What Guns Mean: Who Sees Guns as Important, Essential, and Empowering (and Why)?

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Abstract

There is a fairly well-established demographic profile of gun owners in the United States, yet much less is known about the meaning and importance individuals attach to guns, their right to own them, or the varying facets of gun owner identity. Unknown is if and/or how the attitudes, fears, concerns, and anxieties that influence gun ownership also shape the significance of guns in individuals’ lives. To that end, we examine three assessments of gun meaning: the importance of the right to own guns for one’s sense of freedom; the importance of being a gun owner to one’s personal identity; and the extent to which owners find guns emotionally and morally empowering (e.g., guns making one feel confident, important, in control). Using data from an original Mechanical Turk survey (n = 876), we show that diffuse political, social, and cultural anxieties shape gun meaning more so than do instrumental fears around crime and victimization.

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Warner, T. D., & Ratcliff, S. (2021). What Guns Mean: Who Sees Guns as Important, Essential, and Empowering (and Why)? Sociological Inquiry, 91(2), 313–346. https://doi.org/10.1111/soin.12408

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