Gun Risk Perceptions

Who fears guns, who fears gun control, and why? Project members use the cultural theory of risk to answer these questions.

From the outset, the Cultural Cognition Project has been focused on the American gun control debate. That debate is naturally framed as one between competing risk perceptions: that too little gun control will increase deliberate shootings and gun accidents; and that too much will render law-abiding citizens unable to defend themselves from violent predation. Associated most famously with the work of Mary Douglas and Aaron Wildavsky, the cultural theory of risk posits that individuals selectively attend to risk in a way that reflects and reinforces their preferred vision of society. Consistent with this thesis, CCP members have found that which “gun risk” individuals take more seriously is indeed strongly predicted by their cultural worldviews. Persons who hold egalitarian and communitarian worldviews worry more about crime and gun accidents, an  anxiety that coheres with their negative association of guns with patriarchy, racism, and selfish indifference to the well-being of others. Persons of a hierarchical and individualistic worldviews, in contrast, tend to see guns as safe, and worry much more about the danger of being rendered defenseless against attack; this perception of risk coheres with their positive associations of  guns with traditional social roles (father, protector, provider) and individualistic virtues (self-reliance, courage, physical prowess).

This evidence was first developed in a initial pilot study based on the General Social Survey. To read that study, click here.

These findings were then extended in the much more comprehensive National Culture and Risk Survey. Much of the relevant data (including some pertinent to gender and racial variance in gun attitudes) appears in the draft paper “Gender, Race, and Risk Perception: The Role of Cultural Status Anxiety”.

Related Papers:

Motivated Numeracy and Enlightened Self-Government

Culture and Identity-Protective Cognition: Explaining the “White Male Effect” in Risk Perception
More Statistics, Less Persuasion

Cultural Cognition of Scientific Consensus

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