Analysis: Teachers, Gays, Jewish Women Join Ranks of American Gun Owners
The gun lobby is getting its wish. The United States is arming itself for shootouts at the modern equivalent of the O.K. Corral – synagogues, schools, workplaces, grocery stores, bowling alleys, theaters, restaurants, bus stops and street corners.
Classroom teachers are packing. Gay people carry firearms. Jewish women are going to shooting ranges. They variously fear mass shooters, homophobes and antisemites. They are, perhaps unwittingly, falling into the trap of believing NRA President Wayne LaPierre who infamously said, “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”
That would be doubtful in a routine gunfight and impossible when someone with a handgun faces off against someone trained to use a semiautomatic weapon. It’s even more doubtful that owning a gun will make most people safer.
Rising Gun Ownership
Almost half of American households now own at least one firearm. There are more than 1 million registered firearms in Texas and more than 500,000 in Florida. No one knows how many unregistered guns exist in bedroom closets, garages and basements. Ghost guns are designed to fly under the radar and ship directly to doorsteps, eluding registration and notice.
Continuous news stories about street shootings, gunpoint carjackings and random violence have persuaded people to swap book clubs for training sessions at local shooting ranges. Instead of hiring personal trainers, people retain gun coaches. When you walk down the street, there is now a collective assumption a lot of people you see have concealed weapons in their coats, purses and pants.
The troubling truth is that all those guns haven’t made Americans safer or immune from gun violence.
Suicides Account for 54% of Gun Deaths
The grab fest for guns is a fatalistic response to the seeming inability of law enforcement to curtail gun-related crimes. While gun deaths are on the rise, it’s noteworthy that more than half are the result of suicides. In 2021, the most recent year for complete statistics, 48,830 Americans died from gun-related injuries. Of that number, 54 percent were suicides.
The number of gun-related deaths in 2021 is 23 percent higher than 2019. The annual number of gun-related murders has fluctuated since 1968, from a low of around 9,000 deaths to the current high of almost 21,000. During the same time period, suicides have consistently climbed from 11,000 per year in 1968 to more than 26,000 now.
Gun shops, shooting ranges and gun clubs don’t routinely provide gun buyers with the national suicide hotline number (988) or referrals to local mental health counselors. They probably view that kind of consumer information as a downer. Unregulated gun sales practice a policy of don’t ask, don’t tell.
Only a handful of states (not Oregon or Washington) require gun owners to register their firearms. A number of states, including Oregon, are moving toward permit-to-purchase regimes. One of the requirements to obtain a permit is undergoing gun safety training. Oregon’s voter-approved Measure 114 has been challenged as unconstitutional in state and federal courts.
Myth of Self-Defense
The notion that owning a gun is a credible defense of your home or property is more myth than reality. The Harvard Injury Control Research Center says guns in homes are more often used to intimidate a family member or brought out in an escalating argument than in self-defense. Data indicates few criminals are shot by law-abiding citizens. Victims use guns against their assailants in less than 1 percent of contact crimes. Gunshot injuries in homes or neighborhood streets most often involve people fighting each other with guns.
There’s a reason why no one keeps track of assailants killed by their would-be victims. All the practice at a shooting range doesn’t prepare someone for the adrenalin rush when confronting an intruder, thief or attacker. Police officers who are trained don’t always hit their intended targets. The average homeowner with a gun won’t either. In fact, many homeowners are so rattled, they can’t even find their gun, let alone aim and pull the trigger.
Victims use guns against their assailants in less than 1 percent of contact crimes. Gunshot injuries in homes or neighborhood streets most often involve people fighting each other with guns.
Pew Research Data
Facts and experience hasn’t deterred an increase in gun ownership by men and women who don’t use them for hunting. Pew Research Center published findings in September indicating 40 percent of men and 25 percent of women own a gun. Gun ownership in politically conservative areas is twice as high than in liberal-leaning areas (45 percent to 20 percent).
Nearly three-quarters of male and female gun owners say their weapons are for self-defense. The percentages are much lower for hunting (32 percent), sport shooting (30 percent) and gun collections (15 percent).
Americans are evenly split over whether gun ownership increases or decreases safety. The split reflects political and geographical divisions. Urban residents and Democrats are more dubious of gun ownership than their rural and Republican counterparts. A sharp division also exists between gun owners and non-gun owners. The subject of gun regulation can be the spark for fierce debates and grist for political campaigns.
Gun Violence Versus Gun Regulation
Pew Research says there is broad agreement that gun violence is a rising national problem. A majority of Americans also believe it is too easy to obtain a gun and favor stricter gun laws. While there is sharp division over some gun restrictions, there is bipartisan and broad geographical support for preventing people suffering from mental illness from obtaining firearms, perhaps a commonly held reflection of how many suicides are by gunshot.
There also is bipartisan support among gun owners favoring more access to guns, including arming school teachers and permitting more concealed carry, and opposing restrictions on high-capacity magazines and assault-style weapon bans. This flies in the face of mass shootings in America – 690 in 2021, 645 in 2022 and, so far in 2023, 520 mass shootings resulting in the deaths of 621 people and injuring 2,126 others. Mass shootings have occurred in all but a handful of states.
Guns for Cartels
In addition to arming ourselves, CBS News posted a special report indicating America-made, military-grade weapons are being smuggled into the hands of Mexican drug cartels at rates more appropriate for equipping an army.
U.S. government officials estimate 200,000 U.S.-made firearms reach cartels each year, They say half of them are smuggled from Texas, the state with the highest amount of reported gun ownership.
Mexico has strict gun laws and there is only one gun shop in the entire country. It’s on a military base.