Study: Majority of Americans prefer gun rights over expanded gun control
April 26, 2015 12:00 AM
State data showing rapidly increased gun sales indicate that Pennsylvanians, who have long had a tradition of sports firearms, are increasingly acquiring handguns, the type of weapon traditionally associated with self-protection.
By Jacob Betzner / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
This is part of an occasional series exploring gun culture in Pennsylvania.
For the first time in nearly two decades, a majority of Americans favor the protection of gun rights over expanded gun control and believe firearms help prevent being a victim of crime, a study by the Pew Research Center reports.
The survey shows 52 percent of respondents saw gun rights as more important than controlling gun ownership, up from 45 percent in 2012. Additionally, 57 percent of respondents said guns help prevent becoming a victim of crime, up from 48 percent in 2012.
The shift in attitudes about firearms has come as gun sales have increased nationwide. In Pennsylvania, the rise in sales and transfers (person-to-person transaction overseen by a dealer) over the past few years has been dramatic.
State data showing rapidly increased gun sales indicate that Pennsylvanians, who have long had a tradition of sports firearms, are increasingly acquiring handguns, the type of weapon traditionally associated with self-protection. Handgun sales increased by 171 percent between 2001 and 2013, according to data from state police.
Total gun sales and transfers peaked in 2012 at 1,214,929, or about 10 per 100 people. In 2013, the number of sales and transfers in the state dropped to 808,507.
Statewide, concealed-carry permits increased by 166 percent in the same time period while sportsman’s firearms permits, which allow individuals 18 and older to carry a handgun for the purpose of hunting, fur taking, fishing or training hunting dogs in conjunction with the proper license but do not allow concealed carry, decreased by nearly 53 percent.
Clearfield County, with 29.6 sales and transfers per 100 people, was first in the state. Washington County ranked eighth in the state with 13.4 gun sales and transfers per 100 people in 2012, the most recent year for which complete data is available. Butler County led the area with 3.86 license-to-carry permits per 100 people.
A caveat to the gun sale data is that a rise in sales doesn’t necessarily mean more individuals are buying guns. The top 20 percent of gun owners in the United States own about 65 percent of the guns in the country, according to a study published in the Injury Prevention Journal, so the rise in sales doesn’t reflect how many gun owners there are.
Gun rights advocates touted the Pew data (collected in a December survey but supplemented earlier this month) and increased sales as evidence of ties between owning guns and personal safety.
“We’ve had a 50-year experiment in gun control,” said Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, an advocacy group based in McDonald. “Everything that’s been tried has failed. The big cities — Chicago, New York, Los Angeles — all have strict gun control and higher crime rates.”
Critics have pointed out that crime rates are actually dropping — in big cities as well as elsewhere — and that crime rates are drastically lower in countries with strict gun control.
“As my colleagues at Pew Research Center have documented, some of this is related to politics, as Republicans have become far more supportive of gun rights during the Obama years,” Andrew Kohut, founding director of Pew, wrote in analysis accompanying the study.
“But there may be another factor behind this shift,” Mr. Kohut continued. “Americans’ changing perceptions about crime. Over the past 25 years or so, there has been a divergence between American perceptions about crime and actual crime rates.” Previously, he said, those who worried about crime favored stricter control; now they favor keeping laws as they are or loosening them. “In short, we are at a moment when most Americans believe crime rates are rising and when most believe gun ownership — not gun control — makes people safer.”
In fact, crime rates are falling. In Pennsylvania, over the 2007-13 period, reported homicides, robberies and aggravated assaults with firearms were down by 5.42 percent, 10.8 percent and 11.4 percent, respectively.
In response to the Pew data on increasing public belief in the importance of gun rights, CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman said different factors sway public opinion. She argued for the importance of public opinion on illegal firearms.
“[Pennsylvanians] take gun ownership seriously, but we can make sure that we are keeping our cities safe by keeping guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have access,” Ms. Goodman said.
Pennsylvania State Police agreed. Illegal firearms arrests increased by nearly 17 percent from 2013 to 2014 to 3,715. Trooper Adam Reed said state police shifted resources to better investigate potential violations in the Pennsylvania Instant Check System. Transfers of all firearms by or through a licensed dealer require a background check.
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