Here’s something you may not realize: Gun ownership has been declining for decades. According to the University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, in 1977, 54% of American households had guns. By 2010, the number had fallen to 32%. Yet gun sales are at record highs. That means that existing gun owners are buying more and more guns. It’s not enough to have a hunting rifle over your mantle; you need an entire arsenal, just in case the government falls, society disintegrates, and you have to protect your cave — sorry, your home — from the marauding hordes.
That’s exactly what the gun manufacturers want you to think, so you keep buying. They know that hunting will never again be the pastime it once was, and as more Americans move from rural areas to the suburbs and cities, their natural market withers.
That “responsible gun owner” politicians talk about, the one who reverentially passes down to his son the bolt-action rifle his father gave him? That guy isn’t good for business. The manufacturers need the other guy, the one who fears he may not be all the man he could be.
Likewise, don’t bother with the argument that if more people carried guns, they would deter shooters or interrupt them. Mass shooters typically kill themselves or are promptly caught, so it’s hard to see what deterrence would be added by having more people pack heat. There have been few if any cases in the United States in which an ordinary citizen with a gun stopped a mass shooting.
In Australia in 1996, a mass killing of 35 people galvanized the nation’s conservative prime minister to ban certain rapid-fire long guns. The “national firearms agreement,” as it was known, led to the buyback of 650,000 guns and to tighter rules for licensing and safe storage of those remaining in public hands. The law did not end gun ownership in Australia. It reduced the number of firearms in private hands by one-fifth, and they were the kinds most likely to be used in mass shootings. In the 18 years before the law, Australia suffered 13 mass shootings — but not one in the 14 years after the law took full effect. The murder rate with firearms has dropped by more than 40 percent, according to data compiled by the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and the suicide rate with firearms has dropped by more than half.