With the increase of violent attacks since 9/11, many Americans have experienced a change in their perceptions on guns and gun laws. But these perceptions vary across race and gender.
On September 11, 2001, the United States experienced terrorism on its own ground for the first time. Americans were shaken by this event, and it opened many of their eyes to the violence that could happen, and would happen in the years to follow.
Since that day, Americans’ perceptions of guns have changed, most likely due to the increase in violent attacks after it occurred. In May 2000, about a year before the 9/11 attack, 57 percent of the population supported gun control, while 38 percent supported gun rights, according to Pew Research. As of August 2016, those percentages seem to be almost neutralized with 46 percent supporting gun control and 52 percent supporting gun rights. These statistics seem to imply that violent acts are causing more people to feel as though they need to protect themselves in some way or another.
Over a timeline of around twenty-five years, there has been a change in American’s perceptions revolving around crime and actual crime rates. Americans who worried about crime rates tended to favor stricter gun control in the past, whereas now those same Americans prefer gun laws to stay the same or to be loosened.
While ISIS is ranked among leading international dangers, according to Pew Research, terrorist groups are not the sole reasoning behind how polarized the U.S. is on the perception of guns. Today, 54 percent of Americans say that stricter laws will reduce the number of deaths that are caused by mass shootings.
Perceptions of guns and gun control have shifted as a result of these violent acts, and those changes can be seen in more than one area of our everyday lives.
Risk and Protection:
When Caleb Jones was younger, he used to spend a lot of time at his grandfather’s small, picturesque home. A fence wrapped around the property and there was a small pond in the back that seemed to never lacked goldfish. But inside the house, it was different.
He remembers seeing it as an arsenal. His grandfather was a police officer for twenty-one years, so he was no stranger to guns, and he made sure his grandson wasn’t, either. He taught Caleb about gun safety and the ethics that go along with carrying a gun in that small home. Caleb knew the proper way to handle one, and he knew the responsibility that came with carrying one, which led to an appreciation for them and the safety they brought.
Now 18 years old, Caleb will be shipped off to boot camp in June to join the Marines. This is partially due to the violent attacks that have been happening recently, which, along with the values he learned as a child, have pushed his views on gun rights even further. He wants to protect people, and he views guns and the right to own and use them as a way to do that.
Culture of Honor is a psychological term for Americans who feel it is their duty to protect. Dr. Margo Monteith, Social Psychology professor at Purdue said that is particularly popular in white males like Caleb. It is the belief that they need to be protective and serve their country.
Caleb visits the shooting range every chance he can get. On a normal visit, he and his friends will head to the counter to check out a gun, ammunition, safety goggles, and targets.The clerk escorts him and his friends to the range where they post their targets and get ready to practice. He adjusts his body properly, takes off the safety, aims his gun at the target and pulls the trigger. The recoil is instant, but something he is used to—something he loves.
Caleb’s first thought when he hears about another violent attack that involves guns is that it isn’t the gun’s fault. The gun did not shoot a person, the person holding the power behind the gun shot someone. Seventy-six percent of the population are for the proposal of a law to prevent mentally ill individuals from owning a gun, according to Pew Research. This belief could correlate with Caleb’s feelings: Regulate the people, not the weapon.
As of February 2013, 48 percent of gun owners said their reasoning behind owning a gun was for their own protection. This is a 72 percent change from 1999, according to Pew Research. This is also the sole reason as to why Caleb wants to carry a gun with him.
Caleb doesn’t have his license to carry yet—he’s waiting until he comes home from boot camp to go through the paperwork. When he does get his license though, he plans to carry a gun with him to most places he goes. Probably not everywhere, but whenever he is alone or in a large public place, there will be a gun concealed on him to protect him.
Just in case.
Race Makes a Difference:
Alexis Parker was alone in her room one night two years ago, mindlessly scrolling through her Facebook feed when she stumbled on a video a friend of her’s shared. It showed what appeared to be a white cop and a Mexican cop shooting through the window of a car. Inside the car, there was a young black man who the cops were shooting at.
She vividly remembers seeing the cops shoot him eighteen times.
As Alexis watched the video, chills shot down her spine. She had seen countless videos like this, but this one made it feel more real.
Police have killed at least 289 black people in 2016 alone, according to a site called Mapping Police Violence that tracks every police brutality act on a map of the U.S. Sixty-nine percent of those were not suspected of a violent act and were unarmed. These statistics scare Alexis and make the violence feel like a reality.
Forty-nine percent of the African-American population say that gun ownership does more to put people’s safety at risk rather than protect, according to Pew Research. Alexis has always rode the fence between being for and against gun rights. Police brutality videos swarm her social media feeds and, as she watches them, she’s realized how unsafe it is for a black female, especially, to carry a gun.
Alexis feels that, being a woman, she should know how to protect herself from an attack. However, she would rather use pepper spray or take a self-defense class than get a license to carry.
Monteith said she thinks that it is more common for white people to carry in southern states. She doesn’t know if it is a socially cultural thing, but it is just more common. In fact, data gathered in 2012 by the New York Police Department shows that it is 50 percent more likely that a white person is found in possession of a weapon.
Alexis didn’t grow up around guns like Caleb did, so her views are strictly based on what the news and media shows her. By based on what she knows, she has come to the conclusion that guns are mostly a danger—they hurt more than they protect.
When she sees other videos of a violent act, like police brutality, it scares her. Those events have really affected the way she perceives guns and gun usage. She’s the youngest in her family and this past semester was her first away from home. With this dramatic change, she realized how unsafe she feels now that she is alone. And she feels that owning a gun won’t change that.
Gender Makes a Difference:
The first time Stephanie Farmer shot a gun, she was sixteen. She remembers it being a “perfect” father-daughter bonding moment. Her dad took her to a shooting range that he normally went to and taught her all of the safety guidelines she would need to know, along with how to actually shoot the gun.
She remembers her dad telling her: Don’t point it at other people, don’t keep your finger on the trigger, never announce to people that you have a gun. If you do show it to someone, make sure it isn’t loaded.
Stephanie grew up around guns, much like Caleb did. Her grandfather went hunting with them, her father keeps several in their house, and she also owns two—both of which were gifts, one being the rifle she first shot when she was sixteen.
Going to the shooting range with her dad always seemed like a sport to Stephanie, however, as she got older and was out more on her own, the need to protect herself was greater. When she was younger, her dad would always tell her to watch her surroundings and always be prepared if she needed to be.
Stephanie feels that girls in general are taught that any time they are out alone, they need to keep an eye out. While she herself has never been attacked, she has had friends that have been and didn’t have a way to protect themselves. This in itself has pushed Stephanie to want to carry all the time.
However, Stephanie also thinks that guns are too easily accessible. Guns are sold on Craigslist without having to be screened or processed. In fact, in ten states, it is no longer required to have a permit to carry, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center’s data from 2015.
She also thinks that the people who own guns and are committing violent acts aren’t trained properly on gun safety. It’s possible for the wrong person to get a gun. Sixty-eight percent of the public are for the government creating a database to track gun sales, according to Pew Research.
Data gathered by the Crime Prevention Research Center shows that since 2007, the rate that women have owned guns has increased by 270 percent. Stephanie thinks that there is a growing market of women who want to protect themselves—there’s pink versions of guns, knives, and pepper spray that aim their sales at women specifically. She thinks it makes sense in today’s society for more women to carry a gun—pepper spray can only go so far.
Stephanie has yet to get her license to carry—she’s going to, she just hasn’t gotten around to it. She wants to carry for the same reason her dad does—just in case.
This past year has brought one of the most polarized debates on gun rights and gun control. Twenty-five years ago, the scales were tipped farther toward gun rights, whereas today Americans are split almost fifty-fifty.
Whether or not they are for or against guns, for stricter laws or easier access, Americans have been impacted by the violence that surrounds them. And they are firm in their beliefs.