HEALTH
09/06/2018 05:13 pm ET

Gun Owners More Likely To Vote Than Non-Gun Owners

“To understand mobilization and political participation, you need to account for gun ownership.”

“The voters are coming,” Parkland shooting survivor Cameron Kasky narrates in a new video from HeadCount.org that encourages young people to mobilize and vote for causes like gun safety on Nov. 6.

It remains to be seen how the Parkland teenagers’ advocacy will play out at the voting box, but according to new research from the University of Kansas, gun owners are historically a more active political cohort than non-gun owners ― and that gap has grown over time. 

University of Kansas researchers analyzed data from the General Social Survey between 1972 through 2012 and found that gun owners are more likely to register to vote and more likely to vote in presidential elections than non-gun owners. (Those findings, which were presented at the American Political Science Association in August, have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal.)

Additional analysis the researchers did on Pew Research Center 2013 data found that gun owners were also more likely to post on social media about guns, contact a public official about gun policy, sign a gun petition and to contribute money to organizations related to gun policy.

“We theorize that this is a two-fold answer. Gun issues and gun rights have become a more salient issue in recent years,” said Abbie Vegter, a political science graduate student who collaborated with University of Kansas political professors Don Haider-Markel and Mark Joslyn on the new research. 

“But we think there’s something else going on,” she added. “As these gun issues are becoming more salient, gun owners have developed a unique, distinct political identity around being a gun owner.”

The profile of a typical gun owner has also shifted over the last 30 years. In the 1980s, more than 60 percent of gun owners said they owned firearms for hunting and 25 percent said they owned guns for protection, according to the Pew Research Center. Today, two-thirds of gun owners say they own guns for protection and less than 40 percent cite hunting as a reason for owning a firearm.  

The voting gap difference between gun owners and non-gun owners also widened over time, nearly doubling between the 1992 and 2012 presidential elections. 

The researchers didn’t have a theory as to why the 1990s seemed to represent a shifting point, but gun violence researchers theorized that increasingly combative politics surrounding guns could be at play.

“The issue has become increasingly politicized,” said Sandro Galea, an epidemiologist and dean at the Boston University School of Public Health. “It is not surprising that those who care passionately about the issue will then become more engaged in politics.”

Vegter also expressed surprised about how few surveys ask respondents whether or not they own a firearm. “Our study signifies that gun ownership is an important part of this participation story,” she said.

“To understand mobilization and political participation, you need to account for gun ownership,” she said.

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