This is how gun use differs between men and women in the USA
If there’s one topic that’s hotter than all others in the United States right now, it’s gun control. As a result of horrific incidents such as the recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida or the massacre which occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it’s something parents think about every time they see their child onto a bus or drop them to a soccer match. It’s undeniable the threat caused or security provided by guns - depending on your point of view - affects people’s everyday lives in a big way.
But while it’s easy to tar all gun-owners with the same brush, it’s not the case that one size fits all when it comes to those who possess firearms. After all, only about 20 per cent actually belong to NRA members. And although the prevailing idea might be that guns are somehow linked to masculinity, it is estimated that over a fifth of gun owners in the US are female. According to a survey of 1,269 individuals carried out by the Pew Research Centre, there’s a big difference in the way men and women use theirs too.
Women first use a gun at a later age
How young is too young? Because when it comes to when individuals first fired a gun, the results are telling. For males who grew up in a gun-owning household, the average age at which they first used a weapon was 12 years old. For women, it was a slightly more palatable 17 years of age. Perhaps this shouldn’t come as such a surprise though, given that as long as a legal guardian is present, there is not actually any minimum age to go shooting at a range. In fact, in 2017 alone, more than 40 children aged under three accidentally shot themselves or someone else.
Women tend to become gun owners at a later age
Just as women tended to shoot a gun for the first time at a later age, they’re also likely to become a gun owner later in life. While men who carry guns reported that, on average, they acquired their first gun at the age of 19 - an age when the rest of us were barely responsible enough to keep a goldfish alive - women waited a further eight years, until 27, to arm up. About three quarters of male gun owners have multiple weapons, compared to about half of female owners.
Women have different reasons for owning a gun
Why exactly people feel the need to own guns has become one of the most discussed topics of the whole gun debate, with some saying that it's simply about protecting the Second Amendment and others arguing that it's integral to their everyday safety. For women, it appears that the main driving factor fits into this latter category, with 27 per cent of female respondents saying that "protection" was their only reason for owning a gun. A further 71 per cent said it was a major reason. On the contrary, just eight per cent of men said that it was their sole reason for purchasing.
Women are less likely to follow gun culture
Fitting in with the idea that women have broadly different motivations for owning guns to men, the study also found they are less likely to show an interest in gun culture. When asked about whether or not they “often or sometimes” go to shooting ranges, watch TV shows about guns or visit website about hunting or other shooting sports, the results showed that the number of individuals answering "yes" were all between 10 and 15 per cent lower for women. That doesn't mean that women don't enjoy a casual Sunday afternoon shoot though, with well over four in ten women saying they "sometimes" go to the gun range.
Women tend to be more cautious with their guns
Everyone knows that if you're going to be a "good" gun owner, then you have to take responsibility for storing your weapons safely and making sure the wrong people can't accidentally let them off. So it was surprising to see the disparity between quite how cautious men and women can be when it comes to looking after their guns. Almost 60 per cent of men said that they keep their guns both loaded and within easy reach "all" or "most" of the time when at home, with 48 per cent of women saying the same. Interestingly, when it comes to being out in public, the figure levels out, at 26 per cent.
Women are more likely to support harsher gun restrictions
When the group was asked if they would support stricter gun restrictions, there was a stark difference in attitudes by gender, with over 30 per cent more women supporting banning assault-style weapons and high capacity magazines. When it came to introducing more background checks and the creation of a federal database, 20 per cent more women were in favour than men. The same can't be said of Democrat-leaning gun owners, however, with a near equal percentage of men and women supporting the same suggestions.
For someone who is admittedly sceptical about whether ordinary people need guns in the first place, this study has proven pretty reassuring in a way. They appear more cautious, more defensive than we probably give them credit for. Call me liberal, or a snowflake, or whatever you like, but for a country where 44 per cent of people say they know someone who has been shot, whether intentionally or accidentally, the US's attitude still seems pretty lax.
But in the wake of recent atrocities, it's fair to say that some women's attitudes towards guns are changing. In the aftermath of the Florida shooting, donations to and support for female-led gun control advocacy groups such as Moms Demand Action surged, and a series of walkouts by students across America have shown that the next generation of gun owners may be smaller than ever. While women may still be carrying guns, more than ever are saying no to them. Whether that will translate into a reduction in gun violence, only time will tell.