To conservatives, gun ownership is a matter of self-reliance and self-defense. To liberals, handguns mean one thing — violence.
Conservatives believe that gun ownership is an absolute right, enshrined in the Constitution. Liberals counter that today’s easy access to guns has nothing to do with the “well regulated militia” protected by the Second Amendment.
Conservatives fear that liberals will use any means possible to legislate guns away from them. Liberals feel that conservatives will fight even the most common-sense restrictions on handguns.
There is seemingly no common ground between the two sides. And like many divisive issues, this one falls along partisan lines — pro-gun Republicans and anti-gun Democrats. This is confirmed by national survey data on gun ownership. It’s a classic red state/blue state wedge issue, much like gay marriage.
And so for Washington, you could easily imagine that a map illustrating gun ownership levels around the state would look a lot like the election map from November for the gay marriage initiative. You may recall, that map showed a cluster of liberal “approve” counties around the Puget Sound, while the rest of the state was mostly a vast sea of conservative “reject” counties.
But take a look at the map on the upper right of this post. It depicts the percentage of adults aged 21 and up who have an active concealed weapon license for each Washington county. While it’s true that liberal King County has the lowest percentage, and Lincoln County, way over on the eastern side of the state, has the highest, in between those extremes things are much less predictable. Kitsap and Island counties have a higher percentage of people with concealed carry permits than many of the rural counties on the eastern side of the state. Pierce, Thurston, and Jefferson counties have a higher percentage than Spokane. And ultra-liberal San Juan County — the only county other than King where gay marriage won even bigger than pot legalization — has a higher percentage of concealed pistol permits than rural, conservative Franklin County.
Based on concealed weapon permit data, gun ownership in Washington appears to be more nuanced than some other issues that fall along political party lines. And judging from the chart below, it would seem the greatest gap in gun ownership levels in Washington is most likely not between Republicans and Democrats — it’s between men and women:
Sources: Washington Department of Licensing, Experian