Guns Are Normal, Normal People Use Guns

My involvement in gun culture has profoundly shifted my perspective on guns and gun owners.

Several years into my transition to gun owner and scholar, I was a guest on my fellow North Carolinian Sean Sorrentino’s GunBlog VarietyCast (since retired). Sean and I spoke about my background and project, and problems with academics’ dominant approaches to studying guns. When he asked me at the end for my big takeaway, I said something that turned out to be more significant than I expected.

The thing that has surprised me most about getting into gun culture these past 6 or 7 years is that gun owners are people, too. If you just read the scholarly literature on guns, you would not know that.

I have expressed this view in my own scholarly publications on guns, and over the years I have further refined this perspective into a sort of motto:

Guns are normal, and normal people use guns.

I first used this exact phrase during my address at the National Firearms Law Seminar and now sell t-shirts with the phrase to raise funds to support my research on gun culture.

The problem is normality is not newsworthy. It is not of concern to social scientists. It is even hard for me at times to write in an interesting way about something that is unremarkable. And yet it is my dominant experience of guns and gun owners.

Photo by Robin Lindner/RLI Media

The reality that guns are a perfectly normal part of life for a large part of the U.S. population can be seen in a comprehensive survey released by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center in 2017.

To begin with, a majority of the population currently lives with a gun in their house or has in the past, and a sizeable minority – what I call the “gun curious” – have thought about or are actively considering acquiring a gun.

Only about one-third of Americans say they do not and will never own guns, but we have seen during the Great Gun Buying Spree of 2020+ that even those “No-Nevers” can change their minds.

Pew finds a remarkable 7 out of 10 American adults have actually fired a gun at some point in their lives—that is nearly 180 million people. Viewed the other way around: A minority of American adults has never shot a gun.

New shooter at class field trip to gun range. Photo by Robin Lindner/RLI Media

No one knows what proportion of the U.S. population actually owns guns. As with religion, the federal government does not keep official records or collect statistics on gun ownership. So, we depend on surveys conducted by organizations like Gallup, the Pew Research Center, National Opinion Research Center, and others. These surveys not only produce different estimates, but they also underestimate gun ownership rates. My educated guess is that 40% of adults, more than 90 million civilians, own the 400+ million guns in the US.

On any given day, the vast majority of America’s tens of millions of gun owners will not have any negative outcomes associated with their hundreds of millions of guns. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, in 2018 there were 13,958 homicides using firearms. Even using the faulty assumption that a different person committed every homicide using a different gun, a mere 0.015% of gun-owners and 0.0035% of guns are involved in firearms homicides annually.

Looked at the other way around, at least 99.985% of gun owners and 99.996% of guns are NOT involved in homicide in any given year.

Even if we add suicides (24,432 in 2018), accidental deaths (438 in 2018), and non-fatal firearms injuries (84,776 in 2017), only 0.132% of gun owners and 0.031% of guns at most are “responsible.”

At least 99.87% of gun owners and 99.969% of guns are NOT associated with any of these negative outcomes. (Corrected, H/T Tim)

Without trivializing the direct and indirect effects of serious mistakes and negative outcomes with firearms, the perspective that guns are normal inverts the typical questions social scientists ask about guns: As dangerous as guns are, why are there so FEW negative outcomes with guns in general?

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17 comments

  1. I see your, “Buy me a coffee,” and raise you “Sell me a coffee cup.” 😉

    I don’t wear a lot of t-shirts, and seldom logo tees. I need a mug with the slogan on it.

    As always, thank you for your work, Professor.

    Like

  2. Hi David,
    Shouldn’t the line:
    Fewer than 99.87% of gun owners and 99.969% of guns are associated with any of these negative outcomes.
    Actually be something like:
    More than 99.87% of gun owners and 99.969% of guns are NOT associated with any of these negative outcomes.

    Like

      • All of my podcasts were turned into YouTube videos. Not only that, they still exist on the Assorted Calibers Podcast feed. ACP merely took over my podcast feed so that anyone who was still subscribed to my podcast started getting theirs. That allowed all our old podcasts to stay online at Libsyn. Your episode is available here…

        https://directory.libsyn.com/episode/index/show/gunblogvarietycast/id/5933563

        You can download the audio as an MP3 and save it if you want to.

        Liked by 2 people

      • I missed this somehow. The last I remember was you saying the podcast was going away so save what you want. But maybe I misinterpreted that or am remembering it wrong.

        Like

      • I did say that. Erin corrected me on the YouTube side, but I really expected the podcasts to disappear. The only reason they still exist online is that ACP took over the podcast feed.

        Also, you may get an email from Stephen Gutowski from The Reload about being a guest on his podcast. He says he’s heard of you and thinks you would be a good guest. He does long form interviews of about 45 minutes.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Professor Yamane,
    I became aware of you via Andy Langlois, a long time associate, and have just today received my copy of your book. As lifelong gun owner, hunter, and security professional I’m intrigued by your approach to the topic of American gun ownership.
    Your statistics make it clear that the vast majority of gun owners are law abiding, but your statistics raise a few questions.
    Are the “non-fatal firearms injuries (84,776)” due to attempted suicide, accident, crime, or all causes?
    I don’t know if firearm-related property damage – deliberate, let alone accidental – is tracked by anyone as its own category. I suspect not, except perhaps when firearms are used in high profile hate crime vandalism.
    Do your numbers include persons who use firearms during violent crimes that do not result in homicide or injury?
    Are gun thieves, stolen gun traffickers, and professional straw purchasers featured in your data set? Prohibited possessors? Minors?
    Adding such details might or might not change the statistics, but they would help round out the narrative.
    Depending on the impact of such adjustments, it seems the threat of violent crime as the primary impetus of Gun Culture 2.0 – self defense – has been massively oversold.
    Respectfully,
    Michael

    Liked by 2 people

    • The reference to “According to the National Center for Health Statistics…” answers some of your questions. Also known as CDC WISQARS.

      https://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/nonfatal.html

      Non fatal firearm injuries include all causes.

      To get Non-injury criminal use you have to go to the FBI and NCVS crime and victimization reports, but “Aggravated Assault” and Robbery can include injuries and non-injurious uses. Off the top of my head I don’t know if they break them out. I’ve been out of school a long time.

      To get general data sources of firearms used in crime you have to go to BJS Prison surveys and similar work at the local level, like the Cook County (Chicago) jail survey of a few years back. But that isn’t something necessarily tracked by law enforcement on a case by case basis, and is not nationally reported regardless.

      Property damage is going to be statistical noise, firearms can’t do much real damage to solid objects.

      The general risk of being a victim of violent crime is low for most persons, given the concentration of such within known demographics, but that isn’t the point. It is balancing act between the costs of preparing to defend yourself, which are fairly low, and the high cost of being defenseless if lightning does strike.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Tom Givens, whom David has interviewed, has good information he’s gleaned about the realistic odds of being involved in a violent crime. I’d refer you back to those interviews. And as Tom likes to say, but I’m not sure he originated it, “It’s not the odds, it’s the stakes”

      Liked by 2 people

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