Study: Gun owners don’t just fear crime, believe society ‘at brink of collapse’

WASHINGTON — Gun ownership in the United States has long been a topic of controversy split along party lines, but supporters’ beliefs may be more profound that you might think. A new study finds the desire to own a handgun for self defense is not simply the result of one’s concern about being a victim of a crime, but also linked with “the belief that the world is an unpredictable and dangerous place and that society is at the brink of collapse.”

Scientists from the University of Groningen in the Netherlands and the University of Maryland proposed a model that concluded “it is not just concrete, specific threats that change our behavior, but also vague, general ideas about threat,” according to a press release from the Society for Personality and Social Psychology.

Man firing a gun
A new study finds that gun owners purchase firearms not only to protect themselves during a crime, but also because they hold dark, deep-seated beliefs about the world.

The researchers conducted a series of studies on 839 men in the United States, 404 of whom were gun owners while 435 were not. Those who identified as gun owners possessed an average of four firearms. In their initial experiment, the team surveyed both groups about their gun-related beliefs for comparison. They then used the surveys of strictly gun owners to test their two-sided theory.

The authors concluded that one’s fear of crime in and of itself didn’t justify the gun owner’s need to purchase a firearm.

“Different forces are making people feel threatened in different ways, and yet these different types of threat both correlate with increased handgun ownership and stronger beliefs that people have a right to kill in self-defense,” says co-author Wolfgang Stroebe, of the University of Groningen, who proposed the model.

Stroebe adds that the fear of crime was mainly linked to a participant being victimized in the past, but their dark perception of the world as a whole and its potential to crumble was strongly influenced by their political beliefs and not any one or group of experiences.

The research, conducted in May and June 2016 before the Orlando Nightclub shootings, was again replicated with a new group of male gun owners after the massacre.

“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,” admits Stroebe.

The authors noted that this study pertained to handgun owners and not people who only own long guns, such semi-automatic and bolt-action rifles, shotguns, and sniper rifles. Their research found people who owned those weapons were more often linked to hunting than anything else.

The study’s findings were published in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.