Reasons for owning, getting into, carrying and shooting guns — topics of my first three posts about the Pew Research Center’s new report, Exploring America’s Complex Relationship with Guns — are good indicators of involvement in American gun culture. But in consulting with the Pew team as they were designing their survey, I also suggested questions that would get at other forms of active involvement in gun culture. (Some of these related to my recently published and freely available scholarly article on “The sociology of US gun culture.”)
How often people shoot their guns can be a measure of how central guns are to their lives and their connection to gun culture: “How often would you say you shoot guns?”
Pew asked a variant of this question: “How often, if ever, do you go shooting or to a gun range.” I’m not sure what the clause “or to a gun range” is supposed to specify beyond going shooting. In any event, Of people who guns, 52 to 53 percent say they go shooting or go to a range sometimes or often.
Interestingly, 18% of gun owners never go shooting or to a gun range. I wonder if some part of this group are hunting-only-hunters who distinguish in their mind between “shooting” and “hunting”? Also, although collectors immediately come to mind, some part of this group is probably also those who buy a gun for self-defense then stick it in their nightstand without ever shooting it and hope for the best.
How important is being a gun owner to your overall identity?
Pew asked a question I did not think of in terms of centrality, since it speaks more to self-identity than behavior, but which is nonetheless an interesting one: How important is being a gun owner to your overall identity? For half of gun owners, being a gun owner is somewhat or very important to their overall identity. The other half of gun owners say not too important or not important at all.
Or, looked at differently, of gun owners, only 20% say that being a gun owner is NOT AT ALL important to their overall identity. So, for most gun owners, being a gun owner matters to some extent. (And what is the overlap between these 20% not at all important to identity respondents and the 18% of gun owners who never shoot their guns?)
Also interesting is Pew’s observation, “Roughly equal shares of men and women who own guns say being a gun owner is very important to their identity” (p. 31). So, fewer women own guns than men, but for those who do, being a gun owner is as central to their identities as it is to men’s identities.
Other measures of involvement in gun culture could be:
- Consumption of gun-related new media: blogs, podcasts, Facebook pages, Twitter feeds
- Web 2.0/3.0 participation in on-line gun forums, Tweeting about guns, etc.
- Consumption of gun-related old media: magazines, radio programs (“Tom Gresham’s Gun Talk”), and TV programs (Outdoor Channel and Sportsmans Channel, especially).
- Participation in shooting matches (IDPA, USPSA, 3-Gun, precision rifle, target, skeet, trap, sporting clays)
- Recreational shooting or “plinking”
- Shooting range or gun club membership
- Attending gun shows
- Other gun related clubs like collector’s associations
- Participation in training or informational classes
- Political activism
I recommended alot of ways people can be actively involved in gun culture, and Pew did ask about many of them. I won’t report all their results here, there are different levels of engagement with different gun culture media, with TV programs and at the top (39% of gun owners often or sometimes watch) and online discussions forums at the bottom (just 10% of gun owners often or sometimes participate.
Someone who had more time and access to this data than I do could definitely do some interesting work identifying more fully people who are more central to gun culture in terms of the breadth and depth of their involvement, and those who are more peripheral.
Not everyone who happens to own a gun is an active participant in American gun culture, but there is a significant minority of the population of the United States today that is. Understanding them has been central to my mission here for the past 5 years and this Pew Research Center survey (limitations and all) adds some welcome insights into Americans and their guns.