Guns Owners vs. Gun Owners in the NRA

by John Sides on December 24, 2012 · 7 comments

in Interest Groups,Public opinion,Violence

Here is my latest post at Wonkbog.  I am delayed posting it here because of holiday travels.  It features the graph above and concludes:

This is not a world with gun owners on one side and those who do not own guns on the other.  Two of the policies most discussed in the wake of the Newtown shootings—a ban on assault weapons and a limit on the size of magazines—will attract support not only from those who don’t have a gun in their house but from those who do, especially if the gun isn’t theirs and also if the gun is theirs but they are not NRA members.

Gun owners do not speak with one voice about gun control, and, for many gun owners, Wayne LaPierre does not appear to speak for them.


Andrew Gelman December 24, 2012 at 7:30 pm


You might want to make the width of the bar proportional to the number of adults in the category. That puts the NRA members in perspective. They represent a very small proportion of the population, which is not completely conveyed by the above graphs which show all four bars of equal width.

Andrew Gelman December 24, 2012 at 8:08 pm

Also, maybe you noted this in your article and I didn’t see it, but . . . you write, “About 7 percent of this sample reported being an NRA member.” Later you refer to these people as “NRA members.” I think it would be better to refer to them as “NRA identifiers.” Fewer than 2% of American adults are members of the NRA.

Andrew Gelman December 24, 2012 at 8:11 pm

P.S. This is not in any way to criticize what you’re doing, just to add some perspective.

ChevalierdeJohnstone December 25, 2012 at 2:25 am

This is an interesting portrayal of survey data and an interesting original opinion piece over at WaPo, but I have to wonder if there is a policymaking point in all of this. To reference the Mencken quote from which the title of this blog is derived, if we have a specific problem: mass shootings of unarmed civilians – whom do we want to consult in order to solve it? Everybody? Whoever answers the phone?

Of the groups polled, which consists of people who have the most knowledge of firearms: specifically, effective defense against armed attackers. How many respondents of each group have taken, for example, a firearms safety course, a self-defense class involving use of firearms, a military course in marksmanship, a tactical firearms use training program. How many of each group are or have been law enforcement officers? Security professionals? How many of each group have survived an attack by an armed aggressor? Know someone who has?

Absent these data, it’s an interesting way to look at some survey responses, but I don’t see what the point is?

Scott Monje December 26, 2012 at 11:05 am

So, this suggests that the NRA does represent its constituency fairly well (although even here there are distinct outlier issues). The problem is that the NRA’s constituency isn’t gun owners; it’s gun owners of a particular ideological bent, apparently incorporating roughly a quarter of all gun owners or one-fourteenth (one-fiftieth per Andrew Gelman) of the general adult population. That’s who has been determining gun-control policy in the United States. Whether that constituency knows more about firearms, effective defense, or safety, than the other 75% of gun owners, gun-control advocates, or the general public–as ChevalierdeJohnstone suggests–is an empirical question (if there are definitive answers to to be known). Yet that conclusion seems to rely on the questionable premise that knowledge flows from ideology.

GiT December 26, 2012 at 7:40 pm

The NRA probably plays some role in shaping the ideology of its members through their publications.

Scott Monje December 27, 2012 at 10:59 am

Yes, that makes sense, at least on the margins, but it’s still a self-selected group and the basis for selection seems to be more ideology than gun ownership per se. If I’m right, then the publications may do more to provide additional arguments for true believers than to convince the skeptical.

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