The face of America’s gun culture is changing. Since the first election of President Obama, more and more Americans are purchasing guns. An October 2011 Gallup poll reports nearly half of Americans have at least one gun in the home. The same report states that support for a handgun ban is at an all-time low. Women’s gun ownership is the highest it has ever been. In just 10 years, female firearm ownership has doubled. The number of women reporting as having hunted shows a 5.4 percent increase since 2008. Even 40 percent of Democrats polled by Gallup say they own a firearm. Gun owners no longer look like white, 50-plus-year-old men. Women, minorities and younger people are taking up shooting and gun ownership in record numbers.
Unfortunately, there are people out there with an ill pre-conceived notion of what a gun owner looks like. In an editorial on Cleveland.com, Christopher Evans wrote about attending a gun show. Here are some of the choice phrases he used describing who he saw:
- “Well-fed white guys with semiautomatic [sic] assault rifles slung over both shoulders”
- “… A staging site for a ragtag militia.”
- “White males, beards, skinheads, a touch of camo and leather.”
- “One dealer, a weathered old guy who looks like he took one too many shots to the head…”
If you had never attended a gun show before, Evans paints a frightening picture. Those of us who attend gun shows know this is not what it looks like. In my experience, be it at a gun show, shooting clinic or class, or a full auto shoot, like any mass gathering people from all walks of life are there. Sure I’ve seen militia types, but I’ve also seen groups of women, families, minorities, tourists from Australia, young and old people alike.
Richard L. Johnson describes this changing face as, “In today’s gun culture, there are many more women, a broader mix of races and a wider range of backgrounds. Instead of being a clean-cut poster child of the 1950s many gun owners are bikers or body art enthusiasts covered with tattoos. Others are fashion conscious while others still are computer nerds. Members of the new gun generation range in age from teens to retirees.”
I was raised down South in the country. Everyone was a gun owner—whether you hunted, kept a rifle for predators, shot targets with a pistol or just kept granddaddy’s shotgun. I was never aware that gun ownership held a stereotype until I was older. It saddens me to read Evan’s editorial. I thought we were past the days of judging a book by its cover. After all, I do come from the generation in which we made expressing ourselves through tattoos and facial piercings the norm.
I’ve been pigeonholed before. I dated a biker years ago. My parents were appalled that I was running around to biker bars. I had to remind them that Harley Davidson motorcycles weren’t cheap and I wasn’t running around with a bunch of one-percenters—like criminals. We rode with doctors, lawyers, school teachers, college students and veterans. Harley Davidson owners are much like gun owners; they could be anybody, and are. When I first started working at Cheaper Than Dirt, I found myself having to defend the gun culture the same way I defended biker culture, but not anymore. In fact, plenty of friends—uninterested in guns before—are now asking me to take them shooting.
I’m not exactly sure where the stereotype of what a firearm owner looks like came from, but psychologists explain that stereotypes are a way for people to develop “in-groups” and “out-groups” in order to make sense of social order. We create “in-groups” by relating to people we think are like us and we create “out-groups” for people we think are different than us. Relating to these in-groups increases our self-esteem. We form opinions—usually negative—about people in the out-groups, regardless of those opinions being correct or incorrect. You may have heard that stereotypes come from a truth somewhere, but recently psychologists have found that we stereotype subconsciously or through quick encounters with another person. Cultural norms and the mass media perpetuate these stereotypes and essentially teach us to believe certain groups of people behave a certain way. Which is entirely untrue.
Firearms have a deep-rooted tradition in American culture and history—it’s not just the South either. From the first settlers in the East, to the pioneers to the West, firearms were a way we defended ourselves, our country and put food on the table. Learning to hunt was a rite-of-passage for young men, as it still continues today. However, more and more young women are being introduced to hunting as a rite-of-passage. In fact, in 2011, only one of the top five states reporting the highest numbers of NICS checks was a southern state.
If Gallup’s report is true, and 40 percent of Democrats report owning a firearm, doesn’t stereotyping work both ways? Some gun nuts could probably learn a lesson from Evans. Gun ownership is about liberty. Studies have found that to eliminate discrimination and the prejudice that stems from stereotypical thinking, groups working together toward a common goal tend to look more harmoniously toward groups that are different than themselves. In our case every gun owner, regardless of color, religion, age, or political affiliation should work towards preserving our 2nd Amendment rights. Judging a book by its cover hurts us all.
There is no better time than now to teach someone to shoot. The more we show our faces, the more the Evans’ of the world will realize that gun owners look just like him—except with an open mind and a kinder heart.
Have you been judged because you were a gun owner? Tell us about it in the comments section.