OSD 115: Things are going better than you thought

Gun rights have been getting more popular for 25+ years.

There’s a saying in data analysis that “one’s a dot, two’s a line, and three’s a trend.” That’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it hints at something useful: trends are a lot more informative than snapshots. What a number looks like today is interesting. But knowing how that number is changing over time is a lot more useful.

Which brings us to polls. The reporting on public opinion polls centers on snapshots, but that’s the least interesting thing about them. How the answers evolve over the years is the interesting thing, and that’s especially interesting when the topic is guns.

Two new polls have come out over the past week or so. The first, from ABC and the Washington Post, showed:

Americans overall are less supportive of new gun control legislations than they were just three years ago. People between the ages of 18-29 saw the sharpest decline in backing for new weapons laws, with fewer than half now saying new legislation is needed to reduce the risk of future mass shootings or to block "red flag" buyers.

In April 2018, the last time the ABC/Washington Post survey was conducted on this issue, 65 percent of these young Americans said they support gun control laws. That percentage is now 45.

The preference for enacting new gun laws aimed at reducing firearm violence has dropped by 7 percent overall since the last corresponding survey was conducted in April 2018. Percentage drops were seen in nearly every demographic divide. In that time period, 20 percent of Hispanics pulled back from supporting new gun laws, falling to 50 percent. An increase in rural Americans also now say they want no new gun restrictions, down 17 points to 30 percent.

That’s 20% drops in support for gun control among both young people and Hispanics.

A recent poll from Pew showed a similar trend.

It turns out this is nothing new. The trend has been pointed this way for nearly 30 years. Last week we excerpted a short section of our “Gun rights are winning and nobody has realized it” piece, but with this cluster of new polls, it’s worth a longer excerpt:

Gallup has decades worth of polling data on guns. And when you zoom out, the signal is clear: we are in the middle of a multi-decade decline in support for gun control, with occasional temporary upticks after a mass shooting.

The Pew Research Center has polling data going back to 1993. The question: “What do you think is more important — to protect the right of Americans to own guns, or to control gun ownership?” In all the graphs below, the solid lines are for “Protect gun rights” and the faded lines are for “Control gun ownership”.

Short-term fluctuations notwithstanding, that’s a long-term secular trend towards gun rights and away from gun control. What if we don’t average everyone’s attitudes together? What if we segment responses by, say, gender?

Same trend for women and men — more support for gun rights, less for gun control. How about slicing by age group?

Same trend across all age groups. Young people’s movement on this has been particularly pronounced. Until the mid-2000’s, they were significantly less supportive of gun rights and more supportive of gun control than older age groups were. In the past decade, that gap has vanished.

There’s been some interesting writing on this subject in the past 1-2 years:

(Side note: both articles attempt to map gun control and gun rights onto a vanilla left-right political axis. That binary model is increasingly useless at describing real people’s cultural and political beliefs, so the articles end up flummoxed and describe the polling as confusing or contradictory. The better explanation is that it’s badly outdated to think that gun rights are right-wing and gun control is left-wing. Assuming that gun rights supporters are all right-wingers is naturally going to be confusing, because it doesn’t match reality.)

Okay, how about slicing by race?

Almost the same trend across all three races in the polling sample, with the exception that the trend is roughly flat among Hispanics. How about slicing by education level?

Same trend. How about slicing by political affiliation?

Democrats’ trend is roughly flat, maybe a touch towards “control gun ownership”, and all other lines follow the trend in the other graphs. Pew has a lot more of these, so let’s just do one more and end it: let’s slice by whether people have guns in the house.

Even among people who don’t own guns, there is a multi-decade trend towards gun rights.

The NSSF estimates that 8.4 million Americans became first-time gun owners in 2020. On a base of 67 million gun owners, that means one in eight gun owners today became a gun owner within the past year-and-change. The multi-decade polling trend was already established before that massive influx of newbies. These new polls are just a hint at the next gear that the 2020 influx has kicked things into.

We often say that to make people cool with gun rights, all you have to do is help them learn about guns. Once people are familiar with this stuff, they’re overwhelmingly supportive. Well, 8.4 million people signed up to get familiar, all on their own. Welcome aboard.


This week’s links

Scott from Kentucky Ballistics: “My .50 cal exploded”

He walks through the details of the accident and explains how his and his dad’s quick actions saved his life. Ian from Forgotten Weapons followed up with a technical breakdown of what causes guns to explode. Mark Serbu, whose company manufactures the gun that exploded, put out a good video with his reaction to the incident and some next steps.

Ghost blunderbuss

Why be a pirate when you can be a ghost pirate?

Gun Curious on the history of carry laws

Detailed breakdown from Prof. David Yamane.

“The cult of the EDC concealment pistol weaponlight”

I carry weaponlights daily. I have zero issue with them. Can pistol weaponlights provide an advantage? Yes. Is the juice always worth the squeeze? No.

Dash cam of a failed heist on an in-transit armored car

Action beats reaction … except when the reaction is really well-trained.


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