Something Other Than Objective Risk Motivates Defensive Gun Ownership (Light Over Heat #46)

This video concludes my ongoing series systematizing the dominant academic approach to understanding Gun Culture 2.0, what I call “The Standard Model of Explaining the Irrationality of Defensive Gun Ownership.”

Here I engage the 5th of the model’s 5 points: That something other than objective risk motivates defensive gun ownership.

From a sociological perspective, that something else centers on the discipline’s Holy Trinity: class, gender, and race. From a psychological perspective, defensive gun ownership is a maladaptive coping mechanism.

Links to the first five videos in the series are below.

In this video, I highlight three books by sociologists that focus attention on social class, gender, and race:

From the psychology side, I discuss two key articles:

The previous five videos in this series follow.

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13 comments

  1. Thank you, David. I found the objective/subjective analysis of risk typical of how people think of risk in general, and I think that is pretty well studied. Around these parts, people are terrified of Los Alamos National Lab having a catastrophic accident, even though such an accident has virtually zero probability. Meanwhile, the most likely way to be injured is in a car crash. One of your authors noted that he thinks conservatives carry guns out of a distrust of the world. I have been at several meetings where liberals were terrified of gun carriers, even though the gun carriers at the meetings were vanishingly small true threats.

    Its under the bed to hide for a lot of people for reasons that are subjective.

    I thought Carlson’s book was quite good but sounds like I need to read some of those other sources. I think there are a variety of reasons, some not nefarious (accusations of clutching guns due to racism, downward mobility, etc) why people keep guns for defense. But the risk/benefit analysis should be part of defensive gun ownership.

    Question. Are you going to present an alternative to the Standard Model?

    Like

  2. Something that Scott Adams (Dilbert plus he daily vidcast) says “The fact that you can’t imagine a good reason for someone to do what he’s doing isn’t an indication that his actions are bad. It’s an indication your imagination is bad. The anti-gunners have a terrible imagination when it comes to trying to understand the motivations of gun owners.

    “You’re racist!”
    “You’re losing your status!”
    “Toxic Masculinity!”

    How about I have something I need to protect? How about I’m a responsible adult and I have to survive at least until the cops show up? How about I see how you treat me when I’m armed and I shudder to think how you’d treat me if you knew I couldn’t fight back?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Do any of these researchers concede that, even were gun-owners overestimating risks, this overestimation might be an honest mistake, and not the product of subliminal motivations?

    The most damning indictment of their race/gender/class assertions is, they are unfalsifiable. What would be sufficient evidence that my ownership of guns for self-defense is not a coping strategy, psychological binky, expression of my whiteness, or motivated by a need to ‘perform’ masculinity? Would my history of crime victimization or DGUs satisfy them?

    Further, their models require frequent ad hoc rescues to survive beyond their white male stereotype. One example is when Carlson recounts a black subject using the same ‘racially charged’ language to describe “thugs” as did one of her white subjects. Carlson reflexively assumes her black subject has subconsciously internalized anti-black racism. Instead of entertaining the possibility that maybe this language isn’t racist after all, she must view everything through the lens of her dogma.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As a psychologist, I find the fact that Buttrick’s determination of gun ownership’s maladaptive nature is at a population level, as in his quote below notes, problematic.

    The decision to own firearms is an individual one, based on individual needs, concerns, and perceptions. Yes, perhaps neighborhood crime and the safety of the world. But, at that level, its intended goal is not to reduce overall crime rates or achieve world peace, but individual safety. Hence, the adaptive nature of the coping strategy also needs to be viewed at the individual level, not across levels. Not does it fix society, but does it work for the individual.

    Buttrick notes, “Gun owners, when faced with their fear, turn to a strategy that boosts their self-esteem in the moment, but which does nothing to actually control crime in their neighborhood or make the world a safer place.” Policy making and policing are the mechanisms to control neighborhood crime and make the world a safer place. Gun owners are not vigilantes. Firearms ownership is about a personal risk calculation, and personal protection and safety. Crime in my neighborhood, city or county increases my personal risk and risk assessment. Decisions intended to reduce personal risk are not intended to directly reduce national crime rates or make the streets safer. They are adaptive at the individual level.

    If seems that, were his logic true, then we could also claim that my deciding to eat a healthy diet was maladaptive, since my decision to do so has not solved the crises of obesity, high blood pressure, or diabetes in the population. It was never intended to do so, nor could we ever expect that it could.

    Just my initial thoughts as a psychologist.

    Follow your work often, but have only rarely commented. At some point I will find the time to sit down and write on the Psychology of Gun Culture. Unfortunately it is not integral to my position, just a personal interest. But it would be interesting for us to consider if there would be some collaborative writing we could do at some point on this topic, combining the sociological and psychological elements.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. That quote struck me, too. But it is a common straw man among anti-gun activists, to ask why more guns have not led to less crime. This viewpoint is mistaken and, I believe, stems from a collectivist ideology which discounts individual needs & rights.

    Like

  6. Buttrick’s ‘Coping’ paper is fundamentally, irredeemably flawed.

    Your Standard Model is on full display as Buttrick hits each point in succession. The introductory claim, the non-utility of guns, relies on the same handful of sources, with but a passing, dismissive mention of a single contradictory study. To concede that the data on DGU are sparse & inconclusive would undermine the entire anti-gun edifice. All that follows rests on this wobbly cornerstone.

    The paper is essentially a 41-page Just-So Story. All assertions of psychological motivations are unfalsifiable. The attempts to fit gun owner comments — which seem to actually be imagined internal dialog — to the narrative are so strained as to be laughable.

    Partisan sociopolitical assumptions abound. For example, Buttrick mocks gun owners’ belief “that government or other big institutions are essentially broken and unable to protect individuals from harm.” But what if they are? Nor is it ”symbolic racism” to recognize that the odds of an approaching black stranger being a criminal threat is many times higher than, say, an Asian.

    Buttrick displays gross, willful ignorance of gun culture. He laments that a gun owner’s “increased vigilance likely comes at a cost – as one is more alert to threats, one is more likely to detect them.“ Had he, as did Carlson, bothered to attend a single concealed carry class or NRA training, he would’ve learned about Cooper’s color system and how it can help anyone, armed or not, stay safer and avoid confrontation.

    This ignorance breeds arrogance. Hoi polloi are portrayed as stupid, uninformed, incapable of properly assessing their circumstances or taking care of themselves. Thus, “the general public is simply unaware of the danger” of gun ownership. The putative character deficiencies — “lost masculinity”, “senses of powerlessness”, “sense of control”, “symbolic selves”, “worries about one’s belongingness”, “quest for significance”, “existential angst” — are enumerated ad nauseam. Overall, the tone is condescending, dismissive, and insulting.

    Aside from a smattering of (Yamane 2017)’s, the citations are, as with all such papers, circular. Buttrick relies on Stroud, who relies on Stroebe, who relies on Azrael, who relies on Hemenway, who relies on Buttrick — all of whose works are pure ipse dixit.

    Motivated reasoning is ever-present. The null hypothesis boils down to (as you recall Metzl stammering) ’guns are bad.’ Buttrick gives away the game when he concludes by offering possible ways to “roll back” gun culture. Such bias is unethical, unscientific, and counterproductive. An academic cannot dispassionately & accurately observe a culture, if they enter with strong, judgmental preconceptions..

    Like

    • Buttrick’s ‘Coping’ paper is fundamentally, irredeemably flawed.

      Your Standard Model is on full display as Buttrick hits each point in succession. The introductory claim, the non-utility of guns, relies on the same handful of sources, with but a passing, dismissive mention of a single contradictory study. To concede that the data on DGU are sparse & inconclusive would undermine the entire anti-gun edifice. All that follows rests on this wobbly cornerstone.

      The paper is essentially a 41-page Just-So Story. All assertions of psychological motivations are unfalsifiable. The attempts to fit gun owner comments — which seem to actually be imagined internal dialog — to the narrative are so strained as to be laughable.

      Partisan sociopolitical assumptions abound. For example, Buttrick disparages gun owners’ belief “that government or other big institutions are essentially broken and unable to protect individuals from harm.” But what if they are? Nor is it ”symbolic racism” to recognize that the odds of an approaching black stranger being a criminal threat is many times higher than, say, an Asian.

      Buttrick displays gross, willful ignorance of gun culture. He laments that a gun owner’s “increased vigilance likely comes at a cost – as one is more alert to threats, one is more likely to detect them.“ Had he, as did Carlson, bothered to attend a single concealed carry class or NRA training, he would’ve learned about Cooper’s color system and how it can help anyone, armed or not, stay safer and avoid confrontation.

      This ignorance breeds arrogance. Hoi polloi are portrayed as stupid, uninformed, incapable of properly assessing their circumstances or taking care of themselves. Thus, “the general public is simply unaware of the danger” of gun ownership. The putative character deficiencies — “lost masculinity”, “senses of powerlessness”, “sense of control”, “symbolic selves”, “worries about one’s belongingness”, “quest for significance”, “existential angst” — are enumerated ad nauseam. Overall, the tone is condescending, dismissive, and insulting.

      Aside from a smattering of (Yamane 2017)’s, the citations are, as with all such papers, circular. Buttrick relies on Stroud, who relies on Stroebe, who relies on Azrael, who relies on Hemenway, who relies on Buttrick — all of whose works are pure ipse dixit.

      Motivated reasoning is ever-present. The null hypothesis boils down to (as you recall Metzl stammering) ’guns are bad.’ Buttrick gives away the game when he concludes by offering possible ways to “roll back” gun culture. Such bias is unethical, unscientific, and counterproductive. An academic cannot dispassionately & accurately observe a culture, if they enter with strong, judgmental preconceptions.

      Like

  7. An upcoming publication that is applicable to this issue:

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0022480422005078?dgcid=author

    Legal Firearm Sales at State Level and Rates of Violent Crime, Property Crime, and Homicides
    Hamill, M.E., et al. (2023)
    Journal of Surgical Research, Volume 281, January 2023, Pages 143-154

    Conclusion in the Abstract:

    “Robust analysis does not identify an association between increased lawful firearm sales and rates of crime or homicide. Based on this, it is unclear if efforts to limit lawful firearm sales would have any effect on rates of crime, homicide, or injuries from violence committed with firearms.”

    While not directly relevant to Buttrick’s illogical notion that personal gun ownership should lead to population-level safety, it does refute the notion that increases in legal firearm ownership lead to more crime (less safety).

    Liked by 1 person

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