The Psychology of Gun Ownership

Open carry in a bakeryTragedy struck last week as there was yet another mass shooting in the US.  The disturbing frequency of such events paints an interesting picture about the current state of the US.  The aftermath has included endless scapegoating, political posturing and analysis, as one side looks to tighten gun restrictions while another side is terrified about the thought of losing their guns.  Those who are opposed to gun control cite the second amendment, which grants US citizens the right to bear arms.  Yet what is it that makes so many people want to own guns?  I recently came across an article that explores the psychology behind gun ownership.

The diversity of gun owners means that there can’t be any comprehensive or obvious answer as to why so many people want to own guns.  Yet a few scientific explanations do shed some light onto the situation.  According to a 2005 gallup poll, protection is the most common reason for gun ownership.  Some argue that this is a cop-out that gun owners use to sound moral and credible, and indeed, “protection” is the most common answer given by juveniles who commit gun-related crimes.  All life forms are obsessed with self-preservation and anticipating worst-case scenarios.  So if you’re surrounded by people with guns, you’re going to feel like you need one too.  While this doesn’t address why guns became so widespread to begin with, yet it would explain why the gun situation continues.  So if self-preservation is why you have a gun in the first place, you’d never want to lose it.

Many gun owners have confessed that they feel vulnerable without their guns, which isn’t too surprising; owning a gun gives you plenty of power over people.  If you feel small or weak, then dealing with others leads to a great amount of social anxiety, so having a gun would provide one easy way where you can have advantage over other people, even if this is only occurring on a subconscious level.  In a culture where guns are common, guns provide a high social status, making somebody want to own one.  Yet when everybody else has a gun as well, they’re not so useful as a status symbol, so you need more and bigger guns.  While associating gun ownership with mental health issues is dangerous scapegoating, there’s some evidence that gun ownership is tied with tendencies towards anger and impulsivity.

There are plenty of other factors that could result in somebody wanting a gun.  Gun ownership is typically more common among those with right-wing views, so a stronger sense of self-interest and mistrust of other groups could make a gun feel like a more essential item.  In action movies, there’s no shortage of guns, and countless films feature shoot-outs.  And the making and selling of guns is a very lucrative industry, so gunmakers will be inclined to promote the benefits of gun ownership.  And the sad truth is that people are going to acquire guns to harm other people.  An understanding of why people would want to own guns is important to understanding how to handle the current controversy around guns, regardless of your political leanings.