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Just 3% of Americans own more than half the country's guns
Studies indicate that most guns are owned by a small amount of Americans, while the majority's views on gun control issues are ignored by lawmakers.
Americans are not as gun-obsessed as some would like their countrymen to believe. Linking gun ownership to the identity of being an American has been a successful sales tactic that is more myth than reality. The numbers show that a small, unrepresentative, but disproportionately vocal portion of the American population, aided by self-serving politicians and a powerful lobby organization, has enacted its agenda over the majority of Americans, who do not own guns and would rather see much stronger gun safety regulations.
How many Americans actually own a gun? A 2016 study by Harvard and Northeastern University put the total number of privately-owned firearms in the U.S. at 265 million, with more than half of that — 133 million — being concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans, called "super owners," who have an average of 17 guns each.
For another perspective on this stunning statistic, consider that the Small Arms Survey estimates there to be around 650 million civilian-owned firearms total in the world. In contrast, about 200 million firearms are owned by the armed forces, while 26 million are in law enforcement hands. So we have 3 percent of Americans owning about 20 percent of the world's stockpile of firearms.
A 2017 poll by the Pew Research Center found that the amount of Americans who actually own a gun themselves is at about 30 percent of the country's citizens. Maybe this should be obvious math but here it goes anyway — about 70 percent of the people in the U.S. do not own a gun. Among households, 42 percent of Americans live in a home where someone keeps a gun. That leaves about 58 percent of Americans who live in a gun-free house.
credit: Pew Research Center
Overall, the percentage of gun owners in the U.S. has been declining relative to the population growth and is at an almost 40-year low, reported the Washington Post. Across a number of national polls, gun ownership has fallen by 10 – 20 percent from the 1970s.
If you want to chew on the numbers further, 48 percent of white men in America currently have a gun. That's compared to 24% of white women and 24% of nonwhite men, as well as 16 percent of nonwhite women.
One other telling characteristic — the less education you have, the more likely you are a gun owner. About a third (31 percent) of the people who only have a high school diploma have a gun, 34 percent of those who some college education, but only a quarter of those with a bachelor's degree report to be gun owners. Among whites only, the number of high school diploma owners with a gun jumps up to 40 percent, compared to 26 percent for college graduates.
Another factor that plays into this - the farther you live from a city, the more likely you are to own a gun, as 46 percent of Americans who live in rural areas are gun owners. This is in contrast to 28 percent of suburbanites or 19 percent of those who live in urban areas, who feel compelled to get a weapon.
Combine this with the statistics that the number one reason (among 67 percent) for owning a gun is "protection," while 89 percent of gun owners see having one as important to their overall identity and another 85 percent say guns are essential to their sense of freedom.
Located next to a Wellness store, this is the Sunrise Tactical Supply store in Coral Springs, Florida on February 16, 2018 where school shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his AR-15 to gun down students at Marjory Stoneman High School. (Photo credit: MICHELE EVE SANDBERG/AFP/Getty Images)
It's also telling that among gun owners, only 66 percent say they keep their guns in a locked place (34% don't), 59% take gun safety courses while 41% keep their shooting skills up to date. Only 44 percent keep all their guns unloaded, 26% tell visitors with children that there are guns in the house and only 5 percent would share that knowledge with those who come to their house without children.
So, accordingly, a large enough proportion of gun owners are not up to speed on how to use their guns, don't keep them locked up or unloaded and won't tell others they have guns in the house, even if children are involved.
Now, how many people are involved with the all-powerful National Rifle Association (NRA)? There are about 5 million members of the NRA, the leading gun lobby organization. Of course, the NRA has some stats of its own, looking to bolster its percentages in a country of 321 milliion. It counters that if you take into account lapsed memberships and people whose family members are in the NRA, you can get "more than 14 million Americans" who “consider themselves NRA members."
It's telling, of course, that the NRA is counting members by estimating what people might be thinking rather than actual facts, while spending at least $203.2 million dollars on political activities which include donating to candidates and lobbying, since 1998 (as per PolitFact). The group also often spends money indirectly to help defeat any legislation that it may perceive to be lessening gun rights or contributes to candidates through affiliates.
A protester holds a sign that reads, 'NRA Stop Killing Our Kids', outside the court-room where Nikolas Cruz, 19, a former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was having a bond hearing in front of Broward Judge Kim Mollica at the Broward County Courthouse on February 15, 2018 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. (Photo by Charles Trainor Jr. - Pool/Getty Images)
The NRA was a significant factor in the repeal of an Obama-era law that was blocking mentally ill people from purchasing guns. The measure to nix the existing rule was signed by President Trump in one his first actions on the job. This fact has come back to life with a vengeance in the aftermath of the high school shooting in Florida, where a mentally unstable teenager, who was repeatedly reported to the authorities, was somehow allowed to purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle - the weapon with which he carried out the horrific tragedy of murdering 17 people.
According to the Pew Research Center, 89 percent of both gun-owners and non-gun owners agree that there should be legislation that would prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns. 77% of gun owners and 87% of non-gun owners (84 percent of total adults) think there should be background checks for private sales and at gun shows, closing the “gun show loophole". Over 80 percent of both groups would bar gun purchases to people on the no-fly or watch lists, and 71 percent would create a federal database to track gun sales.
Semi-automatic AR-15's is shown at Good Guys Guns & Range on February 15, 2018 in Orem, Utah. An AR-15 was used in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
Disagreements start to creep in when talking about banning assault-style weapons like the AR-15, with 77 percent of non-gun owners being in favor, and 48 percent of gun owners, which still makes for 68 percent of all adults. Similarly, 65 percent of all adults would ban high-capacity magazines.
Of course, as regulations stall, the sheer amount of guns in America is staggering to consider as is the number of mass shootings, with more than one mass shooting happening per day on average. It is a shameful statistic for a developed country and a world leader. Stronger laws are necessary but any attempt at them has been constantly pushed back by gun-lobby influenced politicians. In fact, the opposite has been happening - there are fewer restrictions than ever.
One other factor to consider if you think the gun lobby cannot be stopped and nothing will ever change in America — as of 2018, gun sales are going down. It's not hard to guess why — President Obama is out of office and "fear-based buying" is down with the pro-gun President Trump in office. No longer can it be claimed by the gun industry that Obama is coming to take anyone's guns.
And maybe that's how it should be. What people who see gun control as necessary need is to cause a change in consciousness that cannot be enacted by any one man or woman. The majority of Americans see plainly the danger unregulated guns continue to pose to their society but must finally feel their power in numbers. They have to organize and make changes to the reality where a relatively small amount of passionate people, who see guns as essential to their identity (which is not a part of the national character of America), dictate their will.
A cave in France contains man’s earliest-known structures that had to be built by Neanderthals who were believed to be incapable of such things.
In a French cave deep underground, scientists have discovered what appear to be 176,000-year-old man-made structures. That's 150,000 years earlier than any that have been discovered anywhere before. And they could only have been built by Neanderthals, people who were never before considered capable of such a thing.
This is going to force a major shift in the way we see these early hominids. Researchers had thought that Neanderthals were profoundly primitive, and just barely human. This cave in France's Aveyron Valley changes all that: It's suddenly obvious that Neanderthals were not quite so unlike us.
According to The Atlantic, Bruniquel Cave was first explored in 1990 by Bruno Kowalsczewski, who was 15 at the time. He'd spent three years digging away at rubble covering a space through which his father felt air moving.
Some members of a local caving club managed to squeeze through the narrow, 30-meter long tunnel Kowalsczewski had dug to arrive in a passageway. They followed it past pools of water and old animal bones for over 330 meters before coming into a large chamber and a scene they had no reason to expect: Stalagmites that someone had broken into hundreds of small pieces, most of which were arranged into two rings—one roughly 6 meters across, and one 2 meters wide—with the remaining pieces stacked into one of four piles or leaning against the rings. There were also indications of fires and burnt bones.
Image source: Etienne FABRE - SSAC
A professional archeologist, Francois Rouzaud, determined with carbon dating that a burnt bear bone found in the chamber was 47,600 years old, which made the stalagmite structures older than any known cave painting. It also put the cave squarely within the age of the Neanderthals since they were the only humans in France that early. No one had suspected them of being capable of constructing complex forms or doing anything that far underground.
After Rouzard suddenly died in 1999, exploration at the cave stopped until life-long caver Sophie Verheyden, vacationing in the area, heard about it and decided to try and uranium-date the stalagmites inside.
The team she assembled eventually determined that the stalagmites had been broken up by people 176,000 years ago, way farther back even than Rouzard had supposed.
There weren't any signs that Neanderthals lived in the cave, so it's a mystery what they were up to down there. Verheyden thinks it's unlikely that a solitary artist created the tableaux, and so an organized group of skilled workers must've been involved. And “When you see such a structure so far into the cave, you think of something cultural or religious, but that's not proven," Verheyden told The Atlantic.
Whatever they built, the Bruniquel Cave reveals some big surprises about Neanderthals: They had fire, they built things, and likely used tools. Add this to recent discoveries that suggest they buried their dead, made art, and maybe even had language, and these mysterious proto-humans start looking a lot more familiar. A lot more like homo sapiens, and a lot more like distant cousins lost to history.
A recent study used fMRI to compare the brains of psychopathic criminals with a group of 100 well-functioning individuals, finding striking similarities.
- The study used psychological inventories to assess a group of violent criminals and healthy volunteers for psychopathy, and then examined how their brains responded to watching violent movie scenes.
- The fMRI results showed that the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits reacted similarly as the psychopathic criminal group. Both of these groups also showed atrophy in brain regions involved in regulating emotion.
- The study adds complexity to common conceptions of what differentiates a psychopath from a "healthy" individual.
When considering what precisely makes someone a psychopath, the lines can be blurry.
Psychological research has shown that many people in society have some degree of malevolent personality traits, such as those described by the "dark triad": narcissism (entitled self-importance), Machiavellianism (strategic exploitation and deceit), and psychopathy (callousness and cynicism). But while people who score high in these traits are more likely to end up in prison, most of them are well functioning and don't engage in extreme antisocial behaviors.
Now, a new study published in Cerebral Cortex found that the brains of psychopathic criminals are structurally and functionally similar to many well-functioning, non-criminal individuals with psychopathic traits. The results suggest that psychopathy isn't a binary classification, but rather a "constellation" of personality traits that "vary in the non-incarcerated population with normal range of social functioning."
Assessing your inner psychopath
The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to compare the brains of violent psychopathic criminals to those of healthy volunteers. All participants were assessed for psychopathy through commonly used inventories: the Hare Psychopathy Checklist-Revised and the Levenson Self-Report Psychopathy Scale.
Experimental design and sample stimuli. The subjects viewed a compilation of 137 movie clips with variable violent and nonviolent content.Nummenmaa et al.
Both groups watched a 26-minute-long medley of movie scenes that were selected to portray a "large variability of social and emotional content." Some scenes depicted intense violence. As participants watched the medley, fMRI recorded how various regions of their brains responded to the content.
The goal was to see whether the brains of psychopathic criminals looked and reacted similarly to the brains of healthy subjects who scored high in psychopathic traits. The results showed similar reactions: When both groups viewed violent scenes, the fMRI revealed strong reactions in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula, brain regions associated with regulating emotion.
These similarities manifested as a positive association: The more psychopathic traits a healthy subject displayed, the more their brains responded like the criminal group. What's more, the fMRI revealed a similar association between psychopathic traits and brain structure, with those scoring high in psychopathy showing lower gray matter density in the orbitofrontal cortex and anterior insula.
There were some key differences between the groups, however. The researchers noted that the structural abnormalities in the healthy sample were mainly associated with primary psychopathic traits, which are: inclination to lie, lack of remorse, and callousness. Meanwhile, the functional responses of the healthy subjects were associated with secondary psychopathic traits: impulsivity, short temper, and low tolerance for frustration.
Overall, the study further illuminates some of the biological drivers of psychopathy, and it adds nuance to common conceptions of the differences between psychopathy and being "healthy."
Why do some psychopaths become criminals?
The million-dollar question remains unanswered: Why do some psychopaths end up in prison, while others (or, people who score high in psychopathic traits) lead well-functioning lives? The researchers couldn't give a definitive answer, but they did note that psychopathic criminals had lower connectivity within "key nodes of the social and emotional brain networks, including amygdala, insula, thalamus, and frontal pole."
"Thus, even though there are parallels in the regional responsiveness of the brain's affective circuit in the convicted psychopaths and well-functioning subjects with psychopathic traits, it is likely that the disrupted functional connectivity of this network is specific to criminal psychopathy."
Counterintuitively, directly combating misinformation online can spread it further. A different approach is needed.
- Like the coronavirus, engaging with misinformation can inadvertently cause it to spread.
- Social media has a business model based on getting users to spend increasing amounts of time on their platforms, which is why they are hesitant to remove engaging content.
- The best way to fight online misinformation is to drown it out with the truth.
A year ago, the Center for Countering Digital Hate warned of the parallel pandemics — the biological contagion of COVID-19 and the social contagion of misinformation, aiding the spread of the disease. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, anti-vaccine accounts have gained 10 million new social media followers, while we have witnessed arson attacks against 5G masts, hospital staff abused for treating COVID patients, and conspiracists addressing crowds of thousands.
Many have refused to follow guidance issued to control the spread of the virus, motivated by beliefs in falsehoods about its origins and effects. The reluctance we see in some to get the COVID vaccine is greater amongst those who rely on social media rather than traditional media for their information. In a pandemic, lies cost lives, and it has felt like a new conspiracy theory has sprung up online every day.
How we, as social media users, behave in response to misinformation can either enable or prevent it from being seen and believed by more people.
The rules are different online
Credit: Pool via Getty Images
If a colleague mentions in the office that Bill Gates planned the pandemic, or a friend at dinner tells the table that the COVID vaccine could make them infertile, the right thing to do is often to challenge their claims. We don't want anyone to be left believing these falsehoods.
But digital is different. The rules of physics online are not the same as they are in the offline world. We need new solutions for the problems we face online.
Now, imagine that in order to reply to your friend, you must first hand him a megaphone so that everyone within a five-block radius can hear what he has to say. It would do more damage than good, but this is essentially what we do when we engage with misinformation online.
Think about misinformation as being like the coronavirus — when we engage with it, we help to spread it to everyone else with whom we come into contact. If a public figure with a large following responds to a post containing misinformation, they ensure the post is seen by hundreds of thousands or even millions of people with one click. Social media algorithms also push content into more users' newsfeeds if it appears to be engaging, so lots of interactions from users with relatively small followings can still have unintended negative consequences.
The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology.
Additionally, whereas we know our friend from the office or dinner, most of the misinformation we see online will come from strangers. They often will be from one of two groups — true believers, whose minds are made up, and professional propagandists, who profit from building large audiences online and selling them products (including false cures). Both of these groups use trolling tactics, that is, seeking to trigger people to respond in anger, thus helping them reach new audiences and thereby gaming the algorithm.
On the day the COVID vaccine was approved in the UK, anti-vaccine activists were able to provoke pro-vaccine voices into posting about thalidomide, exposing new audiences to a reason to distrust the medical establishment. Those who spread misinformation understand the rules of the game online; it's time those of us on the side of enlightenment values of truth and science did too.
How to fight online misinformation
Of course, it is much easier for social media companies to take on this issue than for us citizens. Research from the Center for Countering Digital Hate and Anti-Vax Watch last month found that 65% of anti-vaccine content on social media is linked to just twelve individuals and their organizations. Were the platforms to simply remove the accounts of these superspreaders, it would do a huge amount to reduce harmful misinformation.
The problem is that social media platforms are resistant to do so. These businesses have been built by constantly increasing the amount of time users spend on their platforms. Getting rid of the creators of engaging content that has millions of people hooked is antithetical to the business model. It will require intervention from governments to force tech companies to finally protect their users and society as a whole.
So, what can the rest of us do, while we await state regulation?
Instead of engaging, we should be outweighing the bad with the good. Every time you see a piece of harmful misinformation, share advice or information from a trusted source, like the WHO or BBC, on the same subject. The trend of people celebrating and posting photos of themselves or loved ones receiving the vaccine has been far more effective than any attempt to disprove a baseless claim about Bill Gates or 5G mobile technology. In the attention economy that governs tech platforms, drowning out is a better strategy than rebuttal.
Imran Ahmed is CEO of the Center for Countering Digital Hate.