© 2022 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

A Younger Look At The Gun Debate

Sean Sandefur/St. Louis Public Radio

Few things are more polarizing in American culture than guns. There is no scarcity of opinions on the issue, but a voice that we have perhaps not heard is that of a younger generation, specifically those who are 18 to 29 years old. They fall under the millennial generation, and will make up the future of gun ownership. So, what do they think? St. Louis Public Radio’s Sean Sandefur reports.

Guns Evoke Many Emotions

I visited a gun range with A.J. Chetta, a 23-year-old member of the United States Army, and an advocate for gun rights. I had never shot a gun before, and wanted to experience what is was like. What I found is that visiting a gun range is to experience firearms in perhaps their most docile environment, where hobbyists come to have fun, and simply fire off a few rounds.

A.J.’s first experience with a gun was as a teenager, with the much talked about AR-15.

"AJ: The first time I shot a gun, was with Dad, he borrowed a firearm from a friend of his, and we went out to some property and I learned about guns.

Me: Were you just hooked?

AJ: Yes. I was hooked.”

A.J. bought his first weapon after his tour in Iraq, feeling uncomfortable without a firearm in the house.

Credit (Courtesy Pew Research Center)
Three charts depicting the crime rate decline in the US since the 1990s.

This is where many people are split; whether guns comfort you, or disturb you.

Jeremy Goss is a 24-year-old medical student at St. Louis University. He’s from Texas, where both of his parents have conceal-and-carry licenses. While he grew up in a home where a gun was kept for self-defense, he still doesn’t like the idea of it.

“Maybe it’s this blind optimism of mine that says that, I hope we that we aren’t really at that point that I need to actually physically have a gun on my person to make sure the other guy doesn’t kill me or harm me.”

Jennifer Bame, a 29-year-old student at Washington University in St. Louis couldn’t agree more.

“I personally would never own a gun, and it does make me feel uncomfortable to know that I’m in a home where there is also a gun, I mean it does not make me feel safe, it actually makes feel more susceptible to violence and crime of some kind.”

The Mindsets Are Changing

There is a trend in our youth’s perception of gun ownership, and it might surprise you.

As a general rule, younger generations are becoming more liberal on social issues such as gay marriage and climate change. And while you might think that gun regulation is also becoming more popular in their eyes, a poll by the Pew Research Institute says differently.

Pew has been asking the same question since 1994, if respondents favor gun control, or favor gun rights. In 1994, 64 percent of respondents favored gun control, and as of February of 2013, it hovers around 50 percent.

“It maps pretty well onto certain events,” says Dr. Remy Cross, a sociology professor at Webster University. “Things like Columbine, other major shootings, in between those times you have a general eroding of public opinion in regards to gun control.”

Dr. Cross says that is due to the lobbying efforts of pro-gun groups such as the NRA after mass shootings.

But mass shootings are nothing new; sadly they are a part of American history. So why all of a sudden are mass shootings starting to affect young Americans view on gun control?

Dr. Cross attributes much of it to Americans becoming more fearful-of both violence and their government. “If you look at where there’s been spikes in gun ownership and the rationales given, it is often related to the perceived threat, but it’s not just attack threat," he says. "We also saw a spike in 2008 after the election of President Obama, and again in 2012.”

These fears are found in both our younger and older generations. More people own guns for the purpose of self-defense than ever before.

Gun Violence On The Decline

What is interesting about this is that violent crime is on the decline. Gun-related homicides have dropped drastically since the early 1990s. According to the National Institute of Justice, in 1993 there were over a million and half reported victims of gun violence. In 2011, there were a third of that. 

Credit (National Institute of Justice/nij.gov)
A table from the National Institute of Justice of nonfatal firearm-related crime statistics from 1993 to 2011.

Gun advocates aren’t buying it however. A.J. Chetta fears that further gun regulation poses a dangerous burden on responsible gun owners.

“The reason the want to do this is for the people who want to do harm…” Chetta explains. “Well, the law-abiding citizen will then become unarmed, the people who want to do harm are going to get their hands on it one way or the other, and that’s just how it’s going to happen.”

What that Pew poll truly indicated is that younger Americans are at a stalemate regarding the issue. And what that means is that we are in for a long debate.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.