A recent Pew poll has found that the number one reason for gun ownership is that of protection. This differs from 1999, when hunting was the most common explanation for possession of firearms. Despite this change, crime has decreased across the country as a whole during the same period. Taking into account these seemingly contradictory facts, the changing climate of gun-ownership must surely be influenced by other factors.
The poll tells us that 48% of respondents suggested that “having a gun makes them feel safer,” an increase of 22% on the 1999 figure. As part of the same poll, 58% of people feared that new laws would hinder their ability to protect their families. By contrast, the number of gun owners that stated that hunting was their primary motive fell by 17%, to 32%. While the desires are not mutually exclusive, this shows a clear trend toward a different role for legally-purchased guns in society.
This increase is likely to be down to the belief that crime is on the rise. In a 2011 Gallup poll, 68% of participants responded by saying that crime nationally had increased in the year prior to the poll, and 48% said that they believed crime had increased in their local area.
Despite this belief, violent crime had declined by 40%, and property crime by 28% between 2001 and 2010. There would certainly appear to be a connection between the desire for protection and the concern regarding a perceived increase in violent crime.
There could be many potential reasons for this increased desire for protection in the face of declining crime rates. Firstly, the number of high-profile and highly visible shootings has increased during the period. Of the 62 mass shootings in the United States since 1982, 25 have occurred since 2006. The amount of these well-known killings in a short space of time could give the impression that violent crime, on the whole, is on the rise. In this sense, the harrowing scenes visible in the media can be a catalyst for such beliefs, as few people are likely to study crime figures in order to formulate an opinion.
In addition, the general climate of dissatisfaction with the way the United States has progressed in the previous decade may contribute to the negative opinion of crime trends. Generally speaking, public dissatisfaction in Gallup polls has increased rapidly between 1999 and the present day, ranging from 28% in January 1999, to 72% in the latest figures. The negative atmosphere is likely to contribute to the idea that criminal activity is also on the rise.
With protection and self-defense considered a necessity by a large portion of present day gun owners, it might be inferred that there must be additional reason to be cautious. It appears that the dark cloud of negativity pervading the country at present helps to reinforce this idea, despite suggestions to the contrary.