Gun Rights & Public Safety

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One of the most discussed socio-political issues in past years has been one regarding gun control policies in the United States. It plays a key role in controlling the distribution of firearms, as well as the safety of many people in the United States. In recent years, the debate over the right for Americans to own firearms have increasingly settled in favour of gun rights, with increase in affirmation from public opinion, state level laws along with Supreme Court decisions (Carlson, 2014). The two sides of the arguments contain attitudes from competing individualist and collectivist cultures, and according to a prominent number of sociologists and cultural psychologists, the United States is considered an individualist country, which can be one of the factors in why white Americans support gun ownership (O’Brien, Forrest, Lynott & Daly, 2013). During the civil rights movement back in the 1960s, it was actually the black activists who fought for a right to carry firearms for protection for the police from the extreme white factions; however nowadays, there isn’t a clear violent or dangerous situation displayed in the US where the white Americans have a justifiable reason to own a loaded gun. This is where the issue shows a clear disagreement between white Americans and black Americans: data indicates that 53% of white Americans wanted gun ownership, whereas only 27% of black Americans did (O’Brien et al., 2013). 

Now comparing with more recent statistical research from mid-2019, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) found that the United States takes up of 5% of the global population, yet has 42% of the world’s guns; approximately 33,000 people killed by guns in the US each year, with only 0.75% relating to self-defence. There is a clear correlation between how many guns are owned per state to how many gun-caused deaths there are. However, this then raises the question that many claim gun ownership is something required for personal safety, yet statistics clearly indicate gun-related incidents rarely seem to be for so compared to the overwhelming percentage due to suicides. Furthermore, a study was conducted by the Pew Research Centre shortly after a school shooting in 2018, discovering people from the age of 18-29 were the most supporting towards the protection of gun rights in the US. This suggest that the younger generations have already been exposed to the reasons for gun ownership whilst being exposed to situations where they’re forced to question their personal safety. However, personal safety is not always the main reason in influencing someone’s attitude towards gun control. This research essay aims to examine the reasons why people specifically in the United States support or are against gun control from a psychological perspective, whether it’s due to something completely subconscious and therefore uncontrollable, or simply just increasing exposure to a certain aspect of the situation.

Theoretical Background

The Fundamental Attribution Error

Attribution is essentially the set of thought processes people use to assign causes to behaviour. There are two main types of factors in explaining behaviour: situational and dispositional. People seem to have a pervasive need for casual explanations because they make the world more understandable, predictable, and thus safer to navigate (Malle, 2011). But commonly, many people unconsciously commit the Fundamental Attribution Error. The FAE tends to make our behaviour towards others biased because our brain either automatically informs that the other persons’ behaviour corresponds to their dispositions. Though this error is supported by numerous studies, there have been evidence that indicate variations across cultures. The Fundamental Attribution Error (also known as the Correspondence Bias) is arguably rooted in our heads for safety and survival. People have a tendency to attribute behaviours to internal attributions when looking at the behaviours of others. It is very common because it not only may be rooted in our survival instincts, but also because the situation cause of another person’s behaviour is often unknown to us. An experiment conducted related to the Fundamental Attribution Error is A Classic Study by Jones and Harris (Jones & Harris, 1967). They hypothesised that when people saw others behave according to free will, they would attribute the behaviour to disposition. When they could tell that others behaved according to the circumstances of chance, however, observers would attribute behaviour to the situation. Undergrads from Duke University (36 male, 15 female) each read pro/anti-Castro essays by fellow students. Half of the participants were told that the writer chose their viewpoint, and the other half were told the writer was assigned a viewpoint as part of a debating activity. The results turned out to be a mix of what the researchers predicted. The results showed that participants in the ‘choice’ condition attributed essay opinions to the attitudes of writers, where as surprisingly, the participants in the ‘no choice’ condition still made dispositional attributions about the writer despite the fact that those writers were assigned a viewpoint. These results were collected through a questionnaire. Jones and Harris concluded their experiment with their hypothesis unconfirmed. This suggests that this tendency to make dispositional attributions towards others may simply be subconsciously rooted in our survival instincts.

Belief in a Dangerous World Theory (BDW)

Another theory that closely links with why people tend to create dispositional attributions for behaviour is the Belief in a Dangerous World Theory. It suggests that individuals are more prone to intergroup prejudice and are more likely to endorse negative stereotypes when place in a condition where their personal safety is at risk (Cook, Li, Newall, Cottrell & Neel, 2016). Humans are social animals, and because of so our basic social and survival needs are relied upon by others, therefore when there’s potential risks, those instincts rooted inside our cognitive mind begins to influence our thinking for safety purposes. In many studies, participants are asked to complete a BDW scale, which measures one’s chronic beliefs about interpersonal danger. A higher score indicates a greater belief in a dangerous world and the need to protect oneself from potential threats (Miller, 2008). Likewise, it is only rational to be aware that though a group of people may all be impacted by the BDW theory, there are variations in the intensity.

Committing FAE in our cognitive minds due to BDW

When we are put in a situation where we can’t guarantee the reason or intentions behind someone’s behaviour, ultimately when we lack control, our survival instincts are what decrease the likelihood of harm occurring to us, therefore allowing us to take precautions subconsciously (Forsyth, 1980). A market research firm Qualtrics Panels conducted a study in 2016 assessing gun related beliefs of male gun-owners and non-owners (Stroebe, Leander & Kruglanski, 2017). 839 men in the US were recruited for this study, as men were statistically more likely to own a gun than a woman. Participants were given a survey with questions related to gun ownership, and results showed that gun-owners perceived more threats compared to non-owners; self-defence and protection was also a common reason listed, thus higher justification in the right to shoot or kill an intruder or attacker. This research suggested the main reason for the right to own a gun was for protection purposes, yet it was also found that many of the pro-gun ownership participants owned long guns, whereas commonly handguns are associated with self-defence. Stroebe, Leander & Kruglanski (2017) discussed that many people would rather expect the worst situation in order to have a higher chance of reducing perceived risk, as sometimes people’s actions can be unclear and hard to immediately recognize. This directly suggests that people supporting gun ownership may be unconsciously committing the FAE due to the BDW.

A factor that increases the likelihood of someone who may feel unsafe without gun ownership is the relationship between guns and drugs. Ian R Brennan & Simon C. Moore’s discussion on weapons and violence state that “association between guns and drug markets has been cited as a key factor in past increases in ?rearm related homicides in the US. This is known as the “Drug–Gun Diffusion Hypothesis”.” People who were often exposed to or personally are involved with drugs have a much high chance in wanting gun ownership as they frequently come in contact with deals who could potentially be armed, or even need the gun for criminal purposes to obtain cash for said drugs (Brennan & Moore, 2009), though this doesn’t mean the gun is always used for these motives. Alcohol and tobacco are also two substances that can have the equal effect on individuals. Though there are studies conducted relating to this, there isn’t a substantial amount of empirical evidence to prove this is a definite factor, therefore can only be considered as one of the possible factors influencing the general reason for wanting gun ownership, as it’s also unrealistic to assume the American mass all come in contact with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco in such manners.

Exposure to negative stereotypes leading to FAE

The topic of racism can also be linked to the likeliness of someone committing the FAE. Many children from a young age can be exposed to negative stereotypes, especially towards black Americans. They can be portrayed as violent and dangerous, and if they see any person behaving like their stereotype, it can be easily generalised for that entire race (O’Brien et al., 2013). Traditional superiority complexes may also place some white Americans in a state of mind where they believe their higher status is one of normality (Filindra, 2017). Further studies concluded how white opinion and racial resentment directly correspond to gun policy preferences amongst whites (O’Brien et al., 2013). Looking more specifically at statistical research, on average the individual that is most likely to own a firearm would be a white, married, middle-aged male. Likewise, the individual that is least likely to own a firearm would be an African American, middle aged, female (Pederson, Hall, Foster & Coates, 2015).

Disucssion on the pros and cons of gun control

From the two social theories analyzed above, it is evident that a significant part in which why people support gun ownership is due to cognitive processes, something that cannot always be clearly identified and controlled. Due to an increase in crime rates in the United States, many white American gun rights advocates argue that limiting access to guns would directly lead to the lack of protection and increase in being harmed by armed criminals (Orakra et al., 2018).

This makes many feel the need to have a gun in their homes in order to always have the option of using it when put in a situation where they’re at a disadvantage, regardless of the unlikely event that it can happen. Having a gun rather than not creates a sense of relief and comfort.

On the other hand, there can be other prevention methods against these potential unsafe situations that can be initiated. Though stated that many supporting gun ownership can have a belief in a dangerous world, though someone might oppose gun ownership, they may still believe there are harmful factors in the world that could affect them negatively, however they may believe there are other methods and precautions that can be taken and initiated without the use of guns. Many arguments against gun ownership suggest reducing crimes and perhaps enforcing new laws could prevent the dangerous situations from occurring in the first place, which could erase the need to have a gun at home in the first place. This is strictly targets people who purchase or want to purchase guns not living in the countryside, as those people may want it as protection against wildlife creatures, a factor that isn’t necessarily relevant to the majority in the United States.

The BDW theory interestingly can be applied to both those supporting and those opposing gun control. Those supporting use guns as a self-defence mechanism, and keep in in their homes purely as safety precautions, even when the chances of needing to use it are very small. On the other hand, those opposing gun ownership believe that because it is a dangerous world, have guns available to anyone who can afford one would only be increasing threats to the people around them. If people can’t always guarantee responsible use of the guns, or even how to properly use one, then having it in homes and other places on add more risk. There have been many cases where people who have guns didn’t know how to properly handle it, resulting in unintentional damages to people or objects. That just goes to show that perhaps gun control shouldn’t not necessarily be about owning the guns themselves, but about whether or not the owner has the right knowledge and understanding in how to responsibly handle one if ever put in a situation where it is needed.


To conclude the examinations and analysis above, it is evident that many white Americans in the United States who support gun ownership are influenced by their cognitive processes. They commit the Fundamental Attribution Error, which increase the tendency for one to attribute dispositional factors towards one’s behavior. It happens as a result of our rooted survival instincts, which can then lead to further impression of living in a dangerous world (racial prejudice can also be a key influencing factor due to exposure the stereotypes or influence from others, though can’t be easily assessed and proven across all people). However, these factors can also be rebutted as reasons against gun ownership, as allowing the release of more weapons into the world can result in an increase of irresponsible use or simply the lack of understanding in how to operate one safely.


In response to this research essay, I think it’s clear that the justification between different people about the issue of gun ownership is largely based on personal opinions of the matter. After extensive research, I further deepened my knowledge on the topic, however not much new information was something I wasn’t aware of, other than specific studies and statistical information. It proved what I had already known about the topic which was that people can all be exposed to the same situation where a gun is the catalyst of a destructive situation, however we cannot always distinguish how someone is affected by it, whether they’ll take it as a sign that they need to take action themselves in preventing the situation from happening in their own lives, or that they need to remove the cause of everything altogether. I personally always opposed gun ownership, because I believe the root of the problem should always be the one resolved. Taking away the guns themselves reduce the risk of irresponsible use, and completely take away the need for people to have one themselves. It we give out more guns to more people who aren’t educated on how to properly use one, it’s essentially allowing more people to become the same as those involved in gun shootings and attacks. 

In many cases, the armed gunman in a shooting is a normal civilian who only could have possibly done what he or she did because of having access to that weapon. Another possible solution proposed that I believe to be realistic and executed is enforcing some sort of education for those who do have the access to a gun. This can allow for those who truly believe they need one in their homes for their safety to do so whilst also knowing they’re capable of handling one if in need. Many who own guns actually could be afraid to even operate one, making it purposeless to even have one in the first place. One suggestion that I somewhat support but have doubts for is the idea to improve police forces in the sense that there are more of them easily reachable by someone when in need or simply around the secure a sense of safety. However, the reason why I have hesitations is that there are more and more cases recently of reckless gun use by policemen towards civilians. This is a risk factor that cannot be disregarded, and therefore make it harder to promise the enforcement of safety for the American citizens. 

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Gun Rights & Public Safety. (2021, Dec 30). Retrieved July 13, 2024 , from

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