ArticlePDF Available

Guns and Fear

Authors:

Abstract and Figures

Surveys show that more than one half of gun owners report owning their firearm for self-protection. Although research has examined the effect of fear of crime on gun ownership, the issue of reciprocity and temporal order has been largely ignored. Furthermore, the effect of firearm acquisition and relinquishment on fear has not been evaluated empirically. We hypothesize that the relationship between fear and gun ownership is reciprocal. As James Wright and Peter Rossi noted, it may be that “the initially most fearful may arm themselves and then feel psychologically safer because of it.” Using two-wave panel data, we found, as expected, that higher fear among nonowners encourages them to become gun owners, but lower fear among gun owners does not encourage gun relinquishment. We also found that gun acquisition does not reduce fear, but relinquishment increases fear, suggesting the relationship between guns and fear may be asymmetrical.
Content may be subject to copyright.
A preview of the PDF is not available
... An alternative explanation-and the underlying assumption throughout the gun literature-is that non-ownership is the baseline, and only those who experience certain situational or cultural forces are motivated to own guns. For example, situational motivations that have appeared in the gun literature include fear of crime (Bankston et al., 1990;Hauser & Kleck, 2013), past criminal victimization (Lizotte et al., 1981;Marciniak & Loftin, 1991), a lack of confidence in the police and the government (McDowall & Loftin, 1983;Young et al., 1987), or a diffuse fear that the world is a dangerous place (Stroebe et al., 2017;Warner & Thrash, 2020). Cultural motivations include childhood socialization (Cao et al., 1997), living in the South (Bankston et al., 1990;Dixon & Lizotte, 1987;Ellison, 1991;Young, 1986), and racial prejudice (Filindra et al., 2021;O'Brien et al., 2013;Young, 1985). ...
... 5 Although the respondents themselves may not personally own the gun(s), we will refer to those who have a gun(s) within their home as "gun owners," under the assumption that the same underlying factors affect both personal gun ownership and the willingness to live in a gun-owning household. This approach is not uncommon throughout the gun literature (e.g., Hauser & Kleck, 2013;O'Brien et al., 2013;Young, 1985). ...
Article
The gun ownership literature is vast, with dozens of studies seeking to explain who owns guns and why. We build on this literature in two key ways. First, we introduce a new variable into the fold: sensitivity to harm. We theorize that this concern actively inhibits gun ownership. Second, we direct theoretical and empirical attention to a predictor that has frequently been overlooked in the contemporary gun literature even though its timing makes it the proverbial confounder: childhood gun socialization. Using data from a national sample of 1,100 adults and controlling for other known predictors, we find that sensitivity to harm is negatively related to gun ownership, whereas childhood socialization is positively related to it. Furthermore, we find that childhood socialization is not only the strongest predictor of owning guns, but also confounds the relationship between racial resentment and gun ownership, and fully mediates the effect of gender.
... Safety concerns have been shown to influence firearm purchasing in the past (Levine and McKnight 2017). Indeed, not only do the majority of gun owners cite personal protection as their main justification for owning a gun (Azrael et al. 2017), but scholars have also found that past victimization of crime and fears of future victimization are significant predictors of gun acquisition (Hauser and Kleck 2013). Although this relationship has not always been present when gun ownership generally is the dependent variable, when scholars consider gun acquisition for the purpose of personal defense, past victimization and perceived risk of future victimization become increasingly strong predictors (Kleck et al. 2011). ...
Article
Researchers have considered the role of perceived threat and fear of crime in shaping attitudes about gun regulation. We contribute to this literature by examining whether gun owners, who tend to oppose gun regulations, moderate their gun views when exposed to a gun-related threat. We argue that although exposure to threat can increase the desire to be armed, gun owners primed with a threat may soften their views on gun regulation relative to non-gun owners. We employ an experiment embedded within a nationally representative survey to test our hypotheses. Our analysis of the data from our survey supports the notion that gun owners generally oppose gun regulations, but exposure to a gun-related threat moderates their opposition to gun regulations. We discuss the limitations of our study and conclude with a discussion of the implications of these results for understanding public support for gun regulation in America.
... As with the comparative scholarship, these differences could be due to data limitations resulting in the omission of potentially important confounders (Britt et al. 1996;Kleck 2001) or difficulties in isolating the causal influence of policy given the distinctions between the official effective date and when the first violators are sentenced (Britt et al. 1996;Jung and Jason 1988;Kwon and Baack 2005). As with international studies, causal ordering and simultaneity bias are potential concerns in terms of the likely two-way relationship between firearm availability and crime rates (Hauser and Kleck 2013;Kleck et al. 2011;Kleck and Patterson 1993). ...
Article
Full-text available
Objectives: This study examines the association between a country’s gun availability and firearm-related terrorism. Methods: Employing data from 140 countries, we assess the possible relationship between a country’s rate of suicide by firearm and their count of terrorist attacks involving a firearm through a series of structural equation models. Results: Collectively, we find that there is a positive relationship between gun availability and firearm-related terrorism in 2016 and 2017. However, this result fails our robustness check and is sensitive to the inclusion of the U.S. Conclusion: With important caveats, we believe the U.S. to be unique in terms of both gun availability and terrorism.
... Research with participants from populations of interest-including the incarcerated, youth, and police-will enable fruitful comparisons to test causal heterogeneity of gun desirability (Harcourt 2006). For example, there is a debate between "palliative" (Dowd-Arrow et al. 2019) and "symptomatic" accounts (Hauser and Kleck 2013) of connection between gun ownership and various fears. Gun desirability is well suited for comparing gun owners with nongun owners, and to exploring how gun desirability is affected by the interaction of particular fears and gun ownership. ...
Article
Full-text available
The COVID-19 pandemic and protests have marked an unprecedented increase in U.S. gun sales. But America has long been an outlier; the stockpile of private guns climbed to almost 300 million in 2017. Scholars use multiple theories to explain why gun sales have tripled since the early 2000s, and why disruptions like the pandemic might cause gun sales. However, scholars have difficulty evaluating these theories with existing retrospective estimates of gun sales and other measures, limiting their ability to test theory or suggest policy changes. This study uses the known increase in gun sales during the COVID-19 pandemic to introduce and experimentally validate a novel measure of gun desirability. With a sample of 4,240 U.S. residents, this project demonstrates that gun desirability is a valid measure of inclination toward gun ownership, and that a pandemic video vignette significantly increases overall gun desirability relative to a control video vignette. These results serve as a foundation for future scholarship to (1) discern gun desirability trends, (2) evaluate theorized causes of gun desirability, and (3) consider interventions on those conditions that arouse desire for gun ownership.
... Many will tell you that guns improve their lives, make them happy, and help them to sleep better at night, but none of these claims have been established empirically (Hill, Dowd-Arrow, Davis, et al., 2020;Hill, Dowd-Arrow, Burdette, Hale, et al., 2020;Hill, Dowd-Arrow, Burdette, Warner, et al. 2020). People who do not own guns will tell you that gun owners are motivated by impotence and fear, but these ideas are also unfounded (DeFronzo, 1979;Dowd-Arrow et al., 2019;Hauser & Kleck, 2013;Kleck, 1997). In these instances, gun culture rhetoric functions to justify guns (guns are helpful to me personally), discredit gun owners (gun owners are compensators), and further stigmatize men with SD as "dysfunctional nonpenetrative males" who need guns to cope with their broken bodies (Potts, 2000). ...
Article
Full-text available
Although there has been no direct empirical evidence linking sexual dysfunction (SD) with gun ownership, speculation has been widespread and persistent for decades. In this paper, we formally examine the association between SD and gun ownership. Our primary hypothesis, derived from the psychosexual theory of gun ownership, asserts that men experiencing SD are more likely to personally own guns than other men. To test this hypothesis, we used recently collected data from the 2021 Crime, Health, and Politics Survey (CHAPS), a national probability sample of 780 men, and binary logistic regression to model gun ownership as a function of SD. Our key finding is that men experiencing SD are no more likely to own guns than men without SD. This interpretation was supported across several indicators of SD (performance anxiety, erection trouble, and ED medication) and gun ownership (personal gun ownership, purchasing a gun during the pandemic, and keeping a gun in one's bedroom). To our knowledge, we are the first to have directly tested the association between SD and gun ownership in America. Our findings are important because they contribute to our understanding of factors associated with gun ownership by challenging the belief that phallic symbolism and masculinity somehow drive men with SD to purchase guns. Our results also remind us of the perils of gun culture rhetoric, which, in this case, function to discredit gun owners and to further stigmatize men with ED. We conclude by calling for more evidence-based discussions of SD and guns in society.
Article
Using theories of group threat and research on the political dynamics of gun ownership, this article examines two research questions: To what extent does the political affiliation of the president of the United States shape gun ownership? Moreover, how does the president of the United States’ political affiliation intersect with individuals’ political alignments to impact gun ownership patterns? This study utilizes repeated cross‐sectional data from the General Social Survey (1980–2018). Specifically, it uses logistic regression to examine the intersection of the political affiliation of the U.S. president in a given survey year and respondents’ individual political identities. Although there is no independent effect of the president's political affiliation on gun ownership, the results indicate there is an increase in reported gun ownership among Republicans when a Democrat was in office. A similar increase is observed for Democrats when a Republican is in office. These results demonstrate the linked macro–micro dynamics of gun ownership, specifically for political contexts.
Article
Objective: To identify and verify classes of firearm owners that exist within the United States and determine the sources that classes deemed credible to discuss firearm safety for suicide prevention. Methods: The study is composed of two parts. Part 1 (N = 1018) utilizes a nationally representative sample of firearm owners. Part 2 (N = 1064) consists of firearm owners from Mississippi, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Results: Four unique classes were identified in Sample 1: multiple firearms class, single handgun class, few firearms class, and long-gun class. A three-class solution was found for sample 2. Two of the classes from sample 1 replicated: multiple firearms class and single handgun class. Although many of the classes differed in the ranking of credible sources, a combination of The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, law enforcement officers, and family members was ranked as credible sources among all classes. Conclusions: Findings provide evidence of the heterogenous nature of firearm owners and can be utilized to better understand the subgroups of firearm owners. Additionally, the findings from the credible sources analyses can be leveraged to create more effective safe firearm storage messaging which may increase adherence with safe storage suggestions and ultimately reduce suicide rates.
Article
Given notable recent spikes in gun purchases in the U.S., we revisit the ‘fear and loathing’ hypothesis of firearm demand by (1) establishing how crime/victimization fears are shaped by broader economic, cultural, and racial status anxieties (those emerging from group status threats [loathing]) and (2) illustrating how both fear and loathing matter for protective gun ownership and gun carry (among owners), and openness to future protective ownership among non-owners. Using data from a nationwide survey of adults in the U.S. (n = 2,262) collected in 2019, we find that fears of crime and victimization are often more strongly associated with status anxieties than with safety threats. Both status anxieties and victimization are associated with protective ownership and carry. Among non-owners, those higher in cultural anxiety are especially likely to be open toward future protective gun ownership. This study illustrates the multidimensional fear-guns link, wherein both status-related threats and victimization-related fears shape why individuals own guns, and how they use guns.
Article
Existing scholarship usually presents people’s attitudes about guns as fixed and fully formed. Rarely are such attitudes examined as the outcome of social processes. As a result, while we know a great deal about what people think about guns, we know very little about the development of these beliefs. In this paper, we use a combination of surveys and life history interviews with a national sample of college students between the ages of 18 and 24 to examine how attitudes about guns develop in childhood and young adulthood. We find that while family gun ownership matters, positive attitudes about guns develop through active socialization that continues beyond childhood and is not reducible to family background. Relationships play a key role in this process, with changes in relationships often driving changes in attitudes about guns. Changes in attitudes about guns can take place in terms of both the content (what young adults think about guns) and the form (how young adults think about guns). In the transition to young adulthood, attitudes about guns develop from being articulated primarily as personal experiences connected to the activity of shooting guns or experiencing gun violence, to being articulated as political beliefs, connected to issues of regulation. These findings contribute to our understanding of gun attitudes by offering insights on not only what people think about guns but also how people come to think about guns in the ways that they do.
Article
Full-text available
It is argued that, because of a prevailing public image of criminals as young black males, racial prejudice leads to aggressive attitudes toward criminals, which increases the likelihood of gun ownership. Concern about crime, in turn, produces a greater increment in gun ownership among highly prejudiced than among less prejudiced white males. These expectations are supported by data from white males in the Detroit area. The model is also supported by patterns of ownership of more passive forms of household protection.
Article
A rationale for investigating subcultures of firearms ownership is developed. Two gun-owning populations are investigated by using survey data for the State of Illinois, those who own guns for sport and those who own guns for protection. Models of individual level gun ownership for sport and for protection are constructed and tested. Sporting gun ownership appears to be subcultural. Sporting gun ownership can be predicted by using family socialization variables and indicators of contact among members of the subculture, independent of situational variables. Protective ownership has none of the trappings of a subculture. It does not respond to family socialization and indicators of contact with other people who own guns for protection. Further, there is no indication of a subculture of violence among protective gun owners. Violent attitudes and behavior do not predict protective gun ownership. In fact, a situational variable (county violent crime) was the only predictor of gun ownership for protection. Further, gun ownership for protection and gun ownership for sport were found to be independent events, with no joint probability of occurrence. This suggests that the impetus for a subculture of protective ownership could not be a logical extension of a subculture of firearms ownership for sport.
Article
Research on fear of victimization continues to overlook the proximate causes of fear, relying instead on tacit and untested assumptions about those causes. For example, it is widely accepted that Americans are most afraid of violent or personal crimes, as if the perceived seriousness of offenses were the only determinant of fear. Were that true, fear would almost certainly be immutable (how does one reduce the perceived seriousness of crimes?). Data from a 1981 mail survey of Seattle residents indicate that, among types of offenses, fear of victimization is a multiplicative function of perceived risk and perceived seriousness, these two factors carry virtually identical weight (i.e., they may precisely offset each other), and fear is not necessarily highest for violent crimes.
Article
This paper asks whether decreases in the proportion of the U.S. population in high crime-prone ages in recent years have produced decreases in crime rates which correspond approximately, but in an inverse direction, to the increases observed when the baby boomers reached the high crime-prone ages in the 1960s and 1970s. We examine age distributions of arrests for murder and motor vehicle theft and then specify and estimate structural-equation models of the time trajectories in annual rates of these crimes for the post-World War II period. With these models, we test the hypothesis that the relationship of crime to age composition is symmetric and infer that it cannot be rejected. We also find that simple models that contain effects of trends in the age structure, business cycles, trends in criminal opportunity, and the rate of imprisonment can account for most of the variance in annual rates of homicide and motor vehicle theft from 1946 through 1984. We discuss some implications of our findings for forecasting U.S. crime rates for the remainder of this century and for theories of the macrodynamics of crime causation.
Article
Sample survey data from Seattle are used to examine fear of rape among urban women. The magnitude and prevalence of such fear are striking, particularly among younger women, who fear rape more than any other crime. The high fear attached to rape stems from the fact that it is perceived to be both extremely serious and relatively likely; and from the fact that it is closely associated with other serious offenses such as homicide and robbery. Fear of rape also lies behind fear of other offenses among women in our sample, and is strongly associated with certain social or lifestyle precautions.
Article
A rationale for investigating subcultures of firearms ownership is developed. Two gun-owning populations are investigated by using survey data for the State of Illinois, those who own guns for sport and those who own guns for protection. Models of individual level gun ownership for sport and for protection are constructed and tested. Sporting gun ownership appears to be subcultural. Sporting gun ownership can be predicted by using family socialization variables and indicators of contact among members of the subculture, independent of situational variables. Protective ownership has none of the trappings of a subculture. It does not respond to family socialization and indicators of contact with other people who own guns for protection. Further, there is no indication of a subculture of violence among protective gun owners. Violent attitudes and behavior do not predict protective gun ownership. In fact, a situational variable (county violent crime) was the only predictor of gun ownership for protection. Further, gun ownership for protection and gun ownership for sport were found to be independent events, with no joint probability of occurrence. This suggests that the impetus for a subculture of protective ownership could not be a logical extension of a subculture of firearms ownership for sport.
Article
Fear of crime affects far more people in the United States than crime itself, and there are sound reasons for treating crime and fear of crime as distinct social problems. After assessing the state of knowledge on fear, this chapter considers whether public fear of crime can and ought to be controlled, and the moral and practical implications of doing so. The discussion draws on the literatures of risk perception and risk communication, as well as research on the etiology of fear and public beliefs about crime. A final objective of the chapter is to identify the most pressing unanswered questions about fear con-fronting investigators today.