Timothy Noah ARGUES that the demographics of the current debate over guns shows that the so-called real Americans out there are not who most people think they are.
The current debate over gun control is one of several signs that liberalism is back, sort of. President Barack Obama gave a second inaugural speech forthrightly celebrating liberal principles (equality, environmental stewardship, collective action) and didn’t get impeached. More Americans now support gay marriage than oppose it. Universal health care survived a Supreme Court challenge and a presidential election. Grover Norquist’s anti-tax pledge has lost its juju.
The catch is that it’s still not entirely acceptable to be a liberal. It remains common, when making a liberal argument, to shroud it in non-liberal language….The lingering taboo is anthropological rather than ideological. Liberals are judged inauthentic because (at least according to stereotype) they live in cities, avoid church, and don’t own guns; they consequently feel the need to describe themselves using other terms.
We think of rural-heartland dwellers as real Americans, but they currently represent less than 20 percent of the population; nearly all of us live in and around cities. We think of churchgoers as real Americans, but only 40 percent of Americans attend any kind religious services at least once a week; most of us sleep in. We think of people who own guns as real Americans, but they represent only 21 percent of the population; the great majority of us don’t own guns. All these percentages reflect declines over the past few decades. The percent owning guns, for instance, is down by about one-third since 1985.
If liberals (defined in admittedly cartoonish fashion as non-churchgoing, non-gun-owning urbanites) represent an unacknowledged majority of Americans, hunters represent an unacknowledged minority—indeed, a minority of the minority of Americans who own guns. “Hunting” ranks behind “protection against crime” and “target shooting” as the stated reason for owning a gun. According to the most recent survey by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, less than 5 percentof the U.S. population reported doing any hunting in 2011. Even as liberals quake at the thought of disrespecting the animal-shooting masses, actual hunters fret that their numbers have dwindled during the past two decades by more than 11 percent.