Armed & afraid? Study finds owning gun has little to do with fear

  • New research shows that gun owners report having less fear than people who do not own a firearm.
  • Fear was also not found to be related to the likelihood of someone owning a gun.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Does owning a gun indicate that a person is afraid of something? Many people believe gun owners arm themselves due to some type of phobia or fear, whether that be a fear of an in-home invasion, animal attack, or even some type of government crackdown on citizens’ rights. Interestingly, a new study conducted at Florida State University finds that gun owners actually tend to report less fear than non-gun owners.

“There’s a lot of popular rhetoric in the media and among politicians as to why people own guns,” comments study co-author Benjamin Dowd-Arrow, a sociology doctoral student, in a university release. “The biggest claim is that they’re cowards. So, we wanted to see if owning guns was truly a symptom of fear.”

The research team used a standard test on fear to measure just how fearful gun owners are in comparison to non-gun owners. More specifically, they investigated phobias and victimization tendencies.

First, the subject of gun ownership as a result of fear was analyzed. For the most part, fear was not found to be related to the probability of owning a gun. But, there were some exceptions to that finding: Adults who reported being afraid of either animals or a mugging were actually less likely to own a gun; but adults who reported a fear of being caught in a mass or random shooting event were more likely to own a gun.

Next, researchers examined the fears of current gun owners. According to the results, gun owners report fewer phobias and fears of becoming a victim than non-gun owners. These findings were consistent across a variety of fears and phobias, including fear of heights, animals, or being mugged.

“There’s little evidence to suggest that gun ownership is an effect of fear,” Dowd-Arrow says. “However, gun ownership may be associated with less fear because firearms help their owners to feel safe, secure and protected in a world they perceive to be uncertain and potentially dangerous.”

The research team believe their findings could help shape future gun policies and legislation regarding gun safety. “By eliminating stereotypes and false information around gun ownership, we can possibly create better or more useful policy,” Dowd-Arrow adds.

The study’s authors also made it a point to emphasize that while their findings point to gun owners being generally unafraid, they are not endorsing gun ownership as a completely safe activity.

“Research has already indicated that owning a firearm is linked to increased odds of suicide, accidental injury and death and violence against women,” Dowd-Arrow says. “More research is needed to really understand how fear is linked to these health outcomes.”

In the future, the research team would like to see more detailed studies on the connection between gun ownership and fear. For example, a study on the role fear plays in carrying a concealed gun on one’s person versus keeping a firearm stored in a car or home. Research on regional differences in gun ownership would also be beneficial.

“Firearm culture in America is a fascinating topic that is grossly understudied,” Dowd-Arrow concludes. “More research can help us understand what motivates gun ownership. If it isn’t fear, then what is it? Or is it a specific fear, such as being a victim in a random shooting?”

The study is published in the scientific journal SSM – Population Health.