James Werrell

Small majority owns most of nation’s guns

This is believed to be an artist’s rendering of James Werrell defending his home against intruders, assuming he can’t get to his shotgun.
This is believed to be an artist’s rendering of James Werrell defending his home against intruders, assuming he can’t get to his shotgun. MCT file

Have you seen this statistic? Just 3 percent of American adults own half of the nation’s guns.

The finding was the result of a survey of 4,000 gun owners conducted in 2015 by public health researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities. The other significant finding was that 78 percent of Americans own no guns at all.

Researchers say that similar concentrations of ownership are common with other consumer goods and services. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted.

Fully half of all firearms in the U.S. are sitting in the gun vaults of a tiny percentage of Americans. Statisticians estimated that the top 3 percent of American adults own, on average, 17 guns apiece.

And because that’s an average, the arsenals of a minuscule number of gun owners are a lot larger than that. These are the folks who truly are ready for the end times.

As the figures indicate, if 3 percent own half the guns and 78 percent own none, 19 percent of Americans own the other half. But many in that group own no more than one or two guns apiece.

I qualify as a member of the 19 percent – but just barely. I have an aged pump shotgun, bought second-hand, that I have used to hunt dove and quail.

I thought about buying a new one but just never got around to it. One reason for that is I’m a terrible shot and there are other, better ways to spend the money.

I guess this shotgun could be considered my home-defense weapon. But in reality that honor belongs to the baseball bat I keep in the corner of the bedroom.

If an intruder were to start battering in my door, I would have to run to the guest bedroom, grab my shotgun out of the closet, take it out of the case (the zipper sticks, so that would take some time) and then go looking for ammo. I think I have some shells in a bag in my son’s room across the hall.

Then I would have to load the shotgun, run to the front of the house and confront the intruder. By that time, however, he would already have loaded up our silverware and taken off for the hock shop.

My alternate plan in the event of a home intrusion is to follow my wife and dog out the bedroom window in my underwear and run away. Then I’d call the cops on my cell phone.

I guess, in spirit, I feel more akin with the 78 percent of Americans who own no guns. I have had enough misadventures with mechanical objects of many kinds to know that keeping a pistol in the nightstand could end badly.

It is frightening that, according to the survey, there are 265 million guns in circulation in this country. That amounts to more than one for every adult.

But it is somewhat reassuring that at least half of those guns are in the hands of serious gun owners who reputedly know how to handle them properly. And it is comforting to know that such a resounding majority of Americans don’t find it necessary to own any guns at all.

Despite the proliferation of guns, the rate of gun ownership today is significantly lower than in decades past. That has something to do with the waning popularity of hunting.

While gun advocates like to paint the nostalgic picture of a father and son hiking into the woods to shoot something for dinner, that old tradition is on the decline, especially as more and more people migrate to densely populated metropolitan areas.

While most gun owners in the 1990s said they kept guns primarily for hunting and target shooting, the Harvard/Northeastern survey found that most gun owners today say they need guns for protection from other people.

Those hundreds of millions of guns aren’t going to simply disappear any time soon. And the government certainly isn’t efficient enough to come and get them.

Ideally, the desire to own a gun will continue to decline until nearly every household in the nation is gun free and all the guns are in the hands of a diminishing minority. This would be gun control via lack of interest in gun ownership.

It might, however, be a good time to buy stock in baseball bats.

James Werrell is opinion page editor of The Herald.

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