A famous characteristic of Hollywood action movies, guns have long been an integral part of the United States history and culture, from the Civil War era till now. One third of United States citizens personally own a gun, while 43 percent say that they live with someone who owns a gun. Out of the gun-owning population, 74 percent feels that having a gun is essential to maintaining their personal sense of freedom.
The majority of gun owners live in social settings where owning guns is the norm, with many of their friends and neighbors also owning guns. They are also more likely to engage in gun sports, such as hunting or going to shooting ranges, if the people around them similarly engage in these activities. In a poll, 66 percent of gun owners said that they could never imagine themselves not owning a gun.
In contrast, those who do not own guns are more likely to have friends who also do not own guns, and they are less likely to believe that guns are important to maintaining one’s personal freedom.
Many Americans have had plenty of exposure to guns even if they personally do not own a gun or live with someone who does. Among those who have never owned a gun, 55 percent have fired one before. Additionally, a decent number of Americans are no stranger to the danger that gun violence brings, with nearly half personally knowing someone who has been shot at. News concerning fatal gun shootings are commonly on the headlines, causing gun ownership to be one of the most hotly contested policies in the United States. While citizens tend to agree on other constitutional rights such as freedom of speech, freedom of religion, the right to vote and the right to privacy, opinions are more divided when it comes to gun rights.
Guns have been around in America throughout the colonial era, first for hunting, then for protection. In several colonies, it was a law that heads of households owned guns, and all able-bodied men had to enroll in the militia and keep personal firearms. Some colonies required at least one adult man from every house to carry a gun to any public meetings, even to church, for the purpose of safeguarding the firearms, protecting against attacks by Native Americans, and safeguard against “insurrections and other wicked attempts of Negroes and other Slaves”, according to a 1743 South Carolina law. Guns were sometimes also a requirement for immigrants to own land.
As such, guns quickly became a part of Americans’ lives, carrying on to the bill of rights. The Second Amendment gained final ratification in 1791, where it allowed the right to “keep and bear arms”. For more than two hundred years, guns were then sold freely over the counter and mailed on order to just about any adult in the country, without requirements for a permit or background checks of any sort.
However, when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, gun control became a bigger issue and people started to voice their concerns about the lack of control over gun ownership.
Several demographic factors have been noticed among the gun-owning population. For one, white men are the most likely to own a gun than women and non-white men, with 48 percent of white men owning a gun, compared to 24 percent of white women, 24 percent of non-white men, and 16 percent of non-white women.
Region also plays a part in the concentration of gun ownership. Adults in rural areas are more likely than those in urban or suburban areas to own a gun, and also more likely to use the gun for hunting purposes. Of all the regions in the country, the Northeast has the lowest number of gun owners.
Another factor is education level. Those with at most high school education are more likely to own a gun than those with education beyond the high school level, especially among white people. Gun owners are also more inclined to view that their possession of firearms is central to their personal identity if they have a lower education level.
Gun ownership is also split across political ideology, with Republican-identified Americans having the highest percentage of gun ownership at 45 percent. 40 percent of those who self-identify as conservative own a gun, with moderates at 28 percent and liberals at 18 percent.
Today, two thirds of gun owners report that they own a gun for personal protection. Other reasons include hunting, sport shooting, gun collecting or for their job, but the percentages of these people are significantly less, with hunting being the second most popular reason at 38 percent.
Additionally, the reasons for gun ownership vary based on demographic groups. For instance, women were more likely to state that they own a gun solely for protection, while higher numbers of men reported that they engaged in hunting or gun sports. A higher percentage of men, especially young men, also regularly consumed media involving guns.
One’s opinion towards gun ownership can be heavily influenced by their background while growing up. The majority of those who do own guns were exposed to guns from an early age, likely from growing up in a gun-owning household. In fact, the men who grew up with guns in their household first shot a gun when they were 12 years old on average. For women, this age was 17. Naturally, those who grew up being exposed to gun ownership and hobbies involving guns are more likely to support the right to own guns.
Gun control is heavily debated in the United States. Although the right to obtain and use a gun is declared constitutional in the Second Amendment, the United States is known for its high homicide-by-firearm rate, the top among all developed countries. In 2017 alone, there were almost 40,000 casualties relating to gun violence, including murders and suicides. We frequently see reports of gun shootings in the United States, but there are really many more incidents that simply go unreported because they have become an everyday occurrence.
Sadly, gun violence has claimed the lives of not just gun owners, but also children and even toddlers. In a recent surge in gun violence, some cases include the death of 19-month-old Ace Lucas in Canton, Ohio, while his twin brother was severely injured. In New York City, a one-year-old was shot in the stomach at a family cookout and later died at a hospital. Both of these incidents involved armed people simply walking up and firing at unarmed innocents, without a clear motive.
Half of Americans have called for stricter control of gun ownership in view of frequent gun violence, although this view is again divided among political ideologies. While the majority of Democrats think that gun control should be stricter, 49 percent of Republicans think that gun laws are about right, with an additional 20 percent believing that the gun laws should be less strict. Proposals to loosen gun control include allowing teachers and school officials to carry guns in K-12 schools.
Gun control remains one of America’s greatest controversies, with its prevalence in the country difficult to undermine. At this point, one might ask the question: if other countries have been protected without gun ownership among civilians, why not America?
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