The Rural-Urban Divide on Guns

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A few readers narrow the discussion along those lines:

Your reader mentioned two groups: those who see guns as a source of danger and those who see guns as a source of protection. Allow me to suggest a third: those who see guns as a source of fun. I think people who see guns as a source of protection are more likely to live in urban areas, where crime is more common, or at least better reported on. Rural people would be more likely to see guns as fun.

The idea of guns as sport does not mean a lack of regulation. Far from it. Indeed, I think sportsmen (and women) would be just fine with that.

Any recreational gun owners want to respond to that? ( Here’s some interesting breakdown of the rural-urban divide when it comes to gun violence:

The risk of firearm-related death showed no difference across the rural-urban spectrum for the population as a whole, but varied when divided up by age — firearm deaths were significantly higher for children and people ages 45 and older, while for people ages 20 to 44, the risk of firearm deaths were much higher in urban areas. I’d wager some of that comes down to differences in gun ownership: more households have firearms in rural areas than in urban ones, and sadly, too many gun owners keep their firearms where their children can reach them. The result can be tragic. At the same time, the bulk of victims killed by homicide are young men, according to FBI statistics. And they are more likely to be shot and killed in the cities.

But overall, according to the 2012 study that Time article was spurred by, rural areas are more dangerous, primarily due to the increased death and injury from car accidents. Another reader brings us back to guns:

I live in one of the most liberal counties in the U.S. but in one of its most rural areas. I also take part in activities where most participants are from deeply rural areas. We don’t talk much about politics at those activities, but I am well aware that some of my friends have concealed weapon permits and don’t drive anywhere without a gun in their console. I also had a pretty close friend who was deep into gun culture and was totally convinced that Obama was coming for his guns any day now. 

But it’s not as simple as a rural/urban divide.

Most of the people I know who have guns keep them safely secured and most are not paranoid. Some of them even mock those who can’t leave the house without a gun on their hip. The full-blown and paranoid gun nut is also a very sophisticated engineer who had lived in urban, suburban, and rural areas at different times in his life. He’s a libertarian more than anything else. So, I’m always careful to recognize that things aren’t as simple as a rural/urban divide.

Yet I think we have crossed a line into utter madness. When it comes down to the daily barrage of mass murder, what I believe is that we have turned our country over to terrorists of every religious stripe and no religion at all. The latest murderers may very well have been inspired by ISIS [CB note: breaking news just now suggests so]. But last week’s murderer in Colorado Springs was clearly inspired by the violent rhetoric of the Christianist far right, including the rhetoric of some of the Republican candidates for president.

Adam Lanza and the Oregon shooter and James Holmes may just have been inspired by the demons in their heads, but all of them were able to do what they did because of easy access to legal and illegal weapons. When we live in a country where people on terrorist watch lists and clearly paranoid individuals can buy whatever weaponry they want and the entire right wing of the United States refuses to even consider some basic limitations, I truly fear for what we have become as a nation.

We have given in to the paranoids and the terrorists who kill every single day. We are truly sick as a nation. I wish I saw a way out, but I simply don’t see it any longer. I have no doubt that the people who wrote the Second Amendment are turning over in their graves.

A very different view comes from a reader who grew up in Redlands, California, which is right next to San Bernardino:

Trying to defeat terrorists by making government even more centralized multiplies our vulnerability to asymmetrical warfare and transforms us into a less free, less secure society. Our best defense, ironically, might be to encourage and urban sprawl. A Progressive state such as California, which makes it extremely difficult for citizens to carry a handgun for self defense, leaves citizens easy targets for terrorists who know that their victims will not be shooting back. “Make yourselves sheep,” wrote Benjamin Franklin, “and wolves will eat you.”

Update from a reader, who points to a perceived gaffe from Attorney General Loretta Lynch:

As bad as the empty bromides from various politicians are, do you know what is worse? This:

Those will come later from local authorities who are on the scene, but I do want to express my deepest condolences and ask that you join me in standing with our colleague, friends and partners in San Bernardino suffering with this and add all of our thoughts and prayers here today now at this time. Because we’re at the point where these issues have come together really like never before in law enforcement thought and in our nation’s history and it gives us a wonderful opportunity and a wonderful moment to really make significant change.

What manner of person thinks in these terms? Egads.