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Kansas Researchers Find Gun Owners Are More Politically Active


While the number of people who own guns in America may have decreased over time, the people who own them have become more politically active.

That’s according to a study recently released by political scientists at the University of Kansas.

Donald Haider-Markel, one of the study’s co-authors, told Brian Ellison, guest host of KCUR's Central Standard, gun owners are not only more likely to vote than non-gun owners but also are more likely to engage in other political activities such as calling elected officials or donating to campaigns.

That participation gap tends to be stronger than other demographic factors such as race, gender, income and education. And the gap has generally increased over time, Haider-Markel said.

For example, gun owners were about 2 percent more likely to vote in the 1972 presidential election than non-gun owners. By 2012, the gap was about 9 percent. Data for the 2016 presidential election was not available.

Meanwhile, about 51 percent of American households owned a gun in 1972, according to Gallup polling data. By 2017 the total was down to 42 percent.

A sort of “modern notion of a gun owner identity” may explain gun owners’ increased political participation, Haider-Markel said. “Gun owners see themselves as good citizens in a variety of formats, and owning a gun is a literal practice and performance of a second amendment right.”

The expansion across the country of laws which make it easier for gun owners to carry their firearms in public — whether openly or concealed — has made it easy to take that performance out of the household or shooting range and into their daily lives, he said.

“The (National Rifle Association) along with the broader gun industry, has come to reshape the modern gun owner identity away from standard hunting or shooting sports... towards the sense of self-protection, and your rights and practice of your freedoms,” he said.

Haider-Markel and co-authors Mark Joslyn and Abigail Vegte also point out in the study that only about 20 percent of gun owners belong to the NRA. “Gun owners may simply be better organized and more likely to participate in politics.”

Joslyn and Haider-Markel, who have co-authored numerous studies related to guns and politics, also recently wrote about the effect mass shootings may have on the public’s willingness to support new restrictions on guns.

In a paper published in the journal “Research & Politics,” the duo examines anxiety levels in the wake of the 2016 nightclub shooting in Orlando.

The analysis, based on responses from about 1,300 participants, shows the shooting, “produced an emotionally-based mechanism that created less division in the public about the sources of violence and potential solutions.”

Respondents reported increased levels of anxiety shortly after the shooting, and expressed increased support for their government, president and restrictive gun laws, according to the paper. “Strong ideological differences receded and in some instances nearly disappeared.”

Listen to the entire conversation about guns and political participation on Central Standard.

Chris Haxel is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email him at chaxel@kcur.org, and follow him on Twitter @ChrisHaxel.

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