Only a Third of Arizonans Own Guns but Will Students' Voices on Safety Be Heard?

Antonia Farzan
Students stage a sit-in on Wednesday outside Governor Doug Ducey's office to demand answers on school shootings. Will he listen?
Students protested at the State Capitol and camped outside of Governor Doug Ducey's office for two hours this week to demand action on guns in the wake of the the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

The governor, according to the Arizona Republic, wasn't available to meet with them. Instead, he was busy tweeting about the Cardinals, among other things. On Thursday, Ducey finally tweeted out proposals designed to address school safety and take guns away from potentially dangerous people, but which also called for more officers on campus.

The confrontation at Ducey's office and his new proposals raise the stakes for Arizona lawmakers on guns after Parkland. Are politicians going to listen to students demanding reform after watching their peers in state after state get gunned down in shootings? Or will lawmakers continue to appease a small but vociferous minority of NRA supporters and gun fanatics who set the agenda in the Capitol?

It's truly not an exaggeration to say that gun nuts are crafting policy in the Arizona state legislature. Guns and Ammo magazine named Arizona the best state to be a gun owner in 2017. The previous year, Ducey supported two new gun laws — one invalidated any attempts by cities or counties to regulate guns; the other said K-12 schools and universities must allow gun owners to carry their concealed weapons on right-of-ways near campus.

The magazine called Arizona "an overall hassle-free landscape" for gun ownership. "It’s hard to improve upon Arizona’s gun laws but they seem to make an effort every year," Guns and Ammo wrote.

Based on these sorts of rankings and the number of shooting ranges, gun shops, and ceaseless gun shows, you'd be forgiven for thinking that everyone you meet in Arizona is armed to the teeth. But according to CBS News and a study from the journal Injury Prevention, Arizona's reputation as a gun haven doesn't measure up when it comes to the rate of gun ownership. We barely cracked the top half nationwide, ranking 25th with a gun ownership rate of 32.3 percent.

The percentage of gun owners in Arizona is lower than 24 other states, according to a study. - JONATHAN MALLARD/FLICKR
The percentage of gun owners in Arizona is lower than 24 other states, according to a study.
Jonathan Mallard/flickr
For the 2015 paper, public health researchers at Columbia University and Boston University surveyed a representative sample of 4,000 Americans over the age of 18 in order to assess the relationship between what they called "social gun culture" and gun ownership. They found a strong association between people who reported having a social life with family or friends that involved guns, or if people answered "yes" to the question of whether their social circle thinks less of gun non-ownership.

Arizona was surprisingly low on the list. Residents in North Dakota, Arkansas, Wisconsin, and Tennessee all reported a higher rate of gun ownership. Among the Western states, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado all count more gun owners than Arizona.

The lowest rates of gun ownership, by far, were concentrated in the Northeast. The highest rate there was in Senator Bernie Sanders' state, Vermont, with 28.8 percent of respondents reporting that they own a gun.

It's extremely hard to estimate the number of weapons out there or a general rate of gun ownership, mostly because there's no national database of firearms.

There is, however, a registration of the deadliest weaponry available, but this list doesn't track the most commonly purchased guns. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms' National Firearms Registration and Transfer Record only includes machine guns and short-barreled rifles, as well as explosives like bombs and grenades.

But these sort of representative surveys are probably as close as we can get to a general measure of gun ownership. In the survey, one-third of Americans reported owning a gun, making Arizona about average. And in this instance, average is good.

In spite of the rate of gun ownership here, the political response to the student protest speaks to the priorities of Arizona Republicans. Students had trouble scheduling meetings with Republican lawmakers when they found out the teenagers would be pushing for gun control.
When students were able to meet with lawmakers, the legislators reportedly weren't willing to engage on the issue. Students will have another chance to raise the issue on March 24, when the March for Our Lives will take place in Phoenix and around the nation.

With his piecemeal announcement of a school safety plan, Ducey seems to be downplaying the more significant parts of the plan — an unspecific call for enhanced background checks, namely — in favor of aspects that are more palatable to Arizona conservatives.

In his tweet thread, Ducey wrote of respecting the Second Amendment rights "of law-abiding Americans, while enforcing our laws on the books." Moreover, he called for an increase police presence at schools and greater funding for school resource officers, never mind that Latino organizations and the March for Our Lives coalition have resoundingly rejected the idea of having more guns and officers in schools.

In an open letter to Ducey, Phoenix March for Our Lives organizers wrote that the support for enacting gun control legislation is overwhelming. Around 94 percent of Americans support universal background checks.

Students organizers wrote, "The evidence and support for such legislation clearly exists; now it is simply a matter of passing the appropriate policy to protect all Arizonans."

Whether the state Legislature listens to them is anyone's guess.