Peer-reviewed academic output
Between 2016 and 2017, Americans suffered three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history by a lone gunman: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Las Vegas strip shooting, and the Texas church shooting. We studied American gun owners in the wakes of these tragedies, theorizing that a byproduct of the salience of mass shootings is to increase the salience of guns as means of individual empowerment and significance. We hypothesized that this increase in salience would be especially relevant in the context of thwarted goals, because such individuals may be seeking a compensatory means to interact more effectively with their environment. In four studies of U.S. gun owners (N = 2,442), we tested whether mass shooting salience interacted with thwarted goals to predict justification to shoot suspected criminals, willingness to engage in vigilantism, and perceptions that guns are means of empowerment. The thwarting of goals was either experimentally induced via failure on an achievement task (Study 1) or measured via perceptions of disempowerment in society (Studies 2-4). Moderators included perceptions of mass shooting threat and real or imagined temporal proximity to specific mass shooting events. Across studies, results indicated an interaction between thwarted goals and mass shooting threat; proximity yielded mixed results, as the key factor seemed to be the self-relevance of any given attack. Altogether, thwarted goals motivate people to seek means to restore their sense of effectiveness, and guns are more likely to be perceived as means to such ends when mass shootings are highly salient.
Americans are the world’s best armed citizens and public polling suggests protection/self-defense is their main reason for gun ownership. However, there is virtually no psychological research on gun ownership. The present article develops the first psychological process model of defensive gun ownership—specifically, a two-component model that considers both the antecedents and consequences of owning a gun for protection/self-defense. We demonstrate that different levels of threat construal—the specific perceived threat of assault and a diffuse threat of a dangerous world—independently predict handgun ownership; we also show how utility judgments can explain the motivated reasoning that drives beliefs about gun rights. We tested our model in two independent samples of gun owners (total N = 899), from just before and after the Orlando mass shooting. This study illustrates how social-cognitive theories can help explain what motivates Americans to own handguns and advocate for broad rights to carry and use them.Read More Full PDF
Mass public shootings are typically followed by a spike in gun sales as well as calls for stricter gun control laws. What remains unclear is whether the spike in gun sales is motivated by increased threat perceptions or by concerns about gun control, or whether the sales are mainly driven by non-owners purchasing guns or gun owners adding to their collection. Two surveys of gun owners and non-owners, conducted immediately before and after the Orlando shooting, allowed us to assess its impact on threat perceptions and on gun-purchasing intentions. Although there was a minor impact on threat perceptions of non-owners, neither group reported any increased gun-purchasing intentions or an increased need for a gun for protection and self-defense. We suggest that these responses are representative for the majority of Americans and, therefore, people who are influenced by mass shootings to buy guns are probably an atypical minority.Read More Full PDF
There are two conflicting positions toward gun ownership in the United States. Proponents of stricter gun control argue that guns are responsible for 32,000 gun‐related deaths each year and that the introduction of stricter gun control laws would reduce this death toll. Gun rights advocates argue that the general availability of guns reduces homicide rates, due to deterrence and because guns are effective means of self‐defense. Based on a review of the evidence, I draw the following conclusions: Gun prevalence is positively related to homicide rates. There is no evidence for a protective effect of gun ownership. In fact, gun owners have a greater likelihood of being murdered. Furthermore, gun ownership is associated with an increased risk of serious injuries, accidental death, and death from suicide. The evidence on the effectiveness of gun control measures has not been encouraging, partly because the influential gun lobby has successfully prevented the introduction of more effective measures. A federal registration system for all firearms would address many limitations of present gun control measures. To mobilize public opinion, a culture change in attitudes toward firearms is needed.Read More Full PDF
This article critically reviews the empirical research on the association of firearm possession with suicide and homicide. Both suicide and homicide reflect intentional behavior with the goal of killing oneself or another person. Firearms provide merely a means of reaching this goal. The possession of a firearm can, therefore, not be a primary cause of either suicide or homicide. However, since a defining characteristic of both suicide and homicide is the success of killing, and since guns are more effective means for reaching this goal than poison or other weapons, the rate of firearm possession can be expected to be positively related to overall rates of suicide and homicide. This prediction has been tested with individual-level as well as macro-level studies. Individual-level studies, which typically use case–control designs, allow a better control than macro-level studies of the cultural, demographic, and economic determinants of suicide and homicide. In macro-level studies, the potential impact of gun possession on overall rates is likely to be confounded by the factors that motivate people to commit suicide or homicide. Despite these methodological limitations, the research reviewed in this article supports the assumption that easy access to firearms increases the risk of dying from violent causes. With very few exception, studies found gun ownership positively related to gun-related suicides and homicides. Furthermore, there is evidence that guns do not merely serve as substitutes for other means of killing, but increase the overall rates of suicide and homicide.Read More Full PDF