We've seen a lot of female gun owners in the debate over gun control, because a sassy take-charge Lara Croft is a much better image for gun ownership advocates to project than nutty middle-aged men. But while we've read lots of trend pieces about "more and more" women owning guns, polls consistently show that women own far fewer guns and are far more likely to support gun control than men. According to an NBC News/ Wall Street Journal poll released just before the Senate voted to take up gun legislation this morning, 65 percent of American women want stricter gun laws, while only 44 percent of men do. "It's easily one of the largest policy gender gaps we've seen in years," the team NBC News's First Read reports. That follows a Gallup poll that found the single biggest predictor of whether someone owns a gun is their gender. Only 15 percent of women owned guns based on Gallup's polls from 2007 to 2012, while 45 percent of men did. The gun nut as we think of it — hoarding weapons, opposed to all gun control — is a dude. There are not broad social trends to debunk this stereotype.
The National Rifle Association has said less gun control is necessary so women can protect themselves. The Independent Women's Forum's Gayle Trotter was selected by Republicans to testify about gun control earlier this year; she testified that women need AR-15s to defend their babies against home invaders. All women benefit from some women owning guns, she said, because criminals will be more scared knowing a potential victim might be carrying. Why so much emphasis on women when the gun lobby's core supporters are dudes? In March, Genie Jennings of Women and Guns magazine best explained the PR strategy:
...I have been advocating that women show that they own and use guns, because women are not threatening. It softens the face of the gunowner to the general public when they learn that the sweet little old ladies and the charming young women are part of that group that the media tries so hard to demonize.
It's quite successful! Lots of reporters find the idea of a cool counterintuitive gun-loving woman attractive. "More And More Women Are Buying Guns — Here's Why," The Blaze reported this week. "Rise of the Female Gun Nut," New York reported in February. "Rising Voice of Gun Ownership Is Female," The New York Times said the same month, citing studies from the not-quite-disinterested National Sporting Goods Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, as well as some girly gun accessories for sale. "I've seen a lot of daddies taking their young daughters out hunting," hunting blogger Holly Heyser told BuzzFeed in January. "That's a huge change. A decade ago people wanted to take their sons."
These stories are all based on great anecdotes. Photos of customized Hello Kitty guns are often used.* That does not mean there is a massive army of Hello Kitty handgun-packing women in America. Again, Gallup found 15 percent of women owned guns — that's fewer than the percentage of adults who don't have the Internet (20 percent), significantly fewer than the percentage of Americans who believe aliens are real (29 percent), the exact same as the number of Americans who believe the government is sending mind-control messages through the TV (15 percent), fewer than the percentage of New Yorkers with herpes (26 percent), and fewer than the number of 20-year-olds who are virgins (23 percent). It is only slightly more than the percentage of Americans who approve of Congress (13 percent).
The data on guns isn't so good for the ladies. A 2003 study by The American Journal of Public Health found there was "no clear evidence" that owning a gun reduced women's chances of being killed. An analysis this year by Mayors Against Illegal Guns found that "in states that require a background check for every handgun sale, 38 percent fewer women are shot to death by intimate partners." Six times more women were murdered by intimate partners than by strangers in 2010. A study published in the Journal of Urban Health in 2002 found that women were 4.9 times more likely to be murdered by a gun in states with high gun ownership than in states with low gun ownership. Of the 10 states with the highest rates of female homicide, five are in the South. Southern white men are the most likely to own guns, at 61 percent. Southern white women are the women most likely to own guns, at 25 percent. That's 5 percent more than the percent of American women who believe aliens exist.
Aliens: More real than the myth that more guns means women are safer.
*Correction: This story originally stated that Hello Kitty guns are available for sale. Sanrio, the owner of the Hello Kitty brand, does not sell or allow anyone else to sell Hello Kitty-themed handguns.