The NRA-ILA website had an interesting news item looking into why it might be that gun owners hesitate to share their status as gun owners in surveys. I have to agree with the sentiment expressed in the NRA item: “It makes perfect sense, particularly in times of heightened concerns that anti-gun politicians are plotting to restrict our 2nd Amendment rights and the routine vilification of law-abiding gun owners by politicians, celebrities, and the media.” Okay, that’s the why. Here’s the what.
Iowa State University political scientist Robert Urbatsch analyzed data from the General Social Survey (GSS) and found that the number of people refusing to answer a question about gun ownership roughly tripled since the year 2000. The increase appears steady from the year 2000 through 2016, and Urbatsch found the increased non-response rate concentrated among Republicans (though the rates among Democrats and Independents also increased). Coincidentally, Pew recently confirmed that gun ownership is far more common among Republicans — meaning, the people driving the increase in the GSS question refusals are also those most likely to own a gun, NRA-ILA reports.
Further, Urbatsch discusses how this increase could be driven by increased polarization, by political elites’ and partisan commentators’ fear-mongering, or by distrust of government and an institutionalized belief in individual autonomy. For some reason, more people are hesitating to share their gun-owning status with a stranger on the phone conducting a survey for the government.
This isn’t new, says NRA-ILA. Similar sharp decreases in disclosure of gun ownership status occurred in Gallup polls in 1993, right around the time Congress was working on the 1994 assault weapons ban. More recently, in October 2013 and October 2014, when anti-gun politicians controlled both the White House and the Senate, disclosure dropped again.
The data go on to show that folks didn’t answer questions about gun ownership more freely until 2017. In 2016, there was a concern that a historically anti-gun politician could win the presidency. In 2017, President Trump had secured the White House, so gun owners became more forthcoming. I get that, and it makes sense.
But I personally don’t care who’s in power — I never answer that question, or answer it truthfully, to anyone I don’t know very well. The Gallup organization, Joe Sixpack down the street, Mayor Sylvester Turner, Gov. Greg Abbott, and President Trump don’t need to know what guns I own, or what I lost in that horrible canoe accident. Call me paranoid, but don’t call me late for dinner.