Understanding the Gun Divide in America – Dr. James Shepperd

Written by Dr. James Shepperd

Each week brings news of another horrific act of gun violence in America. Yet, Americans seems unable to unite in action to increase the population’s safety.

Ironically, the inability to unite may arise from a shared need among all Americans – the need for safety. Although united in the need for safety, Americans are divided in their belief about how safety is best achieved. The divide is apparent when it comes to gun restrictions.

Opponents to gun restrictions view guns as a source of safety. They feel safe when armed and resist efforts to restrict their access to guns.

Supporters of gun restrictions view guns as a threat to safety. They feel unsafe when others are armed and view gun restrictions as necessary to increase safety.

Evidence for this “need” approach to understanding the gun divide comes from a recent survey of 12,000 students, staff and faculty at the University of Florida. The survey examined attitudes about campus carry, which would allow people with concealed gun permits to carry a concealed gun on college campuses.

The study separated gun owners into two groups: those who owned guns for protection reasons (protection owners), and those who owned guns exclusively for non-protection reasons such as sport or collecting (non-protection owners). Protection owners supported campus carry and estimated that gun crime would decreased if it became legal. Non-protection owners opposed campus carry and estimated that its passage would increase gun crime.

In addition, protection owners reported that if they carried a concealed gun on campus, they and others on campus would feel safer. Non-protection owners felt the opposite. Looking at the entire sample, the responses of non-protection owners were indistinguishable from the group we would expect to be most opposed to guns on campus—people who do not own guns.

The findings offer insights into the larger gun divide. Opponents and proponents of gun restrictions have proposed conflicting solutions to gun violence. Moreover, the two groups feel that the other group’s position and solutions are dangerous and imperils their safety. Apparently, both groups fail to recognize the shared safety need or that exclusive satisfaction of their personal safety need threatens the safety of the other group.

Solving the problem of gun violence requires understand and respecting the source of the opposing group’s view. It also requires policy that addresses the needs of both groups. Until then, gun violence is certain to continue.

You can read more about Dr. James Shepperd and his research here:   https://people.clas.ufl.edu/shepperd/