Gun control groups routinely tout that they’re representing some large fraction of Americans in order to boost their claims to legitimacy. I’ve always been a bit skeptical about this, since various public records seem to show extremely low numbers of paid members among gun control groups, and high numbers of paid members of gun-rights groups.
I generally consider paid membership numbers to be more reflective of actual interest, as paid members are putting their money where their mouth is. Still, knowing how popular various groups are on the two major social media services — Facebook and Twitter — can yield some insight, particularly into how interested slightly-to-moderately motivated subset of the population is in what they say. Clicking a button to “Like” something on Facebook or “follow” them on Twitter requires basically no effort and allows one to get updates from those that they “Like” or “follow”. Since there’s essentially no barrier to entry, I’d expect that social media numbers would be a good way to measure the relative interest in what the different groups have to say.
I reviewed the numbers of Facebook “Likes” and Twitter “followers” (hereafter referred to as “subscribers”) for gun rights groups, gun companies and industry trade groups, and anti-gun groups on November 8th, 2013 at about 9:00pm UTC. Here’s what I found:
Gun Rights Groups:
- National Rifle Association (Facebook): 2,748,839
- National Rifle Association (Twitter): 191,692
- Gun Owners of America (Facebook): 276,867
- Gun Owners of America (Twitter): 22,786
- Second Amendment Foundation (Facebook): 119,810
- Second Amendment Foundation (Twitter): 4,962
- National Shooting Sports Foundation (Facebook): 157,718
- National Shooting Sports Foundation (Twitter): 21,104
- SHOT Show – run by NNSF (Facebook): 44,573
- SHOT Show – run by NSSF (Twitter): 23,649
- Glock, Inc. (Facebook): 614,185
- Glock, Inc. (Twitter): 63,336
- Smith & Wesson (Facebook): 680,937
- Smitth & Wesson: (Twitter): 54,447
- Sturm, Ruger & Company (Facebook) 345,734
- Sturm, Ruger & Company (Twitter): 18,310
Gun Control Groups:
- Americans for Responsible Solutions (Facebook): 89,414
- Americans for Responsible Solutions (Twitter): 210,708
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns (Facebook): 19,271
- Demand Action – MAIG on Twitter (Twitter): 26,860
- Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Facebook): 122,938
- Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense In America (Twitter): 12,254
- Brady Campaign (Facebook): 58,650
- Brady Campaign (Twitter): 17,170
- Violence Policy Center (Facebook): 20,571
- Violence Policy Center (Twitter): 1,934
- CSGV (Facebook): 46,314
- CSGV (Twitter): 9,575
What does this tell us? First off, it’s noteworthy to point out that all groups except Americans for Responsible Solutions had far more subscribers on Facebook than on Twitter. Perhaps the ability to post arbitrary-length messages on Facebook is preferable to the 140-character limit imposed by Twitter?
The fact that the NRA has the largest number of subscribers is unsurprising: they are a huge organization and have ~5 million dues-paying members and a very active public outreach group. They also have a substantial number of subscribers on Twitter.
I was surprised by the number of subscribers to the Gun Owners of America Facebook account: the GOA is a no-compromise group that, while having about 300,000 dues-paying members, also has nearly that many Facebook subscribers, about 77% the number of Facebook subscribers to all the gun control groups combined.
I was also surprised at the number of subscribers to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. The NSSF is the firearms industry trade group and I don’t normally think of it catering to the general public. Still, it has more Facebook subscribers than all but one of the gun control groups. The SHOT Show, an annual trade show for the shooting sports industry, is not open to the public yet still has more Facebook subscribers than the CSGV, VPC, and Mayors Against Illegal Guns and more Twitter subscribers than all but two of the gun control groups.
Glock and Smith & Wesson, both gun companies, each have roughly 2x the number of Facebook subscribers of all of the gun control groups combined. Each has more Twitter followers than all but one of the gun control groups. Ruger has roughly as many Facebook followers as all the gun control groups combined, and more Twitter subscribers than half of the gun control groups.
Even though there’s essentially no effort involved in subscribing to a group’s Facebook or Twitter feed and people can subscribe with a single click, the gun control groups have a rather poor showing: the only group to exceed 100,000 subscribers on Facebook (something achieved by every pro-gun or industry group, with the exception of the SHOT Show) was Moms Demand Gun Sense in America. They are roughly tied for subscribers as the Second Amendment Foundation, a group more normally found successfully fighting legal battles in courtrooms rather than reaching out to the public on social media. MDA has fewer Twitter followers than any individual pro-gun or industry group with the exception, again, of the SAF.
The NRA alone has more Facebook subscribers than all of the Facebook and Twitter subscribers of all of the anti-gun groups combined. Talk about the 800lb gorilla in the room.
It’s pretty clear that the pro-gun-rights side has far more popular support, not only among dues-paying members, but also among people who need only click a mouse button to register their support.
As to whether or not these levels of support hold when extended to include the general public, I leave as an exercise to the reader and the professionals.
If anyone has details on other groups, either pro- or anti-gun that you’d like me to add to the list, please let me know and I’d be happy to add them. I just picked the groups that I happened to be aware of and that had at least a moderate presence on these two social media platforms.