Who Owns Most of the Guns? “The Base!”

It’s a research finding that is startling but not really surprising (per a report from NBC’s Maggie Fox):

A new study aimed at figuring out who owns gun in the United States and why suggests that about a third of Americans have at least one.

Most are white males over the age of 55, and a “gun culture” is closely linked with ownership, the team at Columbia University reports.

The study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, is one of several trying to pin down the number of gun owners in the United States. No agency keeps statistics on gun ownership and many pro-gun activists advocate keeping gun ownership private because of fears about potential future laws that might take guns away.

Yeah, well, if you really buy into the idea that good people like us need to stockpile weapons in case we need to overthrow a tyrannical socialist regime supported by those people, then I guess you want to present a moving target, eh? But I digress. The study also even less surprisingly shows a geographical gulf in gun ownership:

[Gun ownership percentages ranged] from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 61.7 percent in Alaska,” they wrote in their report. “Gun ownership was 2.25 times greater among those reporting social gun culture than those who did not,” they added.

In the Northeast, gun ownership rates ranged from 5.8 percent in Rhode Island to 28.8 percent in Vermont.

In the Midwest, rates ranged from 19.6 percent in Ohio to 47.9 percent in North Dakota. In the South and mid-Atlantic, rates ranged from 5.2 percent in Delaware to 57.9 percent in Arkansas. And in the West, California had the lowest rate of gun ownership at 20 percent, while nearly 62 percent of Alaskans said they had a gun.

Now this rural habit of disproportionate gun ownership is often related to the opportunity for and interest in hunting, and of a “gun culture” (to use the Columbia report’s terminology) in which social life revolves around gun-related activities. Both these factors are undoubtedly important. But there is something more basic than that: isolation. The first time in my life I really thought about owning a gun was one night when I was awakened at 2:00 AM in my central Virginia home at the end of a two-mile dirt road by approaching–and then extinguished–headlights. At that moment, I wasn’t real confident in the safety offered by a baseball bat, a Bichon Frise, and police officers who were at least 30 minutes away.

On the other hand, even then I didn’t really want an assault rifle, and I would have probably regretted firing hundreds of rounds at that parked car which in the end probably contained teenagers messing around or smoking pot.

Putting aside for a moment geography or the objective advisability of owning some sort of gun for self-protection, there is something fundamentally disquieting about the fact that the Americans most likely to own guns are also the Americans most likely to embrace a political rationale for gun ownership and most likely to believe they’re getting outvoted by people who don’t share their values. Somewhere in these overlapping circles is a hard core of dangerous folks who are being told constantly by Republican politicians that they are losing or have already lost their most fundamental rights. And this is why political extremism is a bad thing even if its devotees lose most elections.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.