Guns Easier to Find Than Knowledge in Most of America
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Guns Easier to Find Than Knowledge in Most of America

REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

Many readers took heart in the news last week that museums in the U.S. outnumber McDonald's and Starbucks restaurants - combined. But like so many other quantifiable preferences that Americans have, there's a political dimension to the affinity for museums.

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Just last week, a Pew Research Center survey found that liberals are much more attached to their museums than conservatives are: 73 percent of "consistently liberal" Americans say that being near museums and theaters is an important factor in choosing where to live. Only 23 percent of consistently conservative Americans say the same.

Considering that divide, I thought it might be useful to map museums and libraries against an institution that conservatives might be more fond of: gun stores. The inspiration here was Nathan Yau's recent map of where bars outnumber grocery stores. I took the IMLS' museum counts from last week and added to their count of libraries. The idea here is that museums and libraries play similar roles, as institutions of informal learning where students and adults can go to learn more about their communities and the world around them.

For gun retailers, I used data maintained by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the number and location of licensed firearm dealers in the U.S. A high incidence of gun dealers indicates a robust gun culture - places where people hunt and shoot for sport, and perhaps places where people are concerned about self-defense and safety.

Keep in mind that these two quantities aren't diametrically opposed - there's no reason you can't be a fan of both guns and museums (there is in fact a National Firearms Museum run by the NRA in Fairfax, VA). But viewed in relation to each other guns and museums give some sense of a community's values. As my colleague Emily Badger wrote the other day, we live in places that reflect our values, and many of us are sorting ourselves into communities that share our political views.

I mapped everything at the county level below: counties with higher numbers of museums are shaded green, while those with more gun shops are shaded brown.

Here are a few of the takeaways:

New England is Museum and Library Country
Museums and libraries outnumber gun stores in all but two New England counties - rural Aroostook County in Northern Maine, and Hillsborough County in New Hampshire, the state's most populous.

Vermont presents an interesting case. Its gun laws are among the most lax in the nation, according to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. But gun shops are scare relative to museums and libraries in the state, which likely has something to the the state's unique gun culture - "strong, safe and unregulated," according to the Burlington Free Press. Vermont's governor, Peter Shumlin, said Vermonters view guns as "tools" to manage natural resources, rather than "weapons of war."

So is the mid-Atlantic - With One Exception
Most mid-Atlantic states are home to more museums and libraries than gun stores, with the exception of Pennsylvania, where firearms are more popular. Some of the nation's strongest gun laws are in New Jersey and Maryland.

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Guns Are King in the Lower Midwest and the Upper South
The strongest concentration of gun-heavy counties is in Missouri, where gun stores outnumber museums and libraries in all but six of the state's 114 counties. Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas all stand out for their concentration of gun stores, as does Oklahoma.

But the Most Gun-Heavy County is in Oregon
Gun stores outnumber museums and libraries by nearly seven-to-one in Deschutes County, OR, giving it the most lopsided ratio in favor of gun stores among counties with at least 10 of each. Eight of the top 25 gun-favoring counties are in the Lone Star state - don't mess with Texas!

Prefer Museums to Guns? Head to Manhattan
There are 457 libraries and museums in New York County and only 11 gun retailers, making for a 42-to-1 ratio in favor of the former. Seven of the top 25 museum-favoring counties are in New Jersey, making the Garden State the Texas of museums and libraries. Don't mess with Jersey!

At the State Level, Museums and Libraries Outnumber Gun Retailers in Only 13 States
Massachusetts is the state most fond of museums and libraries - they outnumber gun stores by more than four-to-one. Mid-Atlantic and New England states round out the rest of the top 5. At the other end of the spectrum, gun stores outnumber museums and libraries by more than two-to-one in Montana, Arkansas, Wyoming, Alaska, Idaho and West Virginia.

Christopher Ingraham is a data journalist focusing primarily on issues of politics, policy and economics. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

This piece originally appeared in The Washington Post.

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