But increasingly, research into the culture and political views of gun owners is painting a very different portrait. Gun owners’ politics don’t generally fall into lockstep with the NRA—but guns themselves are woven into people’s lives in ways that go far beyond a tool. This suggests that the path to gun law reform won’t be as simple as liberals might hope or conservatives might fear.

One of the most authoritative and interesting surveys of the attitudes of gun owners was conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2017. That survey shows the vast majority of Americans who own guns are not members of the NRA and that most favor some form of gun control. However, most refrain from pushing for greater regulation of guns because they neither trust the government nor believe that it will protect them. They often resent the disdain for their way of life of the kind expressed by President Barack Obama when he suggested they “cling to guns or religion” as a way of expressing “antipathy to people who aren’t like them … as a way to explain their frustrations.” They see themselves as on their own in a dangerous world.