For Quartz, I wrote about Missouri’s terrible new permitless carry law and our state’s cultural divide:
Gun culture, in Missouri, is indeed ubiquitous: that Kander, running as a Democrat advocating gun control, assembled a rifle on TV to show his bona fides speaks to its dominance. But while gun culture may shape state discourse, and gun regulation is the subject of heated debate both in Missouri’s media and legislature, the issue of gun ownership itself remains more of a mystery. Who are Missouri’s gun owners? How does ownership vary by region, gender, and race? Where are the guns coming from? What are they being used for?
The answer is that no one really knows. That’s because in 1996, the National Rifle Association goaded Congress into forbidding the US Centers for Disease Control from spending funds “to advocate or promote gun control,” stripping the center of $2.6 million in funding to research gun violence. Despite an executive order by president Barack Obama prompted by the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, the CDC continues to refuse research funding, in part because of fear that they will be hassled by the NRA. The result, a Los Angeles Times study concluded, is that “we’re flying blind on gun violence.”
It may be that gun ownership in Missouri—and in the US in general—is not as pervasive as it seems. This week, the Guardian gained access to a rare piece of quantitative research: an in-depth study from Harvard and Northeastern Universities showing that half of all guns are owned by only 3% of American adults. While Americans own an estimated 265 million guns—more than one gun for every adult—133 million of these guns are owned by the 3%. The authors of the study note that gun ownership in the US has actually fallen from 25% to 22% since 1994, but the number of guns available has risen dramatically.
The primary reason for increased gun ownership? Fear. “The desire to own a gun for protection—there’s a disconnect between that and the decreasing rates of lethal violence in this country. It isn’t a response to actuarial reality,” Matthew Miller, one of the authors of the study, told the Guardian, noting that the gun ownership surge occurred as violent crime decreased nationwide.
In Missouri, that fear is palpable, and it’s also self-perpetuating. While crime has plummeted since the 1990s, Missouri gun deaths are increasing, as is paranoia.