Article published Thursday, November 5, 2015, at The Orange County Register.

Gun ownership, NRA retain popular support

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Despite several years of the billionaire former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and others spending hundreds of millions attacking the National Rifle Association, a new Gallup poll shows that people who don’t own guns have a favorable opinion of the NRA (by 7 percentage points). Moderates are 17 percentage points more likely to have a favorable opinion. Overall, the NRA has a significantly more favorable image than either President Obama or Hillary Clinton.

Yet, according to Adam Winkler in the Washington Post, the NRA will inevitably decline in power. The rationale is simple: Gun ownership is greatest among rural whites, a group whose voting power is diminishing.

The theory isn’t new. Tom Smith, director of the General Social Survey, told me in 1997 that the large drop in gun ownership shown by his poll would “make it easier for politicians to do the right thing on guns.” According to Smith’s survey, the percentage of homes with a gun has fallen fairly continuously since the 1970s – from approximately 50 percent to 32 percent this year.

Other surveys by Gallup and ABC News/Washington Post, however, show that gun ownership rates have been flat since the 1970s. The number is uncertain for a number of reasons, including people’s willingness to tell the truth to pollsters about whether they own guns. The “hard” data that we do know is that concealed handgun permits and gun sales have soared. Concealed handgun permits tripled from 2007-15. The National Instant Criminal Background Check System shows that the number of gun purchases doubled from 2006-14.

While significant demographic changes have been occurring for decades, there hasn’t been any steady increase in support for gun control. Indeed, the opposite is true.

According to Gallup, 78 percent of voters in 1990 supported stricter gun control. By 2014, that number had fallen to 47 percent. Look at Pew polls, and you’ll see that support for stricter gun control has fallen dramatically since the late 1990s. CNN’s polls show a similar pattern since 1993.

The “More Guns, Less Crime” hypothesis is not widely accepted. Gallup recently asked Americans if they thought that residents are safer with a gun in the home. People answered “Yes,” 63 percent to 30 percent. In 2000, Americans answered “No,” 51 percent to 35 percent.

People are more frequently buying guns for personal protection, especially in urban areas. Last December, the Pew Research Center survey found that 57 percent of Americans believe gun ownership “protects people from becoming victims of crime.” That was up from 48 percent two years earlier. Support for gun ownership especially grew among blacks, rising by 25 percentage points in two years.

It’s not just the polls. From 2007-14, the percentage of concealed handgun permits held by blacks and other minorities grew at twice the rate for whites. The growth rate was almost twice as fast for women as for men.

My research shows that blacks benefit most from concealed carry because they are relatively more likely to be victims of violent crime. The elderly benefit because they will have trouble resisting an assailant without the aid of a firearm. The same often applies to women.

Gun-control groups have spent hundreds of millions of dollars trying to convince Americans that gun control is the answer. In 2013, gun owners’ groups – including the NRA – spent less than one-seventh as much on television advertisements. In 2014, almost as much was spent pushing one gun control initiative in Washington state as the NRA spent on all elections in the country.

All that spending hasn’t worked. Those “inevitable” demographic changes haven’t resulted in a collapse in support for gun rights.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

Home (description of book, downloadable data sets, and discussions of previous controversies)

Academic papers:

Social Science Research Network

Book Reviews:

For a list of book reviews on The Bias Against Guns, click here.

List of my Op-eds

Posts by topic

Appalachian law school attack

Baghdad murder rate

Arming Pilots

Fraudulent website pretending to be run by me

The Merced Pitchfork Killings and Vin Suprynowicz's quote

Ayres and Donohue

Stanford Law Review

Mother Jones article


Craig Newmark

Eric Rasmusen

William Sjostrom

Dr. T's

Interview with National Review Online

Lyonette Louis-Jacques's page on Firearms Regulation Worldwide

The End of Myth: An Interview with Dr. John Lott

Cold Comfort, Economist John Lott discusses the benefits of guns--and the hazards of pointing them out.

An interview with John R. Lott, Jr. author of More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws

Some data not found at

Updated Media Analysis of Appalachian Law School Attack

Since the first news search was done additional news stories have been added to Nexis:

There are thus now 218 unique stories, and a total of 294 stories counting duplicates (the stories in yellow were duplicates): Excel file for general overview and specific stories. Explicit mentions of defensive gun use increase from 2 to 3 now.

Journal of Legal Studies paper on spoiled ballots during the 2000 Presidential Election

Data set from USA Today, STATA 7.0 data set

"Do" File for some of the basic regressions from the paper