Pi Attitude Zone: Flexibility

“Gun Nuts” Mostly Not So Nuts

If you want to know what America’s so-called “gun nuts” actually think, try not to listen to the National Rifle Association.  The NRA professes to “protect fundamental American freedoms”.  Its comportment suggests otherwise.  What makes the NRA leadership tick seems to be (a) strong-arming America’s political agenda towards the extreme right, and (b) protecting the profits of armaments firms, whose contributions to NRA lobbying funds perpetuate the organization’s political influence.  The NRA’s agenda is about money and power, not constitutional freedoms.

But is it reasonable to assume, as many Europeans do, that American gun ownership in itself signals some kind of collective mental aberration?  The truth is much more complex and nuanced.  The attitudes of those collectively dismissed as “gun nuts” are worth a cooler and fairer examination. 

The USA has the world’s highest rate of gun-ownership, yet most Americans do not own a gun.  Most who do own more than one.  Gun-owning households have declined since the early 1970s, when around half had at least one firearm.  By 2010, the percentage was down to around one home in five, with a growing bias away from urban communities.  Hunting as a sport is declining.

Each year in America, some 100,000 people are killed or wounded with guns. One in three Americans knows someone who has been shot.  Some react by blaming widespread availability of deadly weapons.  Others treat gun-owning as a justifiable expression of responsible citizenship, a defensive reaction to inadequate police protection.  Guns represent power for people who feel they have no other recourse. Gun-owner courses teach “the safe and efficient use of [guns] for protection of self and family” and “the right to self-defense”.   For them, it’s about safety, not “individual freedom”.

Indeed, gun owners seem less critical of gun safety regulations than the NRA’s leadership.  In a 2009 poll, mandatory checks on purchasers at gun shows were supported by 85% of non-NRA gun owners, and a remarkable 69% who were NRA members.  Safety first.

The peculiar thing is the uncritical esteem in which the NRA continues to be held by ordinary Americans.  A January 2013 poll found 54% maintaining a favorable view of the NRA, higher than in 2000.  During those 13 years gun massacres like the 2012 murder of schoolchildren in Connecticut have proliferated.  After each such incident, gun sales have risen.  Gun control legislation is again being debated, and NRA membership has grown.  These counter-intuitive trends suggest there is something deeper at work here than just pressure-group rhetoric about “the right to bear arms”.  As to the now-redundant “hunting defense”, Pulitzer-prize-winning author Garry Wills summed it up: “One does not bear arms against a rabbit”.

Pi says: look for deeper attitudes to explain American gun-ownership today.  Everything is about something else.

Zone: Flexibility Country: USA / North America Product – Communications