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After the on-camera murder of two TV journalists in Virginia in August, the nation’s ongoing debate about gun control is in the news yet again. While a majority of US citizens support some level of regulation on firearms—requiring permits and banning some types of weapons—the opposition is extraordinarily committed and vocal.

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In a 2007 paper for Sociological Perspectives, Katarzyna Celinska looked at who gun control opponents are.

Celinska noted that, in American culture, gun ownership is closely tied to the value of individualism. Meanwhile, gun control advocates tend to appeal to collective values, arguing from the standpoint of public safety. There’s a parallel debate about how well gun control actually works, but for many people the question seems less about public policy than personal values.

Celinska pulled data from the 1972-1998 General Social Survey to look at who supports, and who opposes, gun control.

To identify the survey respondents on a scale measuring collectivism versus individualism, Celinska used a series of questions about how much the government should do to help individuals. She found the strongest predictor of individualism was being white. Individualists also tended to have higher incomes and higher education levels, to live in the South or Mountain West region, and to be male and Protestant.

A number of the same characteristics (being Protestant, higher-income, white, and male, and living in the South or Mountain West) were tied to gun ownership. On the other hand, gun owners tended to have lower education levels than average. Interestingly, neither fear of crime nor having been a victim of violent crime in the past predicted owning a gun.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who own guns are nearly three times as likely as average to oppose a requirement that gun owners get a permit, after controlling for other variables. Being a hunter and living in the Mountain West region were the next-strongest predictors of opposing gun permits.

Clearly, there’s a good amount of overlap between the demographics of individualists and gun control opponents. Even controlling for all these factors, though, Celinska found that being more individualistic increased a person’s chance of opposing gun permits by around 10 percent.

“Consistently, being more individualistic than collectivistic increases the odds of opposing gun permits,” she writes.


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Sociological Perspectives, Vol. 50, No. 2 (Summer 2007), pp. 229-247
Sage Publications, Inc.