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Why Do Americans Own So Many Guns?

| by Michael Allen
Americans GunsAmericans Guns

The mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, on Oct. 1 renewed calls for and against stricter gun control laws in the U.S.

The New York Times reports that some people in Roseburg are looking to arm themselves, and calling for concealed weapons on the campus of Umpqua Community College where nine people lost their lives.

The Washington Post notes that the number of guns in the U.S. reached 310 million in 2009, which exceeds the entire population.

In a 2005 Gallup poll, 67 percent of Americans said they owned guns for protection, 66 percent owned firearms for target shooting and hunting was at 58 percent.

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Journalist Dean Burnett writes in The Guardian: "[I]f you’re surrounded by people with guns, it would be logical to conclude you need one too. This doesn’t address why guns became so widespread to begin with, but it would explain why this situation persists."

Author Jennifer Carlson wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in May about how she traveled to Michigan to interview gun owners where she "found that men — the vast majority of gun owners are men — may also carry weapons as a reaction to broader socioeconomic decline."

"As men doubt their ability to provide, their desire to protect becomes all the more important," Carlson added. "They see carrying a gun as a masculine duty and the gun itself as a vehicle for a hardened kind of care-work — caring for others by shielding them from danger, with the threat of lethal force."

Carlson also noted, "My interview subjects cast themselves as 'good guys with guns' tasked with assisting the vulnerable among us."

The good guys with guns trying to stop bad guys scenario, often perpetuated by the NRA, is not realistic, according to some who fire guns for a living.

Ex-Navy SEAL Stephen Benson recently told The Nation:

In chaotic situations, the first thing you know is that the shit has hit the fan and you don’t know where the fan is, And unless it’s constantly drilled into you, it’s very hard to maintain discipline in those situations.

Army Sergeant (Ret.) Rafael Noboa y Rivera added:

I think there’s this fantasy world of gunplay in the movies, but it doesn’t really happen that way. When I heard gunfire [in Iraq], I didn’t immediately pick up my rifle and react.

I first tried to ascertain where the shooting was coming from, where I was in relation to the gunfire and how far away it was.

I think most untrained people are either going to freeze up, or just whip out their gun and start firing in that circumstance. I think they would absolutely panic.

David Chipman, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), stated:

The notion that you have a seal of approval just because you’re not a criminal—that you walk into a gun store and you’re ready for game-day—is ridiculous.

Chipman cited the how the Secret Service has never fired a gun during a presidential assassination attempt: "They didn’t shoot [would-be assassin John] Hinckley. And that’s because you’re likely to do more harm than good in that situation.”

But what about those bad guys who are on the prowl for law-abiding Americans? They do exist, but most of them are the victim's family members and friends, not strangers.

According to a FBI homicide report in 2009, 24 percent of victims were killed by their family members, while 53 percent were killed by an assailant whom they knew, such as a friend, boyfriend/girlfriend, neighbor, acquaintance etc.

Sources: Gallup, FBI, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, The NationThe New York Times / Photo Credit: DAVID HOLT/Flickr