Two recent studies show cultural anxiety, gender and fear of crime are affecting people’s likelihood of owning — or being open to owning — guns. Tara Warner, an associate professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Department of Criminal Justice, conducted two studies that connected this cultural phenomenon to gun ownership and explored its correlation to gender.
The first study, “A Matter of Degree? Fear, Anxiety, and Protective Gun Ownership in the United States” focused on fear’s connection to gun ownership. Warner looked into how fears and anxieties motivate whether or not people own guns for protection. It also examined how often people keep loaded guns at home and carry outside of their homes. The second study, “Fear, Anxiety, and Expectation: Gender Differences in Openness to Future Gun Ownership” looked into these anxieties’ connections to gender differences in openness to gun ownership among those who do not already own guns.
The studies look at data from the Pew Research Center’s 2017 American Trends Panel, which includes the responses of more than 4,000 U.S. adults.
The anxieties many Americans have included economic instability, government corruption, environmental pollution, healthcare, crime and previous victimization. The research found a complex combination of these worries plays a role in how likely people are to own guns and how accessible they keep them. While many cope with fear through avoidance behaviors, others involve protective behaviors, such as gun ownership.
Both studies connected gun ownership to a sense of protection and control in a world that appears increasingly more dangerous. Those who had been victims of crimes and those who believe the world is more dangerous today than it has been both were more likely to own guns for protection.
The research showed prior violent victimization is what influences gun ownership and gun accessibility for protection more than perceived fears of risks to safety. A broad, general distrust of others was connected to the likelihood of carrying guns outside of the home.
In the second study, Warner looked into how those who do not currently own guns are motivated to consider gun ownership. She found men, though less fearful of crime than women, were more likely to be open to owning guns in the future. Warner attributed this result to cultural standards that establish men as the protectors, especially of their families. Men in the study reported that they believe owning a gun would make them feel responsible, in control and more valuable to their families.
However, when it came to owning a gun solely for protection, women were more likely to consider it.
Overall, the studies show the protective behavior of gun ownership stems in various degrees from past victimization, fear of perceived risks and cultural gendered expectations.