Study: Fear of crime, general sense of danger drives gun ownership

Researchers designed a psychological process model to examines the personal and psychological factors behind gun ownership in the United States, finding common reasons among study participants.

By Amy Wallace
A new study examines the motivation behind handgun and long gun ownership in the United States. Photo by Skitterphoto/PixaBay
A new study examines the motivation behind handgun and long gun ownership in the United States. Photo by Skitterphoto/PixaBay

June 8 (UPI) -- Studies by the University of Groningen, The Netherlands and the University of Maryland suggest differing motivations behind handgun and shotgun ownership.

The researchers, whose work is published today in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, developed a first psychological process model of defensive gun ownership -- a two-component model that considers both the antecedents and consequences of owning a gun for protection and self-defense.


Researchers conducted three studies of 839 men in the United States, divided into 404 gun owners and 435 non-owners, to examine the factors and motivation behind gun ownership.

The first survey compared gun owners with non-owners to examine differences in gun-related beliefs. The two subsequent surveys focused on gun owners solely to test the predictions from the two-component model.

Researchers found the motivation to own a handgun was about fear of crime but also about a more general sense of threat from "the belief that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place and that society is at the brink of collapse."

The researchers found the layers of threat felt by participants also predicted beliefs that people have the right to shoot and kill in self-defense, and that people should have broad 2nd Amendment rights.


"It is not just concrete, specific threats that change our behavior, but also vague, general ideas about threat," researchers write in the study. "Even if we cannot pinpoint exactly why we feel threatened, the fact that we are threatened at all can lead us to want to own handguns for self-protection and advocate for more expansive rights to carry and use them."

The study also found the threat and belief system applied mainly to handgun ownership, not long gun owners.

"Long guns such as bolt-action rifles, semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, are linked to hunting and not really linked to a sense of threat," Wolfgang Stroebe, a researcher at the University of Groningen, said in a press release. "Although the gun owners in our sample owned an average of four guns each, we saw no evidence that any of our findings apply to owners of long guns only -- that is, those who do not own a handgun."

The surveys were conducted in May and June of 2016, before the Orlando nighclub mass shooting, however, researchers conducted an additional survey a week after the tragedy to determine if the mass shooting influenced beliefs.

"We expected the Orlando mass shooting to move the needle on the belief systems of gun owners, so we were surprised that there was practically no effect," Stroebe said.


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