Book Review: The Gun Gap (Mark Joslyn, 2020)

I picked up a copy of this e-book recently. Someone I follow online (can’t remember who, sorry) recommended it. The author, Mark Joslyn, is a political scientist at the University of Kansas who does research on voting trends and demographics, including gun ownership. According to the introduction, the author “has never owned or gun or been involved in gun politics”. That lack of understanding of the history of the gun culture in the U.S. shows in some of the critical points that were missed in his analysis. He read a lot of books on the subject, mostly books written by gun culture outsiders and other academics, and draws conclusions based on graphs and charts and the third-hand conclusions reached by the authors of the books that he read.

It’s a wonky book that analyzes changing trends based on survey and poll data, making the case that political analysts and pundits and academics should be looking at more than gender, age, location and other factors to understand the growing political divide. As someone deep inside the gun culture who deals with these issues on a daily basis, nothing in the book was particularly surprising or new information. The target audience – pundits and academics who are outsiders to the gun culture – will likely find it far more interesting than I did.

Quick summaries of the 7 chapters, with my thoughts on their contents. Direct quotes from the book are in bold, my own thoughts in italics.

1 – Understanding gun culture (and introduction)

National exit polls do not regularly ask voters about gun ownership. Decades of serious research in political behavior have ignored gun owners and gun ownership. (Karl: This is because coastal elites, academics and pollsters all tend to live and work in places and at institutions where gun ownership is rare and/or secret, as cultural norms, bias, discrimination, and divisive attitudes make it uncomfortable for gun owners. I have students that absolutely do not want to be photographed when attending classes, out of concern that their employers or co-workers will disapprove, leading to interpersonal conflict or even discrimination related to job assignments or promotions. The author addresses those issues in chapter 5 of the book.)

Gun owners did not represent a serious political group until the 1980’s and 1990’s. (Karl: This is because until then, gun ownership was culturally “normal”. Prior to the late 1970s there was no significant gun control “movement” in US politics. Starting in the 1980’s, media elites and liberal think tanks began creating the same kind of lobbying/biased advocacy research structure for gun control as they were creating for other social issues. In the 1950’s and 1960’s, movie stars and politicians and presidents (JFK, for example), considered it normal to hunt and target shoot, and riflery was taught at every summer camp and in some high schools.)

The 2004 election revealed an emerging urban/rural divide. (Karl: Not really urban/rural as much as the efforts of the Boomer Left to make gun ownership and appreciation of firearms freedoms as marginalized as tobacco use and drunk driving: wiping out “urban” gun culture via passage of more and more laws making it harder and more expensive for those in major cities to own, shoot or carry guns. That trend may be reversing in 2020.)

Gun owners believed guns improved their sense of control in life and enhanced feelings of safety, confidence, and responsibility. Those believing those things supported arming teachers and concealed carry. Gun owners are increasingly unlikely to tell poll takers that they own guns, making an accurate estimate impossible. (Karl: Another factor the author ignores is that gun and magazine bans in anti-gun states, up to and including laws requiring owners of banned items to turn them in or destroy them, make those in possession of those items, even in states where bans and confiscation orders have not been enacted, very reluctant to admit to a stranger that they might own those items. Yet another factor is that modern technology makes it much easier to block or decline calls or texts from unknown numbers, reducing the potential pool of those willing to answer poll questions even more.)

The author refers to those that own twenty or more guns as “super-owners”, and mistakenly infers that the main reason those people own that many guns is that they have interest in “gun collecting” and belong to gun collecting “clubs”. (Karl: That has not been my experience at all. Most of the people I know that own a lot of guns do so not because of collecting but because of participation in shooting sports, hunting different species, equipping family members of varying sizes, ages and physical abilities, the hobby of building and customizing guns, preparedness and purchasing guns and magazines specifically as a hedge against future bans, for investment or to hand down to family members. Others purchase new guns simply because new models that interest them or that may work better for their needs are introduced, and those that shoot a lot may purchase multiple copies of a frequently used gun or replace a worn out gun.)

The standard observations about the change in gun owner motivation from hunting to self defense (aka Gun Culture 1.0 to 2.0) are made, referencing the usual sources. Also the usual discussion of the NRA is included, with the usual overstatement of the NRA’s influence on gun owners, with the false claim “The NRA is often noted as the singular voice in articulating, refining and forging a gun owner identity.” (Karl: Gun culture is far more tribal than outsider academics realize. There is on singular gun owner identity, and at best the NRA’s positions on issues is a reflection of gun owners, not the other way around. NRA lagged behind the curve on acceptance and growth in interest in the AR-15, USPSA/IDPA matches, suppressors, concealed carry, open carry, and just about every major trending change in gun owner behavior of the past 30 years.)

The widening gap between the two major parties on gun issues is discussed and explored with charts and graphs, showing a result that should surprise no one: as the party platform of the Democrat party supported more and more restrictions on gun ownership, gun owners stopped supporting that party. (Karl: The author points to John Kerry’s failed attempt to pretend to be “one of us” as the last attempt of a Democrat candidate to appeal to gun owners.)

2 – A gun gap in voter choice

In this chapter the author makes the case, using charts and graphs and data, that political scientists should study gun ownership as a factor that separates voting blocks, noting big shifts starting in 2000. Southern Democrat candidates Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton attracted majority support from households that did or did not own guns in 1976 and 1996, respectively. Donald Trump’s “gun gap” is 3x larger than the gap was in 1976. (Karl: This is largely a function of the Democrat party’s hard left turn and aggressive push for gun control, as well as the growth in popularity of concealed carry and the AR-15 rifle. The GOP pays lip service to gun rights during campaigns but rarely exerts political effort to expand gun rights. The best they can do most of the time is vote ‘no’ on Democrat proposals and give weak excuses to gun owners as to why promises made to repeal or revise existing laws are never kept.)

The gun control-group talking point claiming that poorly educated white men make up the largest block of gun owners is repeated in the book. Gun ownership is, as the author identified, a strong indicator of voting preferences. (Karl: My own experience with three decades as a trainer is that my students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, from construction workers to doctors and lawyers and professors, as well as musicians and programmers and service industry workers. The key point the author, and most academics, ignore, is that each election gun owners must choose between one party intent on taking guns, magazines and the rights to carry and own specific (or any guns) away from gun owners, and another party that at least pretends to support gun owners and gun rights during the campaign, that only votes for gun bans occasionally. There is no “compromise” ever in play, as a compromise would involve gun owners trading some freedoms for others. Instead, when the word ‘compromise’ is used, it always refers to gun control advocates only getting some of their policies enacted today, with others deferred until the next opportunity.)

3 – A gun gap in voter turnout

This chapter studies the gap in voting turnout between those motivated to support gun control and gun rights. Gun owners have the most to lose and unsurprisingly are the most motivated to vote and to urge others with similar interests to vote. The author does a fairly good job of explaining this, and going farther into gun owners’ motivation to be politically active by contacting elected officials, staying informed, and peacefully protesting.

(Karl: If every election posed the risk of new regulations and criminal offenses for academics owning certain kinds of books, or studying certain topics, or being prohibited from using certain words, perhaps they would better understand what motivates gun owners to be as politically active as they are. The upcoming election may pose that actual risk to academics, as “cancel culture” and woke censorship has become a serious concern of the traditional Left, who are under attack from the extreme Left.)

4 – Safer with a gun

People that own guns feel safer because they own them. Those that do not own guns are (justifably) scared of being harmed by a gun, and therefore want fewer people to own guns or carry guns in public. This idea is supported by graphs and charts and poll data, all of which shows what gun owners already understand.

This chapter leads into the next, which explores this idea further.

5 – Feelings toward gun owners

Unsurprisingly (to any gun owner), those outside the gun culture have considerable bias and believe many negative stereotypes. This bigotry and bias affects opinions about gun laws and voting patterns.

From the book: The gun is simply an object. Assailing it and demanding limits can be construed as harassment of gun owners and disapproval of gun culture generally. Gun owners may view criticism of guns as insulting, questioning their judgment and their capacity to carry and operate a gun safely. The resounding message after a gunman claims dozens of innocent lives is “we must regulate guns.” Gun owners may hear this as “we must do something about gun owners”

From the book: If people like gun owners, they also believe concealed carry improves public safety and guns are not threats to personal safety. And this makes sense. If an individual favors gun owners, why would she be threatened if others own guns and carry them in public?

(Karl: There are essentially no portrayals of normal gun ownership presented in modern entertainment media. “Good guy” gun users are always law enforcement or military personnel, typically engaging in very violent behavior, often dismissive of citizens owning guns, parroting the gun control talking point that regular people can’t possibly have the judgment or skill to use a gun for self defense.” Cop shows like Law and Order, set in New York City, mislead national viewers into thinking that NYC gun laws are representative of gun laws in their home state, while false claims made by Democrat politicians mislead non gun owners into thinking that anyone can order a full auto gun over the internet.)

Karl: The only moderately positive examples of citizen gun ownership I can identify are one Simpsons episode where Homer buys a gun, learns that most of the characters on the show are gun owners and members of the National Gun Association. They try to teach Homer gun safety and end up kicking him out for being irresponsible and unsafe. At the end of this episode, Marge takes possession of the gun, using it to thwart a Quik-E-Mart holdup. Similarly, a King of the Hill episode involves Bobby Hill participating in target shooting in a somewhat ‘normal’ setting. And the final season of “Major Crimes” involved a subplot where the gay abused teen adopted by the series main characters is allowed to get a California carry permit, is trained (by his police step-parents) to carry responsibly, and who uses his gun to protect himself from a lethal attack.

The rest of the Gun Gap chapter provides plenty of examples of anti-gun-owner bias in major media. From the book:

Gun owners are often lampooned by media outlets (Kohn 2004). Common labels are “fanatics,” “gun nuts,” “violent hicks,” “rednecks,” and “racists.” Hallman (2017) noted that reporters tended to frame stories in ways that “make it clear they see gun-owning Americans . . . as distinctly other.” The frames effectively separate gun owners from the world where most journalists and the bulk of their audience live. Scholars examined the representation of the “other” in journalism (Furisch 2002). And journalists are now advised to help them become aware of the habit and its consequences (Ordway 2018). Gest (1992) suggested that many journalists grew up in urban environments where guns were uncommon. They acquired a cosmopolitan perspective, which questions gun ownership and leads to antigun bias in the news media.

In 75 percent of the documents, covering typical gun policy debates, gun owners were characterized as selfish, incompetent, and irresponsible, “caring more about guns than people”. In articles that concerned child endangerment, over a third suggested owners were the danger. The characterization is reinforced in headlines such as “Gun owners are responsible for almost as many death annually as motorists” . When referring to gun owners and self-defense, Downs found the most common adjectives describing owners were selfish, incompetent, dangerous, and unreasonable… The most common terms for the NRA were “most feared lobby,” “gun organization,” and “powerful gun lobby.” In a careful study, Steidley and Colen (2017) analyzed the New York Times responses to press releases from the NRA and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. In general, their findings show greater sensitivity toward the Brady Campaign.

Joslyn, Mark R.. The Gun Gap (p. 129). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Missing from this chapter is a discussion of how research from biased academics, for example those working for the “Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health” and the University of California Violence Prevention Research Project – both funded by partisan, anti-gun sources, tasked with the job of generating studies and data opposing gun rights, are treated as impartial and valid sources by major media, while the work of John Lott, another academic whose results typically contradict the work of the anti-gun academics, is consistently presented as questionable or tainted.

6 – How many gun owners

This chapter explores the difficulty in determining how many gun owners there are. (Karl: That number has definitely changed in the past 6 months, as I and many other trainers on instructor forums indicate that the number of new gun owners and new carry permit holders, and demand for training, are all at record high levels – and most of the new gun owners are buying semiauto pistols that hold more than 10 rounds and AR-15 rifles. This means that gun control measures proposed by Democrats will affect a larger number of voters. The question remains whether these new gun owners will fear those new restrictions enough to vote against candidates advocating those new laws.)

7 – A gun gap in death penalty support

Unsurprisingly, gun owners support the death penalty more than non-gun owners. The death penalty is only an option for the most heinous crimes – the same crimes the average gun owner (and their state’s Penal Code) would likely identify as situations in which use of deadly force is legally justifiable. Those uncomfortable with the idea of potentially taking a life to save others while a crime is occurring are far more likely to be uncomfortable with the idea of taking a life as punishment for that same crime.


Overall the book is a good presentation of reality from the gun owner perspective, showing the different aspects of the gap between gun culture and mainstream media, and the reasons and ways the gun culture separates from the views and motivations of non-gun owners (or casual gun owners with less affiliation or alignment with gun culture values). With the significant numbers of new gun owners, particularly those that are not conservative older white males, demographics and possibly support for new gun control measures may be changing rapidly.

Because of that, it has value for new gun owners and non-gun-owning friends and family of gun owners, as it explains the political landscape in a way that’s accessible to those outside the gun culture.