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Patchwork Nation: Gun Shop Locales and Legal Challenges

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the Constitution’s Second Amendment right to bear arms applies to state and local gun control laws. And on Tuesday the overwhelming reaction was, now what?

The ruling lacked specifics and may raise as many questions as it answered. It applied some constitutional standard to ownership – saying homeowners had a right to own a handgun – but didn’t address issues like carrying concealed weapons or even laws regulating the sales of firearms.

One thing is clear in traveling around our 12 Patchwork Nation county types. Guns have very different places and impacts in different communities that make up the United States. In some of the locales – like our Tractor Country community of Sioux Center, Iowa – they are an important part of life, in hunting and gun clubs. In others – places in and around major cities – firearms tend to play a different role and have a different meaning. apatchwork26_g1_l.gif

Graphic by the Christian Science Monitor.

That argument was made implicitly in the opinion of Justice John Paul Stevens who wrote: “The reasons that motivated the framers to protect the ability of militiamen to keep muskets available for military use when our nation was in its infancy, or that motivated the Reconstruction Congress to extend full citizenship to freedmen in the wake of the Civil War, have only a limited bearing on the question that confronts the homeowner in a crime-infested metropolis today.”

Stevens is not just talking about modern times, but a specific place in those modern times: the big cities in the counties we call the Industrial Metropolis.

How different are the attitudes in those places – and in all of our Patchwork county types – toward guns? One way of measuring is looking at where the gun shops are. After all, a gun store is not likely to stay in business where there is no demand.

Looking at those gun numbers reveals a mixed picture.

Going by simple geography, you see a much more wider spread of gun shops than you might imagine – including stores in Industrial Metro counties like Cook (Chicago) and Wayne (Detroit) and Cuyahoga (Cleveland). All those big city counties have more than 10 gun shops.

So handgun ownership may not be the major hurdle people believe it to be in terms of simply buying a firearm.

But looking at the figures broken down by capita and by Patchwork Nation’s 12 county types, the numbers look very different. The most rural locales, our Tractor County counties, have the most gun shops per 100,000 people – about 10 – compared to those big city Industrial Metros, where there is only 1 per 100,000 people.

The numbers as whole seem to show a stronger predilection toward firearms in more rural locales, though there are exceptions. The growing exurban Boom Town counties have a higher number of gun stores per capita (3.67 per 100,000) than other county types that are less densely populated.

One question, going forward out of the court’s ruling on Monday, is will these numbers change now that ownership of handguns is constitutionally protected? Will more stores open in those city and suburban locales now that the restrictions have been lifted?

The answers to those questions will help tell us if gun ownership and the desire for gun ownership is about laws and rules or larger cultural factors.

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