Maricopa County is also unusual for another reason. It’s one of the relatively few counties in the United States that flipped its presidential vote from Republican to Democratic in the 2020 election. Given that the county constitutes more than 60 percent of the state population, that flip was central to President Biden turning Arizona from red to blue.
Put another way, Biden’s Arizona victory was a function in part of his flipping one of the most gun-centric places in the country. In fact, Biden won eight of the ten counties with the most registered firearm dealers (those who hold an FFL, or federal firearm license*) in the country. After the 2016 election, we declared that gun country was Donald Trump country; these data, it seem, tell a different story.
Except, of course, that they don’t.
The key is in the color coding on the graph above. The places with the most licensed dealers are populous, urban counties, places where there a lot more stores of all types. As we did when looking at the vote in 2016, we can adjust the number of firearms licenses to present that bit of data as a function of population. In other words, it’s probably more useful when considering the saturation of gun culture in a place to consider how many gun stores and retailers there are per person. If a county has 100 retailers and 1,000,000 people, that seems obviously like a less gun-centric place than a county with 10 retailers and 100 people.
When we shift the above graph to reflect the number of licensees per 10,000 residents, the pattern shifts. Those big, populous counties like Maricopa County drop to the bottom. Closer to the top are lightly populated places with relatively more firearms licensees, like Alpine County, Calif. — the 1,000-odd residents of which can available themselves of 14 different firearm retailers.
It almost certainly isn’t just Alpine County residents who are shopping at those retailers. The county is just south of Lake Tahoe and prides itself on having “historically been a popular spot for hunters.”
Because places like Alpine have so many gun retailers relative to population, it skews the vertical axis of the graph above. If we cut off the upper limit of the ratio to 40 retailers per 10,000 residents, we can see the pattern more clearly: more retailers per population, more support for Trump in 2020. As the dots move from left to right, they get higher and higher on the FFL scale.
Those dots are messy and admittedly confusing. If we instead group the counties into buckets representing how they voted in 2020, we see how the number of firearms licensees is higher toward the middle of the political spectrum, mirroring the first graph above.
Then we adjust for population. Gun country remains Trump country, and vice versa.
You’ll notice that one column which doesn’t neatly follow the trend from low-to-high as the presidential results move from more pro-Biden to more pro-Trump. That’s the set of counties where the margin in 2020 averaged out to a 30-point Biden victory.
It includes Alpine County, Calif.
We can look at this data from the other direction, too: how counties with certain levels of gun-retailer density voted in 2020. We created similarly sized buckets of counties, divvying up the relative density of licensees into groups of about 400 counties. Those counties with the fewest licensees per 10,000 people narrowly voted for Biden. Those with the most licensees per 10,000 people preferred Trump by an average of 54 points.
Why didn’t Trump win? Because, as those messy scatterplot graphs show, those counties tended to be more rural and less populous. This makes sense, given that we know rural voters vote more heavily Republican and that rural communities are more likely to embrace gun ownership.
It is nonetheless still a relationship worth highlighting. The places in the United States with the most gun retailers per person are places that tended to vote for Donald Trump.
* For this analysis, we only included recipients of Type 1 FFLs.