A surprising look at who owns guns in America

By Isaac Simon


With April 20 marking the 16th anniversary of the Columbine shootings, it makes sense to discuss the state of gun violence and ownership in the United States.

The most recent discussion of gun violence has focused on the use of guns against people of color – in particular, police gun violence against African Americans. In light of recent events, one would assume that people of color would feel the need to own guns as a form of protection.

However, this is not the case.

Gun ownership does not mirror gun victimization. According to a Pew Research study conducted last July, 19 percent of African Americans say they own a firearm as opposed to 41 percent of whites. The reasons for this disparity may be complex but it appears that whites feel more vulnerable and in need of greater security than minorities.

Geography plays a role in these numbers, as well. Fifty-one percent of people who live in rural areas own guns as opposed to 25 percent of people who live in cities, according to the same study. The irony here is that crime takes place far more often in cities than in the countryside or small towns. However, the presence of violence in the inner cities has not prompted those citizens to buy guns.

Perhaps people in rural areas are more likely to own guns because they are wary of the government, believing that it is not there to guarantee rights so much as take them away. Perhaps it is because they live at a distance from law enforcement – a call to 911 in the countryside might result in a 20-minute wait for the police to show up.

However, I suggest urban dwellers are less likely to own guns because they more regularly interact with strangers.

City people ride the subway, take the bus and walk the streets every day next to strangers without incident. This builds a trust between people who do not know each other and makes them far less likely to believe they must be carrying a weapon at all times.

I couldn’t think of a more dangerous environment than a crowded, compact area like a subway car in which everyone is carrying a concealed weapon. Rural white Americans may be fearful of others because they just don’t cross paths with as many different types of people. Perhaps they fear, then, what they don’t know.

After shootings like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, gun purchases increased. This wasn’t because anyone thinks more guns at home would prevent another mass shooting nor did it mean people feel their lives are at greater risk. After a school shooting, politicians revisit the debate over gun control and this motivates some citizens to buy more guns for fear that the government will impose new restrictions on gun ownership.

It appears for now that gun control is off the table with Congress by the Republicans. What we know is that guns are big business and efforts to prevent the next mass shooting are going to have to confront the powerful corporations and lobbyists who profit from the right to bear arms.

Isaac Simon is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]