Many readers took heart in last week’s Washington Post story about museums in the United States outnumbering McDonald’s and Starbucks outlets combined. But like so many other preferences that Americans have, there’s a political dimension to the affinity for museums.
Just last week, a Pew Research Center survey found that liberals are much more attached to their museums than conservatives: 73 percent of “consistently liberal” Americans say that being near museums and theaters is important in choosing where to live. Only 23 percent of consistently conservative Americans agree.
Considering that divide, I thought it might be useful to map museums and libraries against an institution that conservatives might be more fond of: gun stores.
I took the museum and library counts from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The idea here is that museums and libraries play similar roles, as institutions of informal learning where students and adults can go to learn more about their communities and the world around them.
For gun retailers, I used data maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and Explosives on licensed firearm dealers. A high incidence of dealers indicates a robust gun culture — places where people hunt and shoot for sport and perhaps places where people are concerned about safety.
Keep in mind that these two data points aren’t diametrically opposed — there’s no reason you can’t be a fan of both guns and museums. In fact, there is a National Firearms Museum run by the National Rifle Association in Fairfax, Virginia.
But viewed in relation to each other, guns and museums give some sense of a community’s values. As my Washington Post colleague Emily Badger wrote the other day, we live in places that reflect our values, and many of us are sorting ourselves into communities that share our political views.
I mapped everything at the county level. Here are a few of the takeaways:
• New England is museum and library country.
Museums and libraries outnumber gun stores in all but two New England counties — rural Aroostook County in Northern Maine and Hillsborough County in New Hampshire, the state’s most populous.
Vermont presents an interesting case. Its gun laws are among the most lax in the nation, but gun shops are scarce relative to museums and libraries, which likely has something to do with the state’s unique gun culture — “strong, safe and unregulated,” according to the Burlington Free Press. Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin said Vermonters view guns as “tools” to manage natural resources, rather than “weapons of war.”
• Most mid-Atlantic states also are home to more museums and libraries than gun stores, with the exception of Pennsylvania, where firearms are more popular. Some of the nation’s strongest gun laws are in New Jersey and Maryland.
• Guns are king in the lower Midwest and the upper South.
The strongest concentration of gun-heavy counties is in Missouri, where gun stores outnumber museums and libraries in all but six of the state’s 114 counties. Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas all stand out for their concentration of gun stores, as does Oklahoma.
• But the most gun-heavy county is in Oregon.
Gun stores outnumber museums and libraries by nearly seven-to-one in Deschutes County, giving it the most lopsided ratio in favor of gun stores among counties with at least 10 of each. Eight of the top 25 gun-favoring counties are in the Lone Star state — don’t mess with Texas!
• Prefer museums to guns? Head to Manhattan.
There are 457 libraries and museums in New York County and only 11 gun retailers, making for a 42-to-1 ratio in favor of the former. Seven of the top 25 museum-favoring counties are in New Jersey, making the Garden State the Texas of museums and libraries. Don’t mess with Jersey!
At the state level, museums and libraries outnumber gun retailers in only 13 states.
Massachusetts is the state most fond of museums and libraries — they outnumber gun stores by more than four-to-one. Mid-Atlantic and New England states round out the rest of the top five.
At the other end of the spectrum, gun stores outnumber museums and libraries by more than two-to-one in Montana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho and West Virginia.
Christopher Ingraham is graphics editor for The Washington Post.