site banner

Culture War Roundup for the week of September 12, 2022

This weekly roundup thread is intended for all culture war posts. 'Culture war' is vaguely defined, but it basically means controversial issues that fall along set tribal lines. Arguments over culture war issues generate a lot of heat and little light, and few deeply entrenched people ever change their minds. This thread is for voicing opinions and analyzing the state of the discussion while trying to optimize for light over heat.

Optimistically, we think that engaging with people you disagree with is worth your time, and so is being nice! Pessimistically, there are many dynamics that can lead discussions on Culture War topics to become unproductive. There's a human tendency to divide along tribal lines, praising your ingroup and vilifying your outgroup - and if you think you find it easy to criticize your ingroup, then it may be that your outgroup is not who you think it is. Extremists with opposing positions can feed off each other, highlighting each other's worst points to justify their own angry rhetoric, which becomes in turn a new example of bad behavior for the other side to highlight.

We would like to avoid these negative dynamics. Accordingly, we ask that you do not use this thread for waging the Culture War. Examples of waging the Culture War:

  • Shaming.

  • Attempting to 'build consensus' or enforce ideological conformity.

  • Making sweeping generalizations to vilify a group you dislike.

  • Recruiting for a cause.

  • Posting links that could be summarized as 'Boo outgroup!' Basically, if your content is 'Can you believe what Those People did this week?' then you should either refrain from posting, or do some very patient work to contextualize and/or steel-man the relevant viewpoint.

In general, you should argue to understand, not to win. This thread is not territory to be claimed by one group or another; indeed, the aim is to have many different viewpoints represented here. Thus, we also ask that you follow some guidelines:

  • Speak plainly. Avoid sarcasm and mockery. When disagreeing with someone, state your objections explicitly.

  • Be as precise and charitable as you can. Don't paraphrase unflatteringly.

  • Don't imply that someone said something they did not say, even if you think it follows from what they said.

  • Write like everyone is reading and you want them to be included in the discussion.

On an ad hoc basis, the mods will try to compile a list of the best posts/comments from the previous week, posted in Quality Contribution threads and archived at /r/TheThread. You may nominate a comment for this list by clicking on 'report' at the bottom of the post and typing 'Actually a quality contribution' as the report reason.

Jump in the discussion.

No email address required.

Visualizing the 2021 National Firearms Survey

tags: [guns][self promotion][data visualization]


William English of Georgetown collaborated with Centiment to poll 54,244 people about gun ownership, and develop a detailed picture of what ratio of the country owns guns, what kinds, what ratio of the country has used a gun in self defense, and such. It's the largest and most detailed attempt ever made in this research space as far as I'm aware, and I'm aware of many such attempts by academics. This article graphs a lot of his results, but instead of graphing them within the context of the research, graphs them against other known quantities to put them into wider perspective.


  • There are 33% more people in the USA who own AR-15 styled rifles than the entire Asian population.

  • There are approximately as many people in the USA who own magazines larger than 10 round capacity as there are black people.

  • "Assault weapons bans" would generally require 12% of the entire population to register their firearms or be in felonious noncompliance, a number of people roughly equal to the entire population of California

  • By ratio, this is equal to 2012 people required to register for every 1 firearm homicide

  • There are 19 times more AR-15 owners than the entire active duty rolls of the US military

  • There are 410 times more AR-15 owners than there were Taliban fighters at the time the US military lost to the Taliban

  • There are 14,000 AR-15 owners for every ATF field agent

  • Across all states, between 20% and 44% of gun owners own an AR-15 styled rifle

  • For every gun murder in the USA in 2020, there were 86 defensive gun uses. Note that the poll took a broad definition of DGU here, including instances where the firearm was not discharged or potentially even brandished

  • 44% of black gun owners have used a gun in self defense

  • 27% of female gun owners have used a gun in self defense


Nice site you got here folks! I'm curious whether it can support different forums, so that instead of the CW thread being a thread it could simply be different posts within a separate containment forum.

For comparison with the black and female DGU numbers:

  • 29.7% of white gun owners

  • 44.7% of Native American gun owners

  • 33.8% of male gun owners

I’d imagine a big correlation with SES, obviously, and there’s probably also an effect from ownership rates. The absolute numbers vs. population numbers ought to be interesting. Does the original paper give statistics versus income bracket? I can’t make an account to view it right now.

As for your overall article, I think it comes across as disingenuous. This is despite the fact that I agree with your conclusion, generally oppose gun control, proudly own [REMOVED BY REDDIT] guns, etc.! You editorialize in the captions: “don’t have to add name to registry (yet)”. You flip-flop on the “instant felons” term, qualifying it the first time but not at the end. I don’t know why you added the Taliban as the smallest entry on a graph titled “potential enforcement groups.” And you have some pretty strong (falsifiable) statements—in particular,

it is unassailably true that none of those 2,012 people are going to murder anyone with it because the criminals aren’t going to register their firearms.

This neglects at least two non-trivial groups: the stupid and the newly desperate. Even though that doesn’t change the conclusion, since most people don’t mind inconveniencing the bottom percentile of criminals, you are opening yourself up to cheap gotchas.

If you want to be convincing to everyone, rather than just your side, I think you could benefit from more caution. Make your graphs look studiously neutral; the numbers are ridiculous enough to speak for themselves. Take more care with your hyperbole. Personally, I loved the grocery example, especially the “851 stores” stinger.

Thanks for putting these together.

Personally, I loved the grocery example, especially the “851 stores” stinger.

I found the stinger unconvincing, actually. That's still too many gun deaths.

Sure. I agree that any number of gun homicides is bad. How much should we pay to reduce it?

If I could give up my guns and somehow prevent all gun homicides, I'd do it in an instant. Even if it were "only" bringing us down to Australia levels (33,333 stores), I'd be enthusiastically on board. Registering would be even less onerous for me.

We can't do that. The genie is out of the bottle, and current efforts to stuff it back in are unconvincing. This is especially true for assault-weapons registries--only a fraction of homicides, even gun homicides, are committed with rifles. Few criminals (though I couldn't confirm data for homicides, specifically) used guns obtained from a store. It's easy to view this as an attack on the symbol of the black rifle, which by its very popularity is a promising target. More charitably, targeting AR-15s in the wake of one or another mass shooting is addressing high-profile incidents rather than root causes.

So gun owners are being asked to give something for next to nothing. Those 2,012 registrations aren't going to prevent a gun death. At best they will prevent some fraction of one. En masse, maybe this pushes us from 851 stores to 852 or to 1,000. It still won't be enough to make a difference to you, or to legislators who didn't have to pay any of the cost, and the vise will continue to tighten.

I didn't say anything about banning rifles. But reversing Heller and restricting handguns should help.

One problem with the defensive gun use data is that it relies on self-reporting, and one person's "I defended myself with a firearm" is another person's "you needlessly escalated a conflict." For example, these two gentlemen both believed that they were acting in self-defense, yet both were convicted of murder

Of course, that type of problem is not unique to that question and that issue, but rather is a problem that is inherent to this type of research, and one which should be kept in mind, regardless of the topic at hand.

Self-reporting is a flaw, but it is with all survey questions. Either surveys tell us nothing because it's self-reports, or they tell us something and we have to scrabble through the phrasing and operationalization to figure out what that is.

The study did use a very broad definition of "defensive gun use", and may have been misunderstood by some fraction of respondents. I think we can safely surmise that the numbers the survey presents are a theoretical maximum, the true number is almost certainly smaller, but might not be much smaller.

There used to be a very useful subreddit dgu (defensive gun use) that collected published media reports of defensive gun uses. It was pretty impressive how many there were considering they had to meet the threshold that a media organization published an article about them.

There used to be a very useful subreddit dgu (defensive gun use)

There still is, but there used to be too.

I’m thinking the self defense claim is boosted by activist owners who want to bolster support for gun ownership on a survey. There is simply no chance that 44% of black gun owners have used their gun in self defense.

However I see no reason to lie about AR ownership, and this makes me happy because AR ownership is double-plus bad in the eyes of gun restrictionists. So, all those AR owners are making a statement 100% opposed to the propaganda about the AR, just by continuing to own them.

There is simply no chance that 44% of black gun owners have used their gun in self defense.

Is there not? Black gun owners are the most likely of any demographic to have to defend themselves. The definitions used in the survey are very broad, but I think granting the definition it's at least plausible. Perhaps an upper-bound estimate, but plausible.

By the definitions of the survey (as best I interpret them), I've had two DGUs, and I'm not particularly high risk. I wrote up the story of one of them on the main page.

There is simply no chance that 44% of black gun owners have used their gun in self defense.

I don't know. Yes, it seems high but if we're counting incidents where a gun was drawn but not fired a 1/4th to a 1/3rd of gun owners having used their guns in self defense strikes me as fairly plausible given my own experience.

Most of the time someone uses a gun for self-defense they hold and show their gun to someone who appears threatening. I imagine that if you live in a dangerous neighborhood that chance that you would have cause to use a gun in such a manner over the course of a decade is above 50%.

To be fair, blacks are way more likely to be victims of a crime, so their rate of defensive gun uses is probably much higher than the general population.

I agree that there’s reason to be skeptical of the extremely high numbers of reported defensive gun uses, but we should probably assume black gun owners to be the demographic group with the single highest such rate.

Some cases of AR ownership are even a step further - one of the major reasons I chose to purchase an AR-15 is because of the political valence around it and proposed ATF restrictions. Yes, it's also fun to shoot at the range and could serve as a quality home defense weapon, but I could have just as easily chosen something else that fits that description. I don't know how many people are in a similar boat, but I don't think I'm all unusual of a gun owner.

The number of times someone at my FLGS has said “get them while you still can” suggests quite a few.

To be honest, the AR-15 platform is literally the best platform for doing what it does, which is standoff gun fights at intermediate ranges. All the other semiauto carbines are functionally inferior in my opinion, and I've shot a lot of them. Other guns really only shine over the AR-15 in specialized circumstances where the AR-15 has a specific disadvantage. Indoors, for instance, a PCC is probably better. At range, a 30 cal of some kind is probably better. Add in the fact that the AR-15 platform is almost infinitely customizable, and gives men the sorts of barbie doll accessorization fix they used to get from tinkering on cars, and it's no surprise they'd be popular. It's really pretty much the best gun you can buy for that particular task. It's just a great gun design.

the AR-15 platform is literally the best platform for doing what it does

The AR platform is only customizable to the degree it is in a post-GWOT, post-M4 carbine world. Even then you still have gas tuning peculiarities between various gas system lengths/blocks, buffer lengths/weights. Direct Impingement with the buffer system trades some weight and some softness in recoil for a lot of dirty gas in critical areas all the way down into the magazines. The buffer system also makes folding the stock for portability require an expensive adapter that still can't fire in that configuration so most folks disassemble the rifle for that use case. The design is mid and it survives because of half a century of government funding leading to wide availability of critical and add-on parts.

The AR platform is only customizable to the degree it is in a post-GWOT, post-M4 carbine world.

Well, it always was capable of that.

The trick about the AR-15 is that it's trivial for anyone with a CNC mill and a couple of aluminum billets to churn out the entire gun. Older designs rely on stamping and welding (or casting and milling), and newer ones require plastic and/or aluminum extruding machinery. Startup costs are correspondingly high- Tommybuilt has to charge over 3 times the amount for a G36 clone as Aero Precision does (who aren't even natively a firearms manufacturer to begin with), and the Aero is lighter and more accurate to boot.

Hence the market for attachments- it's legitimately the only gun that can take anywhere near that kind of modification, and those OEMs need parts other than what they can machine on the router.

Milling or forging the upper is not trivial. No one focuses on that because when the BATFE categorized what part of the AR was a controlled item they were concerned about full-auto uses and so picked the lower since traditional AR full auto configurations have a different fire control + sear pocket and drop-in auto sears were a later innovation. Stamp, bend and weld at scale is cheaper and faster than milling and forging. Especially when you have to mill along more than one axis. The T(G)36 clone costs are a mix of niche product, complex plastic receiver from a small shop and sourcing HK parts for all the rest.

All this can be true, and yet it's still the best around. Your complaints boil down to one that is irrelevant (dirty gas), one that is actually a positive thing (the ability to tune the gas system to a wide variety of calibers), and one that is valid but incredibly minor (lack of ability to fire the gun with the stock folded/lack of folding stock).

There's a lot of military-pattern rifles that are very decent, but none that have anything like the raw number of options that the AR platform does. That is partially because the gun is military-pattern, which is always popular with civilians in the US. But moreso it's because those civilians are way out ahead of the government when it comes to innovation and technology applied to firearms. Competitive shooting drives technological innovation, civilians fund it by buying new "high speed" doodads for their guns, the military skims the stuff that works out the best. It's a "virtuous cycle" of technological development. If you added all the accessories available for the next ten most popular military-pattern rifles in the world together, they would be a tiny fraction of what's available for the AR.

Go ahead and just try to put a scope on an AK-pattern rifle. You'll see why the AR is popular. Shoot a Tavor and you'll appreciate the gas system from the AR. Try to re-chamber a G3 in the new hot caliber and you'll understand why it lost out. Every gun has its fanboys, but the AR is dominant in the same way the US military is dominant. It's not perfect, just better than everything else combined.

Pretty much every piece of high speed kit you're thinking of is attached via picatinny rail. Which I'm sure you know has nothing to do with the design of the AR as a platform. The US Army could have stuck with the slightly updated magazine fed Garand as a platform and you'd still have the same sort of kit hanging off it. Carry handle gooseneck mounts and underbarrel grenade or shotgun mounts you could claim exclusivity to the AR platform if you wanted I suppose.

The Warsaw pact side rail dates back to N variant AKMs that holds and returns to zero with non-garbage tier attachment mounts pretty simply. It's easier for me to swap between two mounts with different optic combos on them on one of my AK patterns than setting up two optic combos on a picatinny rail with indexing and having to QD each optic. (Say an LPVO to a red dot + magnifier and back again, at least the magnifier doesn't need QD but it's appreciated when swapping.) Personally speaking I don't get gassed out of my x95 with the factory port cover. Sure it matters for suppressing and mag dumping but that also applies to the AR platform. The CETME was originally built for 7.92x41, was rechambered to 7.62x51 but has been scaled down to 5.56x45 and 9x19 so the delayed roller lock system is not that difficult to rechamber. With the roller system there's a bit more tolerance for different pressures since it's not a gas system at all. The stamped metal receiver weight and wear and tear on the rollers having to be checked with calipers are major draw backs of that platform. It doesn't drop in swap but even with the split receiver design of the AR you're not jumping from 5.56 to 7.62 with the same lower. In a slightly different timeline where the BATFE wasn't focused on full auto conversions, different AR uppers would have been considered different firearms and for good reason what with the whole matched bolt, barrel and tuned gas system being integral components. The threaded screw-in barrel is an actual design upgrade compared to pressed trunnion barrels but that serviceability come at higher per-unit costs of having to thread that end of the barrel. The MCX platform does one better on that score of course by using trunnion pin-like captive clamping screws.

That virtuous cycle is my point. The US military could have standardized on literally any rifle design and most of what makes modern ARs attractive would apply all the same. The AR is dominant in the same way the US military is dominant because the US military is dominant (plus a side helping of foreign aid in the form of selling ARs for cheaper than any country could produce a competitor).

Meh, we disagree. I think the AR is dominant because the US has a civilian gun culture with disposable income. No military in the world would put the time and money into iterating a system like the American Gun Nut.

The WWSD project shows that, thanks to all that focus and development, you can still optimize the hell out of an AR, even if you can't get around some aspects.

Remember "used" covers a broad definition of things. Somebody saying "I'm going to kick your ass" and the other guys saying "Unlikely because I have this gun" counts. I doubt that there would be a bunch of people lying about that, but if there were they would probably be canceled out by people lying in the other direction by not admitting they used the gun they were not allowed to legally have for self defense.

I doubt that there would be a bunch of people lying about that

I doubt there will be many people outright lying, but I don't think we can glean much from the claim since firearms owners will tend to be motivated to stretch the truth regarding what qualifies as a defensive gun use. If I live in a city impacted by the 2020 riots, might I be able to say that I engaged in defensive gun use if I readied and loaded weapons, even though no one saw me do so? I think the phrasing leaves that open. If I go for a bike ride with a firearm holstered and have it available to deal with wildlife or loose dogs attacking, have I engaged in defensive firearm use? I guess I would say no, but I don't think someone's lying if they say yes. If I must evict a tenant and concealed carry a firearm in case the altercation goes bad, is this a defensive firearm use if the tenant is never aware the gun is present? That seems like a defensible claim based on how the question is worded.

Well this gets more to the question being bad rather than the answer 44% of Black gun owners gave being bad. Still the finding that half again as many Black gun owners feel that they used their gun defensively is an interesting point, regardless of whether you or I would agree with what they did counts as a "use".

There is simply no chance that 44% of black gun owners have used their gun in self defense.

That is one of the statistics which I believe more than any of the others, to be honest. Remember this study is using a very broad definition of DGU, and indicates that by their definition only 18% of DGUs involve firing the gun. That would put the (black gun owner firing a gun in DGU) rate at 8% of black gun owners, projecting and presuming it's the same as other races. And at 25.4% gun ownership rate, that amounts to 2% of (all black people). Also keep in mind this is not an annual rate of DGU, it's a "have you ever" question. He backs his way into his annual rate numbers out of the "have you ever" numbers.

I grew up in an urban environment and went to an urban public school. This rate seems totally reasonable to me. The ratio of black people I know who have fired a gun in self defense, among my own personal pool of contacts, is quite higher than this.

Sounds too good for 2A to be true. Where's the hook? Sloppy methodology maybe? Cherrypicked data? It's all perfect but will be ignored by policyshapers?

Well, one issue may be that this seems like an issue where most people's feelings are too strong to be moved by mere numbers. Or, at least, I suspect a lot of people who want more gun restrictions would say that these numbers aren't nearly good enough to sway them, and a lot of people who don't want more gun restrictions would say that these numbers are many times what should be good enough. I don't think there's much coolheaded utilitarian calculus going on here - or rather, "almost anywhere but here."

The defensive gun use one is fairly sketchy data given the phrasing and lack of ability to validate the claimed usage.

Aside from that though, I think these are basically just facts. Understanding that criminalizing ownership of "assault weapons" would create tens of millions of felons-in-the-making for such devious actions as having 17 round magazine pistols should be part of the conversation.

Understanding that criminalizing ownership of "assault weapons" would create tens of millions of felons-in-the-making for such devious actions as having 17 round magazine pistols should be part of the conversation.

New Jersey already did that. Nobody cared, least of all the courts.. The whole "conversation" is "If you don't want to be a felon, destroy the contraband in the time period permitted, or else".

It seemed "too perfect for 2A" for me too, but this is the largest and most robust study of this stuff to date, and there has never been any other study that asked these questions in these ways before AFAIK. I don't think it can be refuted unless it turns out that Centiment is a secret 2A front organization and was cooking the sample. If some academic wants to try and replicate it and gets different numbers, the argument is going to be about who's sample set is more representative.

I know of the firearm owners I personally know, almost all own AR-15s. But my personal connections are obviously a very biased sample set. What I will say, though, is that most of the ones I know who own AR-15s never talk about it to their liberal friends. There's a lot of "staying in the closet" about this kind of stuff given the current climate.

John Lott did a major survey of gun owners in the 90s, and I recall there being a large fraction of gun owners who used theirs defensively then, too.

I've never been a huge fan of Lott's work. I'm critical of anti-gun bias in a lot of the studies done, and his stuff smells of pro-gun bias. This new thing seems on the level, and it seems as if the methodology can't really be argued with unless they had some questionable sampling procedures.

As a slight contrast to your anecdote, I will say that I live in a very blue city and I'm not shy about speaking to liberal friends (or even acquaintances) about firearms. It turns out a decent number of them own as well and those that don't have some of the myths around firearm ownership dispelled since they know me as a rational, cool-headed person that does not have any desire to engage in unnecessary violence.

All of these are just volume numbers. There are a lot of guns out there, but some of them are Nintendo Wiis (They've been bought and get used once or twice) and others would be handled by people that, even with practice, can't shoot or are cowards. Plenty are "Fudds" that support gun control as long as they have a bolt action to blow away deer.

The DGU numbers are going to be high with that broad of a definition. It's also a DGU at any time, presumably, not in the past year. Even so, 44% and 27% seems very high.

Hey now, I used the hell out of my Wii. I even wore the CD reader out and had to buy a new one.

IME, it was the WiiU that was more the flashy gimmick that was quickly forgotten. I used to play with the OG Wii a bit after school.