Guns, guns, guns. America loves it some guns.
Fun-ish fact: There might be more civilian-owned guns in the United States than people. And we now know who owns them, thanks to a new study (still unpublished) by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern universities, as reported by the Guardian.
The shocking revelation: Half of the country’s 265 million firearms are owned by just 3% of Americans.
So who are these gun-loving neighbors? These Americans are referred to as "super-owners." There are 7.7 million of them—they're more likely to be white men—and each of them own between 8 and 140 guns. Here’s the Guardian’s Lois Beckett:
"Some super-owners are dedicated collectors with special rooms to display their assortment of historic firearms. Others are firearms instructors, gunsmiths, or competitive shooters, who need a variety of firearms in the course of work or competition. Some gun owners have a survivalist streak, and believe in storing up weapons, as well as food and water, in case of a disaster scenario. Others simply picked up a handgun here, a shotgun or hunting rifle there, and somehow ended up with dozens."
But this is no different than owning more than one pair of shoes, says President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League Philip van Cleave: "If you going hiking, you don’t want to use that one pair of high heels. Walking around the beach with shirt off and shorts … I’m probably going to use a different gun than putting on a sport coat and going out to dinner."
Van Cleave, firmly in the gun rights camp, makes a fair point—after all, you don’t hunt ducks with a pistol. But consider this: With a few exceptions, shoes are neither designed as deadly weapons nor used to kill. Just about every gun is. And guns take the lives of more than 12,000 Americans each year, including seven children each day. (And guns are involved in some of the 1,200 sneaker-related deaths in the U.S. each year.)
These minority super-owners share similarities with the typical gun owner in the United States, who the study found tended to be white, male, conservative, and living in rural areas. Military veterans make up 44% of all gun owners in the country—no surprise there.
The overall ownership numbers reveal that more than one-fifth (22%) of Americans own any sort of firearm. Those that do tend to own more than one gun and own more than one type—both a handgun and a long gun (like an AR-15 rifle). While gun-toting Americans are more likely to have grown up in a home that had both, they are less likely to be Hispanic or black, and almost three times less likely to be women.
Education and income play less of a factor in gun ownership. That said, the data in the study found that Americans with "some college" own the greatest percentage of guns ("less than high school" own the fewest) and that as income increases, so too does the likelihood of owning America’s favorite lethal weapon.
Researchers said that super-owners, like the majority of Americans, are likely to say they own own a gun for protection. But protection from what, exactly?
The United States "has grown dramatically safer and gun violence rates have plummeted," as Beckett reported. Plus, most American gun owners are white, but it’s black men who are 14 times more likely than white men to be murdered by a gun (and disproportionately by guns in the hands of police officers).
Also consider this: You’re 25 times more likely to be shot to death in America than in any other developed nation, as Co.Exist has previously reported. And that the mere presence of a gun increases the chance a woman in a domestic violence situation will be murdered by 500%. Related: In an average month, 51 women are shot to death by a former husband or boyfriend.
Perhaps our easy access to guns creates at least part of this problem. And that’s why this study is so important.
"It’s a fundamental building block for gun research," Duke University researcher Philip Cook told The Trace. "And in a variety of ways, having this baseline information is going to inform research and policy development. It’s essential that we have accurate and up-to-date information."
And for the past 20 years, accurate and up-to-date information hasn’t been widely available. Because the NRA, and its five million incredibly vocal members (whose collective message is very simply ‘no gun control no matter what’), has blocked CDC-funded gun violence research. In a way, hundreds of millions of regular, everyday, law-abiding Americans are being held hostage by a relatively small group of gun owners.
Fear not, gun owners, no government agency nor SWAT team will be kicking down your door to take your guns. In 2008, the Supreme Court held in a 5-4 decision that the Second Amendment protects your right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia. And also to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, "such as self-defense within the home." But it’s important that we have the data to help us understand exactly what it means to live in a society with so many firearms. Another study, for instance, found that 25% of gun owners keep their firearm loaded in the home, and too often within reach of children. And, tragically, 62% of firearm deaths in the U.S. are suicides.
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