Is it that time again already? Time to downplay the number of gun owners in the US in hopes of further marginalizing us? Apparently it is. The Washington Post ran an article yesterday intended to convince their readers that their ideas about gun ownership in the United States are all wrong.
Authors Mark Joslyn and Donald P. Haider-Markel concede that it’s devilishly difficult to get an accurate picture of the number of gun owners out there. Strangely enough, most gun owners are fairly hesitant to talk about the number of firearms they own — or if they own any at all — when asked by a stranger on the phone.
Undeterred, they then make the claim that despite the increased number of concealed carriers, NICS checks, and guns sold annually, gun ownership rates are far smaller than most people think. And they base their estimates on a survey the Post commissioned last year of 2,089 people.
But they get of to a rocky start, numerically speaking.
As some 70,000 people attended the NRA’s annual convention last week, nearly three months after the horrific school shooting in Parkland, Fla., the reignited national debate on guns seems to be at a stalemate.
But the discussion lacks some basic facts about guns in the United States. For example, how many people in the United States own a firearm? As with most gun issues, the answer is hotly disputed. Perhaps just as important, what do Americans believe to be the percentage of their fellow citizens who own guns — and will that increase or decrease in the coming years?
Our research finds that Americans substantially overestimate the gun-owner population — and that what they believe about gun ownership is related to what gun policies they support.
First, the NRA projected an attendance total of 80,000. Attendance has been over 80,000 for the last three meetings. In fact, the Dallas meeting had at total attendance of 87,154 members attending. The writers of the Post article didn’t have the actual numbers, because the attendance numbers were released yesterday, after their article was published. But there was no reason to believe the total would be lower than the last two years.
Everyone tends to see what they want to see. The authors of the Post article want to convince their readers that they have a drastically inflated idea of the number of gun owners out there. That the real number is much smaller than they think.
Americans believe that the United States has an extravagantly large gun-owner population. More than 40 percent of the public estimated that a majority of Americans own guns. About 18 percent think that 70 percent or more of Americans own guns.
And then they toss this out:
In reality, only about 25 percent of Americans own a gun.
They provide no source for that estimate. Pew and Gallup generally publicize self-reported numbers anywhere from about 32% to 44%. And again, those are self-reported, figures that no doubt significantly under-count the actual number.
But actually arguing with them about that is just delusional.
Of course, gun-rights advocates and opponents may continue to fight over these numbers. Research suggests that people who believe misinformation often resist correction.
Silly gun people.
But why is it so important to point out these over-inflated numbers in the mind of the public?
Because convincing people that there are really far fewer gun owners in the US than the think might then translate into reduced support for the Second Amendment. And because thinking there are more gun owners than there actually are might adversely affect attempts to pass more “common sense” gun control laws.
In the “post-truth” era, these exaggerated perceptions of gun ownership may make it easier for legislators to pass laws expanding gun rights. After all, if most constituents own a gun — and more will do so in the future — then supporting gun rights makes political sense. And these overestimates might even influence Americans’ beliefs about whether they themselves should buy a gun. After all, if you think most people own one, shouldn’t you be prepared as well?
See? All of you silly, numerically-challenged people have it all wrong.
Members of the public who see their friends and relatives buying guns in record numbers, who see more gun ranges being built, shooting clubs prospering, and the number of carry permits soaring, may have a better understanding of the dynamics involved than the authors of the article.
©2018 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.