In the last six months I've written a lot about the politics of the gun issue (see here for example), and one of the key data points I keep trying to get people to understand is that gun ownership is actually declining in America and has been for a few decades. Yet there are just as many guns as ever (around 300 million by the best estimates), which means that on average, your typical gun owner now owns more guns than they used to. While no one that I know of has actually figured out the distribution, my guess is that most gun owners still have only one or two guns, while the numbers are being elevated by enthusiasts who think they really haven't guaranteed the safety of their family unless they have enough weaponry to fend off an assault by an entire battalion of the Red Army.
And it's important to understand that the gun lobby (by which I mean the National Rifle Association, similar groups, and the gun manufacturers) are doing everything they can to encourage existing gun owners to buy as many guns as they possibly can. I discuss this in a piece I wrote today for MSNBC's "Lean Forward" blog:
Gun lobbyists have been working hard to make sure that the law is no impediment to buying as much weaponry as you want. In February, Virginia repealed its law limiting gun purchases to one a month, to the celebration of the lobby; that leaves only California, Maryland, and New Jersey with such laws still on the books. And the industry and gun advocates cooperate to convince gun owners that gun and ammunition confiscation is always just around the corner, thereby urging them to go out and stock up.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, gun owners were told their weapons would soon be confiscated and gun sales surged. In advance of the 2012 election, the industry and gun advocates are once again telling gun owners that their guns might be taken from them. "We see the president's strategy crystal clear," said NRA leader Wayne LaPierre. "Get re-elected and, with no more elections to worry about, get busy dismantling and destroying our firearms freedom, erase the Second Amendment from the Bill of Rights and excise it from the U.S. Constitution." And once again, sales have risen in response. There is no evidence that these increases occurred because millions of people were going out to buy their first firearm. Instead, it appears, existing gun owners were increasing the size of their arsenals. The chief executive of Smith & Wesson attributes the increase in sales to the industry's "installed user base"—in other words, gun owners buying more guns.
If you're in the gun culture—if you're getting the NRA's magazines and emails and spending time at ranges and gun shops where the propaganda is reinforced—you'll hear this message again and again: stock up now, because the liberals are coming to take your guns. And that "installed user base" keeps responding.
I'll be speaking on a panel today at 2 p.m. EST at the Center for American Progress on this topic; you can watch a live stream here.