with Axios recently.

An interesting nuance in this overall pattern, however, is the ratio of handguns to long-guns sold. As reported by Small Arms Analytics & Forecasting (H/T The Trace!), “The ratio of handguns to long-guns sold now stands at a record 1.84, the highest ratio since the introduction of the NICS checks in late 1998.”

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