Part of the problem with the gun debate in America is that gun owners and people who aren't comfortable with gun ownership are, to a certain extent, just different kinds of people.
This isn't a lament about how there isn't real debate in America anymore. It's a simple fact. Gun owners are more likely to be white, male, and rural. People who don't own guns — and even more so, people who are uncomfortable with them — are more likely to be nonwhite, female, and urban or suburban.
A Pew Research Center report from 2013 compiled in-depth statistics on people who said they owned guns or had guns in the household. It found that white males make up the bulk of America's gun owners.
The chart below shows one way to look at this discrepancy: 31 percent of whites own guns, and white men make up a much larger share of that than white women. Another way to look at it is to think about how the population of all Americans compares to the population of Americans who own guns: Only 32 percent of Americans are white men. But white males make up 61 percent of gun owners.
That divide became even more pronounced when Pew asked people who didn't own guns whether they'd be comfortable with a gun in the house. It turns out that people who don't own guns but who are demographically similar to gun owners are more comfortable with guns than those who aren't (women and nonwhites).
When the debate comes to gun control, though, the real divide isn't gun ownership; it's partisanship
As you might expect, gun owners are a lot more likely than non-owners to say that gun control would have negative effects — and a lot less likely to say it would have upsides. Only 32 percent of gun owners agree that stricter gun laws would help reduce accidental firearm deaths; 65 percent of people without household guns do. On the other hand, 68 percent of gun owners believe stricter gun control would give government too much power — compared with 49 percent of gunless households.
But that divide might simply reflect the fact that gun owners are more likely to be Republicans and gunless households are more likely to be Democrats. And the partisan divide is the real difference in the gun debate.
The Pew study didn't divide up exactly how many Republicans or Democrats are gun owners. But it did reveal that gun owners are slightly more likely to be Republicans than the average American (28 percent of gun owners are Republicans, compared with 22 percent of all voters) and that people without guns in the house are slightly more likely to be Democrats (32 percent of all Americans are Democrats, but 39 percent of people who live in gunless households are).
When it comes to asking about the effects of gun control, though, the differences between Democrats and Republicans are much bigger. Just 32 percent of Republicans believe that stricter gun control will help prevent accidental gun deaths, on par with the number of gun owners who believe that. Meanwhile, 74 percent of Democrats do — a higher level of support than among gunless households. And on the flip side, 76 percent of Republicans believe that stricter gun laws would give the government too much power, while only 38 percent of Democrats agree.