The growing gun divide

More on the red-blue divide, this time focusing on gun ownership. The eleven states with the highest number of gun owners per capita are red; the nine states with the lowest number are blue. Of course, people own guns for many reasons; eight that come to mind are target shooting, hunting, shooting varmints, assisting in crimes, protection from burglars, collecting, reassurance in the face of impotence (defined broadly), and rising up in arms, if it comes to that, against the federal government1. The growing prevalence of concealed weapons makes me think my list is not nearly complete.

But there’s a widening gun gap between the red and the blue. Interestingly, the percentage of households with guns is declining, but the number of guns per capita is increasing. That means some people are buying more than one or two guns. Most of them, as it turns out, are Republicans. As Harold Meyerson reported this week:

There’s a name for those gun buyers: Republicans. As the FiveThirtyEight blog noted Tuesday, the 2010 General Social Survey showed that 50 percent of adult Republicans owned guns, while only 22 percent of adult Democrats did. This gap in gun-ownership rates has swelled over the past 40 years: In the 1973 survey, 55 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats had a gun at home. Polls suggest this gap will continue to widen: In the 2008 national exit polls, the percentage of Democrats with guns declined as the age cohorts grew younger, while the GOP rate of gun ownership was the same across all age groups. Increasingly, then, it’s our shrinking Republican minority that is buying guns.

Our next Congress won’t pass meaningful gun control despite the renewed popularity of such measures and despite what Fareed Zakariah calls the “blindingly obvious” link between gun control and reduced gun violence. The GOP-led House is becoming almost impervious to national opinion polls. Why? Even though this year more people voted for Democratic House candidates than for Republican ones, new redistricting favored the Republicans, who controlled more state governments during the latest census. Redistricting means the GOP keeps its House majority, and it also ensures that most congressmen won’t allow the kind of gun control that would help prevent massacres.

The political gap may keep us from making headway against guns, but it didn’t cause the gun gap. The gun gap and the political gap, I think, are both symptoms of a worldview gap. And as for the owners of these private magazines, I’m crossing off target shooting, hunting, shooting varmints, assisting in crimes, and protection from burglars.

(Previous red-blue divide posts focused on the new migration of people to states reflecting their political views and on the (not unrelated) new prevalence of state executives and legislatures controlled by a single party.)


Gun Show” by Michael Glasgow. Used by permission.

  1. As former U.S. Senate candidate Sharron Angle puts it, the recent increase in gun sales “tells me that the nation is arming. What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are so distrustful of government? They’re afraid they’ll have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways. . . . If we don’t win at the ballot box, what will be the next step?”