Who Might Buy a Gun? Results from the Guns in American Life Survey

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Who Might Buy a Gun? Results from the Guns in American Life Survey

Category: Behavior, Mass Shootings|Journal: Sociological Inquiry (full text)|Author: C Ellison, M Kelley|Year: 2021

We explore patterns and correlates of gun ownership in the United States, with a particular focus on differentiating those who will never own a gun (“nevers”) and those who are open to ownership in the future (“maybes”) from current-owners. We use the Guns in American Life Survey (GALS), collected in September of 2018 (n = 3,103), to explore the role of several classes of factors in shaping experiences and attitudes, including socialization, fear and victimization, ideology (confidence in the police, punitiveness, justifiable violence, and gun “science” research), and preparedness. Descriptive findings suggest that maybe-owners are similar to never-owners in some ways in background factors (e.g., tending to be women, lower-income, and not living in a rural area) and more like owners in other ways (e.g., conservative, Republican, and with children in the home). Regression results reveal some anticipated patterns and other unexpected ones. For example, past victimization differentiates the maybes from the nevers but not from the owners. Worry about mass and school shootings leads one away from gun ownership, while worry about terrorist attacks leads toward it. Curiously, greater confidence in the police is highest for the maybes. They are solidly in the middle on other ideological issues, including beliefs in justifiable violence and gun “science” research. We find different ideological issues come together as a continuum of gun ownership status. Finally, those most likely to buy a gun have owned one previously and cycle in and out of gun ownership. They have also used agency by taking other steps to protect themselves. Our findings identify a new subset of occasional owners and illuminate the process of moving toward gun acquisition.

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