A woman examines a handgun at a display during the 2022 NRA Great American Outdoor Show
A woman examines a handgun at a display during the 2022 NRA Great American Outdoor Show / Stephen Gutowski

Analysis: What We’ve Learned About All Those New Gun Owners [Member Exclusive]

New research is confirming suspicions about the changing makeup and attitudes of recent gun buyers.

A survey published on Thursday by the University of Chicago provides further credence for predictions about how gun owners are changing and how those changes could affect American politics. It backs up the idea gun ownership is growing, becoming more diverse, and that those first-time buyers are moving towards support for less-restrictive gun laws.

The survey is the first to show a significant uptick in the number of Americans reporting they have a gun in the home. While previous surveys have put that number in the low 40 percent range, the UC survey found it was up to 46 percent. That’s because five percent of those polled said they bought a gun for the first time during the pandemic.

That number comes out to about 13 million new gun owners since the onset of the pandemic. The new estimate is significantly higher than the 7.5 million new buyers identified by a study done by Northeastern University and Harvard University last year. However, it’s pretty close to the 13.8 million the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the gun industry’s trade group, estimated from its own survey of dealers during the same period.

More confirmation of the findings from other studies will be needed to cement the results, but the new survey adds further evidence of a significant upswing in American gun ownership. That upswing could significantly impact the future of American gun politics at all levels across the country. It also indicates recent growth in the industry may be sustainable in the long term.

The UC survey also backed up another trend identified by NSSF’s dealers. It found the demographics of gun ownership are changing at a faster rate than ever before. 69 percent of new gun buyers during the pandemic were minorities compared to 26 percent of pre-pandemic owners. Similarly, 86 percent of pandemic gun buyers were under 45-years-old while only 41 percent of pre-pandemic owners were.

The study out of Northeastern and Harvard backed up industry data showing women were nearly half of the new gun buyers over the past two years as well.

NSSF has been touting this transformation in demographics for years. It’s been labeled Gun Culture 2.0 by academics and media outlets alike. These recent academic studies provide additional foundation for the claim as well as evidence the trend actually accelerated during the pandemic.

As you might expect for people who bought a gun for the first time as the chaos of the pandemic’s onset, tension surrounding George Floyd’s murder, and the violent rioting of summer 2020 swirled around them, the new generation of gun owners is supportive of expansive gun rights. It may even be more supportive than the pre-pandemic gun-owning population in some regards.

For instance, supermajorities of all gun owners in the UC survey supported allowing people to carry concealed firearms into more places. 41 percent of them endorsed permitless carry. However, new pandemic gun owners were actually more supportive of arming teachers and reducing waiting periods for gun purchases.

That suggests new gun owners may value self-defense over traditional firearms pursuits such as hunting and target shooting. Given the chaotic circumstances that breed these new owners, that would make sense. Their opposition to policies that limit how quickly they can obtain a gun for protection and where they can take it

Comedian and actress Sherri Shepherd, a black woman, gave voice to this mentality on The View last year when she described her own decision to buy a gun for the first time.

“I felt very empowered when I bought this gun,” Shepherd said. “I took lessons, I took the test, I go to the range with my girlfriends like every other week, and it just makes me feel like at least if something happens, I can protect my child.”

Shepherd’s comments are, of course, anecdotal and the UC survey gets down to relatively small sample sizes on certain questions. But the evidence is mounting in favor of what they both say. If new gun owners are more diverse and distrustful of strict gun restrictions, it could affect how both parties handle the issue moving forward.

The more we see evidence of a shift in voters’ attitudes towards guns, the more pressure will mount for politicians to match that shift.

This hasn’t happened yet. Blue States continue to pass new bans, and national Democrats continue to push for them. It’s not clear if or when new gun owners might begin prioritizing guns over other issues when it comes to their votes.

In fact, the UC survey presents some evidence that shift hasn’t occurred yet but may happen eventually. It’s true that pandemic buyers are more open to loosening gun laws overall. However, an intensity gap remains between them and pre-pandemic gun owners.

Pre-pandemic owners were 13 points more likely to strongly favor allowing people to carry concealed guns in more places and 14 points more likely to strongly favor permitless carry. Five percent more pre-pandemic owners strongly preferred armed teachers too.

Still, pandemic first-time buyers were more passionate about shortening wait times than pre-pandemic owners by two points. And they were much more likely to strongly agree with loosening all of those policies than people who don’t own guns.

That implies Americans’ desire to lessen gun restrictions increases the longer they personally own a gun. It leaves a lot of room for new gun owners to upgrade gun rights on their list of political priorities. It’s not a sure bet that will happen, but the possibility is now backed by more than just speculation.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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