Spend much time talking to gun control advocates—particularly on Twitter, where the hashtag #gunsense chums the waters—and you’ll hear the claim that gun owners are white, straight, male, Christian, Republican, uneducated, and old. There are a variety of references to anatomy as well, but let’s keep this family-friendly. The implication being made is that gun ownership is a part of the past, something to be left behind with segregation and patriarchy.
Those of us who support gun rights need to address these claims, both to broaden perceptions about who we are, but more importantly to grow the community.
First, consider the demographics. The Pew Research Center, reporting on the results of the General Social Survey conducted by the University of Chicago in 2012, puts the percentage of Americans who own guns at roughly one quarter. The Gallup organization finds 47% of our households own a firearm, while the GSS reports 37%. There is some difficulty in these numbers, since it’s a common theme among gun owners to say that they won’t tell a random stranger on the telephone about their guns, but at a minimum, these surveys show that one in four Americans own a gun and somewhere between a third and a half of households do as well.
The finer details of the numbers challenge parts of the stereotype presented above. Three times as many men as women own guns in terms of percentage of the population, and twice as many whites as blacks do. While ownership in the south is certainly higher than the northeast, though close to other parts of the country, rural gun owners outnumber urban owners by two to one.
Somewhat fewer Americans ages 18 – 29 own guns, but the ownership rate rises to around a quarter to 30% for other ages. This datum is concerning, but shouldn’t be alarming, since these days, getting ready for adult life takes much longer than decades ago. There is good news here. According to a survey done in 2013 by American University, 60% of high school and college students are considering owning a gun in the future, though they have concerns that will need to be addressed regarding fears of gun violence.
In terms of politics, Republicans do own guns at a higher rate than Democrats, though about a third of the latter group have firearms–a sizable number. The claim that gun owners are uneducated exposes smugness on the part of the gun control advocate, but the numbers don’t support their attitude, since among all levels of education, about a quarter own guns.
Now why do all these numbers matter? They show where we stand and what we have to do. We stand on shifting ground shared by the demographic changes in America generally. The focus of society is less white, less male—in fact, less traditional in many ways.
And that fact is something we have to accept. More than that, we should gladly accept it. Because if we tie our rights to one group only, we’ll survive only for a season. No group remains in the ascendency forever. If rights are seen as being the concern or privilege of some people but not everyone, they’re no safer than planks in a political platform.
Colion Noir is the star of the NRA’s outreach to minorities, and his social media skills are exactly what we need in a world where the up-and-coming generations more and more get their understanding of life online. An illustration of what we need to be doing here is shown in a Los Angeles Times article about Noir that recounts a white NRA member, aged fifty-nine, who shook Noir’s hand at a convention and said, “You seem like someone I’d like to go shoot with.”
And that’s the way to do it—make a personal connection. Groups like Pink Pistols and Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership are important, as are the NRA’s programs to include women, but organizations are only as good as the persons—each one of us—that the public associates with them.
This means going outside our circles where we may be comfortable. It may mean that we have to reach out to people with whom we disagree, even on fundamental issues. But what the demographics show is that while women, blacks, gays, and liberals are not traditionally gun owners, at least some are open to joining our community. If we play into the perception that owning guns is something only what one group does—white, male Republicans—we’ll lose new supporters of gun rights.
This isn’t a call to change who you are or what you believe. My point here is to encourage my readers to open up the culture. A person’s sex, religion, race, orientation, whether to politics or relationships, and so forth tells us nothing about that person’s willingness to defend and participate in rights. People who will join us are our friends and compatriots, no matter how much we differ about things that don’t relate to guns. Don’t let differences or a lack of familiarity close you off to those who can be with us, not against us. Broaden the tent, and welcome in anyone who will join us.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of Guns.com.