We hear repeated stories of how gun ownership is on the rise, but who are the people buying the guns? (We’re talking about legal purchases here obviously. The motives and opportunities for criminals are another issue.) It’s a complicated question because there is no “generic” lawful gun owner in the United States. But Time Magazine is looking at one particular segment of American gun owners this week and it’s women who purchase a single firearm… specifically handguns. And the most common reason given is self-defense.
According to a new survey by public health officials at Harvard and Northeastern universities, women are more likely than men to report owning a gun for protection. The research, conducted in 2015 but previously unpublished, was recently obtained by The Guardian and The Trace.
The data shows that, compared to men, American women are more likely to own a single handgun (as opposed to multiple guns). And as fewer men purchase guns, the proportional presence of female gun-owners is on the rise. Forty-three percent of individuals who own just a handgun are women, with almost a quarter of those women living in urban areas. The Guardian noted that female gun-owners were more likely to live in urban areas than their male counterparts, and called the data “the most definitive survey of US gun ownership in two decades.”
A couple of decades ago this might have been seen as a shocking trend, but in 2016 it seems rather obvious. Men have been buying guns in larger numbers for a long time, but shifts in the social paradigm have made it far more common for women to catch up in this area. As more and more ladies join the ranks of gun owners, clearly their cut of the consumer pie is going to go up, though surging to more than 40% was a bit of a surprise even for me.
The almost amusing part of the report, however, was the seeming shock registered by the people at Harvard involved in the study. Matthew Miller (one of the authors) is quoted as saying that gun ownership isn’t a response to actuarial reality. He’s quoting statistics which show a drop in lethal incidents and violent crime across the nation as a whole. But if he was paying attention he’d know that this trend is actually reversing in the major cities, where murders and other violent crime are on the rise. (Look no further than Chicago and Baltimore for evidence.) And in his own study he found that the most rapid increase in female gun ownership was among women living in urban areas.
Can we put two and two together here, Matthew?
The “single gun” aspect of the study is interesting as well. I can easily believe that women are less likely on average than men to be collectors who amass significant numbers of firearms. And men still represent a significant majority in the hunting community. There’s not much left after that except for self-protection and target shooting. (The latter being a relatively small community on a national scale when measured as a percentage of the total population.) But women are, by default, generally smaller in build and body mass than men. To fend off an assault from a criminal the size of a linebacker they’re going to want an edge. Hence the old advice about not bringing a gun to a knife fight.
It’s a sensible trend among sensible women who want to take more control of their own security, particularly in increasingly dangerous urban environments. Rather than coming as some sort of surprise, this Harvard study seems much more like a dog bites man story to me.