Atrocious Study of Social Gun Culture Undermines Credibility of Public Health Research on Guns

I was interested to learn recently about the SOUL Study — SOUL here standing for SOial gUn cuLture.

The terrible acronym here, unfortunately, is matched by the poor quality of the survey being fielded.

Although I am particularly sensitive to those who say they are studying American gun culture, here I think an objective analysis of the survey yields this conclusion.

In the first place, the study purports to be “designed to understand social gun culture among adult US residents (citizens and non-citizens) who currently use social media.” But few of the 77 total questions ask about participation in social gun culture.

The principal investigator is somewhat more honest in the flier put together to publicize the study, which makes clear the primary interest is in gun violence and gun control, not gun culture.

Which is fine, but don’t pretend you are studying something you are not.

SOcial gUn cuLture flyer

Also, for a study that was sanctioned by the Institutional Review Board of Boston University’s School of Medicine, I am shocked that the principal investigator was allowed to advertise the study one way and describe it in the actual instrument in another.

I’m also disappointed in the number of grammatical errors there are in the survey (e.g., “ban of”; “Do you think that workplaces should allow either conceal or open carry of guns?”; “Do you favor a ban of civilian ownership of semi-automatic [AR-15 style]?”). This makes all social researchers look bad.

Furthermore, I require undergraduate students to be more precise in their survey question construction than this survey demonstrates. “Do you think it is okay to allow guns in schools?” Okay? O-kay. What guns? Whose guns?

“Do you support guns in restaurants and public places?” Are restaurants not public places? What constitutes public places? Is a government building a public place? What if I support guns in public places but not restaurants, or vice versa?”

Two questions about bans — one for “assault rifles” and one for “semi-automatic (AR-15 style)” (sic.) rifles? Is the author here actually distinguishing between actual assault rifles (already largely banned) and AR-15 style semi-automatic rifles? Who knows?

Anyone who struggles their way through 75 vague, confusing, and grammatically incorrect questions will be rewarded with one question which sort of addresses the question of social gun culture.

But who that is interested and involved in social gun culture will actually complete this survey? I know I did not.

And since this survey has a self-selected sample, what will be the meaning of the responses anyway?

Of course, this is not the first time the principal investigator of this study has undermined the credibility of public health research on guns. And it probably won’t be the last. The best we can hope is that no public monies will be wasted on such poor quality scholarship.


  1. […] I was interested to learn recently about the SOUL Study — SOUL here standing for SOial gUn cuLture. The terrible acronym here, unfortunately, is matched by the poor quality of the survey being fielded. Although I am particularly sensitive to those who say they are studying American gun culture, here I think an objective analysis… — Read on… […]


  2. What do you expect out of a university in The Peoples Republic of Boston? The modern left is the most willfully ignorant and disingenuous group as a whole in modern history and this is typical in my opinion. I would gladly participate in a study you did sir as you would approach the subject without political bias based on all the writings I’ve read here over the almost five years.


  3. Dear Prof Yamane,

    I share your dismay and disappointment at yet another “study” however may I humbly suggest that nothing in the academic domain will change in this regard until respected academics such as yourself vociferously discredit this rubbish – indeed silence or muted criticism only serves to reinforce the standing of this type of “research” and the “findings” it will undoubtedly proclaim from up high.

    The very public shunning and dismembering of such drivel (regardless of subject) by academics is critically necessary, if for no other reason than that not doing so brings the entire academic enterprise into disrepute, effectively continuing to allow it to be reduced to nothing more than a propaganda tool (regardless of subject, most definitely not just applicable to firearms related issues)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow, what a terrible survey! Nearly all of the questions you selected can be negatively critiqued.

    I’m particularly annoyed by #74. It assumes that SYG only applies oneself (pretty sure it applies to assisting others), that SYG only applies to guns, and assumes SYG results in “gun deaths.” Even if the description of SYG had been better, a better question would have been along the lines of “Do you believe ‘standing your ground’ is a justifiable part of valid self-defense?”

    Liked by 1 person

    • It also badly misstates self-defense law in general.

      This is a recurring problem with public health research, the practitioners are either unaware of, or choose to ignore, the extant research and expertise by actual subject matter experts in other (more) relevant fields. For example, if they haven’t at least read Branca’s book, they probably should avoid any research involving SYG or any use of force issues as they will likely not write questions the correct way. Similarly when it comes to particulars on weapons, or existing criminal law, or existing crime data.

      They just don’t have the training to correctly analyze the relevant populations, particularly since they insist on focusing on the gun as vector rather than behaviors involving guns.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Kalesan wrote a 2015 paper on gun culture (and I apologize for not remembering whether it was discussed here) “Gun Ownership and Social Gun Culture” that seems to clearly conflate gun ownership/culture with public risk. Maybe David can point to anything he wrote on it. Here is a link and you can snag a pdf.

    From the paper conclusions: “We showed that exposure to social gun culture was robustly associated with gun ownership and to our knowledge, this is the first study to establish empirical evidence of the relation between social gun culture and gun ownership….(snip)…This analysis rests on a cross-sectional design. Therefore, we cannot infer whether exposure to social gun culture predisposes one to gun ownership or whether the latter increases likelihood of participation in the former. However, this is not particularly germane to the observations being drawn here, suggesting simply that prudent gun policies that aim to reduce gun ownership and gun-related injury might need to actively consider the prevailing social gun culture in the USA. Future studies that aim to inform our understanding of gun ownership may fruitfully explore the determinants of a participation in social gun culture in the USA.”

    That first part of the quote seems like a no-brainer. Same applies to my racing bicycles or probably fishing gear. But Kalesan, who has been active in a gun control non-profit (Vice-President of Gun Violence Survivors Foundation) certainly has an axe to grind if her past Lancet (see the Wash Post link above) and Injury Prevention papers are representative. Whether people from gun culture(s) respond to this survey in enough numbers to make it statistically significant is a good question. Maybe its useful to fill in the survey just to get our perspective? I don’t know. I did, but not out of any altruism or naivete.

    In an utterly simplistic way, of course having more guns means more guns are available for theft, diversion, or misuse, just as a nation with 300 million cars in play will see more accidents and intentional misuse than a nation where everyone uses mass transit. But social acceptance of guns does not perforce translate linearly to risk in a sense that a gun culture will promote violence, putting Bambi in the freezer notwithstanding. Gun cultures are not violent per se; I don’t think anyone has established a correlation between trap or IDPA shooters and gun violence, or even between those middle aged militia guys running around the woods nostalgically thinking of better times and wife beating, etc. Just make sure those smokepoles don’t get diverted.

    Violent cultures/individuals with guns are violent and that can translate into things going bang, as pointed out by Papachristos, Sorenson, and others. Now we have the #MeToo movement of disgruntled students shooting up schools. Is today’s culture war mentality between the left and right becoming militarized? Is there a difference between first time gun buyers who buy black rifles and old farts like me who add them to an existing collection of wooden stocks? Beats me.

    Mist for the Grill, gentlemen….

    Liked by 1 person

    • Grillers in the Mist. Now there’s a cultural study I would love to do field work in. Slowly establish trust with the group, then ingratiate myself with the alpha pit master and share in their strange rituals of eating delicious cooked meats and drinking beer.

      Given the state of the social sciences right now, I might actually be able to get a grant for that.

      Liked by 1 person

    • As far as the “this is the first study” quote, I got other hits on “gun culture in the US” including the sullied study by Michael A. Bellesiles and another paper by Michael Koksis ( ) but have not looked at them. Also, David put out a paper a couple years ago. I’d be surprised, to put it mildly, if no one prior to Bindu studied the relationship between guns and gun culture. Kinda like looking at the relationship between farmers and tilled land; surprisingly, there is a connection. But I’m not a sociologist and don’t play one on TV.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. It’s ridiculous who gets funding and who gets published sometimes. It’s so important for funders to keep an eye on their grantees and make sure they’re following what they originally submitted so people aren’t going off book like this.. Also, that is an appallingly triggering flyer!


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