Why Some Gun Owners Are X, But Most Are Not

Out of respect for the confidentiality of the scholarly peer review process, I was not going to write publicly about a manuscript I received from an academic journal for review. But after I posted on Twitter alluding to the paper’s title, one of the authors immediately outed himself, so I feel OK writing this post.

I was recently asked to review an article titled, “Understanding Gun Ownership in the Twenty-First Century: Why Some Americans Own Guns, But Most Do Not.”

The title struck me as oddly formulated and suggestive of a potential anti-gun bias on the part of the authors. (According to the author who replied to my Tweet, at least some of the authors of the paper are defensive gun owners, so I could very well have been wrong there.)

Because of my visceral negative response, I declined to review the paper because I did not know if I could objectively review it. After I declined the review, I Tweeted: Imagine being asked to review a manuscript titled: “Understanding LGBTQ Individuals in the Twenty-First Century: Why Some Americans are Queer, But Most Are Not.”

My hypothetical title is perhaps not the best example insofar as gun ownership is social while sexuality is both biological and social. But I thought it highlighted the point that there are many things that social scientists study that a minority of people do, but rarely is this highlighted in the title in this way.

Upon reflection, I thought of a number of titles that scholars who study guns could use based on this model:

  • Why Some Gun Owners Commit Suicide, But Most Do Not
  • Why Some Gun Owners Commit Murder, But Most Do Not
  • Why Some Gun Owners are Insurrectionists, But Most Are Not
  • Why Some Americans Say They Will Never Own Guns, But Most Do Not

The possibilities are endless and I am definitely going to use this formulation as the title to an article or book chapter sooner rather than later.

FWIW, the author who outed himself (Justin Pickett) did so by Tweeting the abstract for his paper, which you can see in the image below. The longer I think about this, the more I find myself drawn to this approach. The question is not only why some Americans own guns, but what deters those who don’t own guns from becoming gun owners? I fully expect this paper to be published eventually, and will look forward to reading it when it is.


  1. Understanding scientists in the 21st Century. Why some Americans get Ph.D.s, but most do not….

    Do(es) the author(s) mean childhood socialization to gun ownership? Certainly that shirt fits me, having grown up in a house festooned with guns, reloading equipment, and which sometimes reeked of melting lead or gun cleaning solvent (probably why my IQ is so low). So to me, to steal David’s phrase, “Guns are normal, and normal people own guns”. Well, I don’t claim to be normal.

    But the other variable, “moral concern about harming others” has me scratching my head. What does that mean?

    –That by owning guns, I am part of, or give financial support to, that a gun industry that is accused of being responsible for “gun violence”? That would go to a “boycott industry X” idea, which seems to be in vogue. I walked out of an REI as they stopped selling Giro and Bell bike helmets because those two brands were part of a conglomerate that also makes guns and REI members demanded a boycott.Bought my new MIPS helmet at a local bike shop.

    –That I might harm, i.e., shoot someone simply because I own a gun? Sort of the idea that the trigger pulls the finger? People are perhaps reading too much David Hemenway. My main moral concern with not harming others is to ensure my shit is securely stored so there is a minimal danger of it falling into the wrong hands and then misused. But like my car ownership, my car operation doesn’t perforce mean I will drive drunk or recklessly. Self defense is fair game, just as driving myself to the doctor’s office.

    I’ve forsworn a few things for moral or social good. Don’t eat meat or fish and minimize dairy so I don’t support a non-sustainable and at times animal-abusive food industry. Got a smaller house to cut down on my energy consumption. Bike or walk to local destinations to cut my carbon footprint. Drive the speed limit in the city and put the cell phone in the glove box. But my guns? FROM MY COLD, DEAD, HANDS, MOFOS!!!!!

    (have a nice day!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. There’s a practical difference between the two. Childhood socialization by definition means that, whatever you may “feel” about guns and decide about ownership, it will be a reasoned position based on actual personal experience with guns. Absent the stat outliers of growing up with a criminal or careless parent/elder, that experience will at best be neutral.

    Conversely, “moral concern about harming others” is a position that I would say can only (with stat noise exceptions) come about absent personal experience with guns. Only when they are mysterious “othered” things.

    People who gain personal experience with firearms later in life, without childhood socialization, may have all sorts of reasons for choosing not to own guns, but they will be practical and reasoned, not just emotionally based on “what I ‘might’ do.”


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