There’s an interesting shift concerning Americans’ attitudes toward guns and gun control. Pew Research Center, a Washington, D.C. think tank that tracks attitudes on social issues, public opinion and demographic trends updated their research on guns.
Gun ownership is rising and the appetite for gun control is waning at the same time. Background checks for gun sales topped 21 million in 2020, shattering previous records. So far, 2021 has seen over 12.4 million background checks, on pace for what could be the second strongest year on record.
Gun Ownership Growing
Those figures are punctuated by skyrocketing numbers of first-time gun buyers. NSSF retailer surveys last year indicated that as much as 40 percent of gun sales went to those purchasing their first firearm, or 8.4 million in 2020. Another survey released just last week by NSSF delved into gun sales in 2021, and as much as 33.2 percent, or 3.2 million people, bought a gun for the very first time in the first six months of 2021.
Even Pew Research Center recognized the trends. Pew’s latest gun surveys show firearm ownership is remaining steady with 40 percent of American households reporting a firearm in the home, including 30 percent who report personally owning a firearm. Still, there’s reason to be cautious of these anonymous surveys.
The firearm industry believes these figures might be underreported. Many gun owners self-select out of these anonymous surveys for concerns of privacy or being targeted for harassment or even crime. Firearm ownership is an intensely personal right and firearms owners have valid concerns that speaking openly if firearm ownership could expose them to ostracizing protests like being doxed. Newspapers have published names and addresses of concealed carry permit holders and politicians continually call for national gun registries. It is understandable that gun owners are reluctant to self-report the guns locked in their safes.
NSSF reports there are at least 434 million firearms in circulation. NSSF reports there are over 20 million Modern Sporting Rifles (MSRs), or AR-15 style rifles, are in circulation. They are the most-popular selling centerfire rifle in America today.
Personal Safety Concerns
Pew’s findings about the reasons for gun ownership match what NSSF uncovered. Most people are buying guns for personal protection. NSSF found the same results in the 2020 retail surveys. More than half the firearms sold in any typical year are handguns and that held true during the record-breaking 2020 buying surge. Handguns are primarily used for two purposes, with some minor exceptions.
Handguns excel as firearms used for protection in the home or for concealed carry use. The other purpose is recreational target shooting. These aren’t the types of firearms that are commonly used for hunting. There are exceptions for big and small game handgun hunters, but those are the minority. Handguns certainly would be poor performers of they were used for bird hunting. The numbers of people reporting buying firearms for personal safety and the number of handguns being sold goes hand-in-hand.
Fewer Want More Gun Control
As Americans are taking ownership of their Second Amendment rights, the appetite for stricter gun control is fading. Pew Research Center referenced an April survey that showed 53 percent of those surveyed wanted stricter gun controls. That’s down from the high of 60 percent, recorded in the wake of tragic murders in Parkland, Fla. Pew also reported that 48 percent of Americans viewed “gun violence” as a very big problem, which also underscores why record numbers of Americans are buying firearms for protection.
Pew’s surveys also show Americans are split when it comes to the idea that stricter gun control would reduce the tragic mass murder events that have rocked the nation. That’s understandable when the facts of these instances are examined more closely. The first crime the murderer in Newtown, Conn., committed was stealing his mother’s firearm, before murdering her as she slept and committing his heinous acts. The accused murderer in Parkland had multiple police interactions, including an instance when he allegedly put a gun to mother’s head. That alone would have made him a prohibited individual. The school and even the FBI was warned he was a threat, and the FBI later admitted it didn’t act on a tip. The murderer in Sutherland Springs, Texas, was prohibited from possessing a firearm through at least three determining factors; he was dishonorably discharged from the U.S. Air Force; he was convicted of domestic violence in a military court-martial; and he was involuntarily committed to a mental health facility. Like Parkland, authorities failed to properly act. His criminal and mentally-disqualifying records were never submitted to the FBI.
These are glaring examples of where more laws weren’t needed, but enforcement of existing laws were needed. The failure of law enforcement and military authorities to act when they were required resulted in tragic murders.
That’s why the firearm industry has been devoted to promoting Real Solutions. That includes changes made to state and federal laws, through the FixNICS® initiative to ensure all disqualifying records are submitted so those who shouldn’t possess firearms don’t get their hands on them.
These attitudes are more commonly shared today. Gun ownership is growing and Americans are increasingly demanding laws that protect their rights and hold criminals responsible.
Larry Keane is the senior vice-president for government and public affairs, assistant secretary and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation.