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« Is disgust "conservative"? Not in a Liberal society (or likely anywhere else) | Main | Who is disgusted by kids' "toy" guns & drones, and why? »

More on "cultural availability" & the Crickett... Ignored stories of "defensive use" (by children wielding the "Crickett" no less!)

I posted something a few days ago on the "cultural availability" effect & gun accidents involving children. The "effect" consists in the impact that cultural predispositions have in "selecting" for attention events or stories that gratify rather than disappoint one's cultural predispositions on risk.

On guns, then, the individuals predisposed to see guns as risky--egalitarian communitarians--or "ECs"-- for the most part--are much more likley to take note of, assign significance to, and recall instances in which guns result in a horrific accident involving a child -- like the recent, and genuinely horrific (also heart-breakingly sad) story of the 2 year-old girl shot by her 5 year-old brother with 5 yr-old's "Crickett," a miniaturized but full authentic and functional .22 marketed under the motto, "My first gun!"

Because such stories gratify the predisposition of ECs to see guns as dangerous, they fixate on such reports. Indeed, because commercial news providers anticipate the demand of ECs to be supplied with culturally gratifying proof that behavior they find disgusting (like the significance of "the first gun" ritual for people for whom the gun is rich with positive cultural meanings) causes harm, such stories become the occasion for a media feeding frenzy.

The disproportionate attention such incidents get relative to fatal accidents that do not gratify EC risk predispositions causes ECs to overestimate the risk of guns relative to other, less culturally evocative but more actuarially significant sources of risk to children -- like swimming pools.

BTW, I'm picking on ECs only because I'm talking about gun risks here; "cultural availability" applies just as much to individuals with hierarchical individualistic -- "HI" -- & other competing cultural predispositions, and is part of what drives cultural polarization over what scientific consensus is on issues like climate change and nuclear power as well as guns.

But in any case, the same dynamics also result in ECs ignoring stories that disappoint their expectations about the risks that guns propose.  As HIs emphasize, guns also sometimes are used defensively to ward off a violent attack, and in this sense can be expected to reduce the risk of violence to vulnerable people (children, but also women and minorities, who are disproportionately victimized). 

The actual prevalence of so-called "defensive use" of guns is (unsurprisingly) a matter that is subject to considerable debate, both among gun activists & among empirical researchers.

Nevertheless, there are lots of stories out there, in the media and in social media, that fit this account.  But ECs are (the cultural availability effect predicts) much less likely to take note of, assign significance to, and recall stories that support the conclusion that guns are sometimes used to protect life and thus likely systematically to underestimate defensive uses. They will then dismiss as specious the argument that there is this off-setting effect to take into consideration when addressing the impact of gun regulations. Of course, HIs can be expected to fixate on such stories -- with the help of an obliging media (like, say, Fox News or Fox network local affiliates) -- and thus overestimate both the frequency of defensive uses and the burden that gun regulations would place on use of guns for lawful self-defense.

Example ... This video of a news story reporting an 11 year-old girl's brave confrontation with household intruders whom she scared off with-- you guessed it -- a Crickett (or equivalent; it's not the only product of this sort).  One with a fetching pink-colored rifle stock designed to appeal to girls (or to HI parents of girls eager to fight "sexism" by making roles featuring honor norms available to their daughters as well as their sons).

Brave girl defense home against intruder with Crickett! (Don't worry: it's "soft fire," the mfr tells us in its own video, meaning minimal recoil, reducing risk of shoulder separation)

The story aired on a Fox affiliate local news progam, of course! (Check out the icon for jbranstter04, who uploaded it; what do you think his -- or her? -- cultural orientation might be?)

So, ECs are unlikely to see it. If they do, they will roll their eyes and dismiss it as absurd.

But if they can get to the end-- and can force themselves to pay attention! -- they'll find (I'm sure) the bit of information that they need, too, to reconcile what they've been forced to observe with what they already know is the truth about how the world works.

It turns out the "intruders" were people who knew the family -- and who broke in to steal their cache of guns. 

Seriously, one can't invent material this good.

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Reader Comments (3)

And, for contrast, here's a report on the funeral for the 2-year old killed with a Cricket, that deliberately plays up the EC "symbol" angle on an accidental death, and complete with artfully framed photo of the family's home that plays into EC stereotypes of gun owners and cultural "others": "Girl’s Death by Gunshot Is Rejected as Symbol" -- in the New York Times, of course!

For further irony, here's a blog post that expresses some pretty strong disgust, not at the grieving family and town, but at the reporters who use them as mere backdrop for a national political agenda:

The reporters at the funeral call to mind the Westboro Church protesters, who target funerals and love to stand their ground, exercising free speech rights, as if their very purpose was to cause some emotionally overwrought mourner to lash out physically.

All in all, a pretty rich vein for cultural cognition theory.

May 6, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLarry

I don't think Burkesville -- or more importantly, the family -- will have much choice about being a symbol.
The blog writer gets it just right. Wow. Thanks!

May 6, 2013 | Registered CommenterDan Kahan

But some people embrace the symbolism: "I am somebody, you better pay attention to me"

"Craig [Colorado] resident proposes ordinance requiring heads of households to own rifles"

"Coal, the power plant and hunting pretty well sums up what we offer here in Craig, America,” Rummel said. “For too long, the state Legislature has been hammering us, and they’re destroying our economy. Our voices are not being heard, but if we pass an ordinance, it will go viral, and then they’ll be forced to listen to us.”"

May 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGaythia Weis

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