Editor’s note: This piece was written before the tragic church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, that left at least 20 people dead as of press time. So far, the church shooting replaces Sandy Hook as the fourth deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
One month ago, the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history occurred in Las Vegas. The phrase “deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history” has become too familiar in the past decade.
Six of the top 10 U.S. mass shootings in the U.S. took place in the last 10 years, with four of those in the past two years, including the two worst mass shootings:
- Las Vegas (2017) – 59 dead, 489 injured
- Orlando (2016) – 49 dead, 58 injured
- Virginia Tech University (2007) – 32 dead, 17 injured
- Sandy Hook Elementary School (2012) – 26 dead, 2 injured
- Killeen, Texas (1991) – 23 dead, 27 injured
- San Ysidro, Calif. (1954) – 21 dead, 19 injured
- University of Texas-Austin (1966) – 15 dead, 31 injured
- San Bernardino, Calif. (2015) – 14 dead, 22 injured
- Edmond, Okla. (1986) – 14 dead, 6 injured
- Fort Hood (2009) – 13 dead, 30 wounded
This is a horrific phenomenon exclusive to the United States, and the reason why is clear to anyone with half a brain: Americans are gun fanatics.
Guns by the numbers
Americans own nearly half of all the civilian-owned guns worldwide, or 310 million in the U.S. of the 650 million firearms in civilian hands around the globe. There are more guns in the United States than U.S. citizens, with approximately 1.12 guns for every person or 112 per 100 residents. In a distant second place is Serbia with 58.21 guns per 100 residents.
One would think that the United States would be safe with all these citizens armed to the teeth. After all, guns must be everywhere, making it difficult to commit a crime without running into a John Wayne who is ready to save the day.
According to The Washington Post, 78 percent of U.S. adults do not own a firearm. That means nearly half of the world’s guns are in the hands of only 22 percent of American adults. But it gets worse. Half of the guns in the U.S. are owned by 19 percent of adults. That means that 3 percent of Americans own half the guns in the U.S. or nearly a quarter of the civilian guns worldwide.
It should be no surprise to anyone that guns are in the hands of a relatively few. Ironically, tragic shootings increase this gap of gun ownership. After a major mass shooting makes headlines, gun sales skyrocket as paranoid gun owners panic about potential gun control laws as a result of a tragic event.
In fact, gun sales are actually down since Donald Trump took office, another stat that should not be surprising. Why? Whenever a Republican is in office, gun owners feel they do not have to worry about gun control legislation. Conversely, when a Democrat is president, gun control paranoia sets in and gun sales trend upwards. It may seem counterintuitive at first, but it would behoove the National Rifle Association and gun manufacturers to have a Democrat majority in Washington. It’s good for business.
With the overwhelming majority of Americans living in a home without a gun, why is gun control nearly impossible to pass? Why is 22 percent of the population dictating gun legislation? The answer:
Money and “freedom”
The money argument is self-evident. There’s a ton of money to be made, both through gun sales and gun advocacy. There’s also a ton of money finding its way to politicians. Like any other industry where legislation can affect the bottom line, campaign money is “donated” to politicians. In return, those politicians either pass or reject legislation that could affect gun industry stakeholders.
However, politicians won’t accept money for an unpopular cause, no matter how much cash is being pumped into their campaign account. For politicians, it’s all about being reelected. If being pro-gun means losing an election, they will deny any contribution. But that’s not the case.
A large percentage of the U.S. population is conservative Republican. According to a Gallup poll, 36 percent of Americans consider themselves conservative compared to 25 percent who consider themselves liberal. About 34 percent labeled themselves moderate, which could swing either way on the issue of gun control.
Considering only political ideology and its association with gun control, it seems possible that most Americans would feel there is no need for more gun control. Not so. Another Gallup poll reveals that 60 percent of Americans believe gun laws should be more strict, 33 percent think gun laws are fine as they are now and 5 percent believe they should be less strict. In other words, the majority of Americans are for more gun control.
So this idea that the United States is a nation of conservative, gun-loving nuts is not at all true. If ignoring gun control is the unpopular opinion, how does the NRA continue to wield so much power on Capitol Hill?
Although gerrymandering benefits both Democrats and Republicans, a recent New York Times article reveals Republicans benefit significantly more and in states that are crucial during a presidential election:
So at a state and local level, conservatives may be overrepresented. Although this may not play out at the Senate, it certainly affects the House of Representatives. With enough gerrymandering, Republicans can enjoy a majority vote that they may otherwise not experience without gerrymandering. Therefore, it’s possible that gerrymandering is inflating the gun-loving sentiment of the United States.
But let’s consider that gerrymandering does not affect gun control. Hell, let’s go ahead and throw out gerrymandering as an idea altogether. Even then, the electoral college can play a major role in exaggerating the lack of desire for gun control. Below is the electoral distribution:
On the surface, it appears to be an equal distribution in relation to population size. But a closer inspection reveals something much different. Washington state’s population is 33 percent larger than Alabama’s. However, Alabama received nine electoral college votes compared with Washington’s 11, a difference of only 18 percent, not 33 percent. More drastically, California’s population is 39.25 million people with 55 electoral votes. Rhode Island contains 1.056 million people and receives four electoral votes. California’s population is approximately 37 times the population of Rhode Island. So proportionately, California should either receive 148 electoral votes to Rhode Island’s four or Rhode Island should receive 1.5 votes to California’s 55.
This brings us around to the final variable that allows gun control to remain obsolete: population distribution. More specifically, where gun lovers live and where the opposition lives.
Check out this map of the distribution of conservatives (red) and liberals (blue):
A quick glance suggests that the United States is overwhelmingly conservative, but we already know from polls mentioned above that’s not the case. A closer look shows that rural areas are mostly conservative whereas metropolitan areas tend to be liberal.
Check out this 2014 chart from Pew Research that ranks U.S. cities with more than 250,000 people from most to least conservative:
By the time you get to Fort Worth, Texas – just 12 spots down the list – we’re already at conservative/liberal equilibrium before leaning towards the liberal side. Here are the top 10 U.S. cities in terms of population:
- New York – 8,537,673
- Los Angeles – 3,792,621
- Chicago – 2,704,958
- Houston – 2,303,482
- Phoenix – 1,615,017
- Philadelphia – 1,567,872
- San Antonio – 1,492,510
- San Diego – 1,406,630
- Dallas – 1,317,929
- San Jose – 1,025,350
Combined, the top 10 cities account for 8 percent of the U.S. population, or nearly 26 million people. Every single one of those cities leans left. Starting with Fresno, Calif., – which is where the needle leans more to the left – 55 cities are more liberal, a total population of more than 49 million people or more than 15 percent of the U.S. population.
As of Oct. 11, 2017, 31 percent of Americans are Democrats, 24 percent Republicans and 42 percent consider themselves Independents. With Republicans in the minority, how are they controlling gun laws?
Supporters of stricter gun laws are less likely to contact elected officials. Pew Research reveals that 21 percent of gun owners have contacted a public official to express opinion on gun policy, compared with only 12 percent of non-owners. Adjusted for those who specifically believe in more strict gun laws, only 15 percent contacted an official. However, 22 percent of those for less strict laws have contacted an official. Additionally, nearly 30 percent of gun owners have contributed money to an organization with a gun policy position. Non-owners? Only 10 percent.
In other words, there is more to gain by being pro-gun if you’re a politician. Conversely, there is a lot to lose being pro-gun control.
If you are running for office at any level and have a gun control platform, you will lose a lot of swing voters. On the other hand, if you have a very pro-gun stance, you will win favor from the right but lose middle-of-the-road voters who lean left. Therefore, the best strategy for any politician that lives in an area that doesn’t lean heavily left or right is to stay completely silent on the issue, hindering any progress for gun control.
Those opposed to guns will not vote against a candidate who will do nothing, but those who are pro-gun will vote against a candidate who will suggest any type of gun control. In other words, gun supporters are more involved and influential in the political process. Because of this, a lot of money is being poured into the coffers of the NRA and other pro-gun groups, while the well is dry for anti-gun groups.
According to one source close to politics, the trick for politicians regarding the NRA has less to do with acquiring its endorsement and campaign contribution. Rather, the key is simply to avoid the NRA’s attack ads.
Sine the NRA has a PAC, it is able to circumvent certain rules when putting out political ads. Essentially, the association can say whatever they want void of consequences. For example, Republican and former Navy SEAL Eric Greitens did not receive the NRA endorsement during his campaign for Missouri Governor. That went to Democrat Chris Koster. However, the NRA never ran an attack ad on Greitens. Despite not receiving the endorsement, Greitens’ campaign scored a victory by simply avoid attack ads. If a tree falls in the woods and nobody is there to hear it…
Now take that information and combine it with this stat: U.S. cities are home to 62.7 percent of the U.S. population, but comprise just 3.5 percent of land area, per the U.S. Census Bureau. Check out this map:
Assuming most people who are pro-gun control live in cities, they account for only 3.5 percent of the U.S. land area. Obviously, these people live outside the city, but probably find themselves in the minority. Since our government has representatives for every square inch of this country, it’s entirely possible that the number of politicians representing pro-gun interests outweigh the actual population sentiment.
The problem with passing gun control legislation has less to do with what the majority of citizens want and more to do with the risk-reward ratio politicians face and the geographical distribution of people and their representatives.