Fear of Threats, Danger May Motivate Handgun Ownership

Handgun in open safeMen who own handguns are more likely to view the world as a dangerous, uncertain place, according to a study published in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

According to a 2016 CBS News poll, 36% of Americans either own a firearm or live with someone who does. This marks an overall decline in the gun ownership rate. In January 1994, 53% of Americans lived in a household with guns. The U.S. has the highest gun ownership per capita rate in the world.

Are Gun Owners More Fearful?

The research involved four surveys designed to pinpoint people’s beliefs about gun ownership and related topics. The first study surveyed 839 men, 404 of whom owned guns. The following three surveys focused on gun owners only.

The first three surveys occurred in May and June 2016, before the shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub. The fourth study, which tracked a new group of male gun owners, occurred a week after the shooting.

Researchers found handgun owners feared a more pervasive and vague sense of threat in the world than those who opted not to own guns. Gun owners were more likely to see society as chaotic and the world as dangerous and unpredictable. These beliefs often figured prominently in their support for the second amendment. Owners who only had rifles and other long guns were less likely to share these beliefs. Solely long gun ownership was linked to hunting rather than a fear of threat.

Though the study’s authors thought the Pulse nightclub shooting might change the beliefs of some gun owners, they found the shooting had no effect.

Gun Ownership and Mental Health

Access to handguns may increase the risk of suicide. Research by the Harvard School of Public Health found states with higher gun ownership rates also have higher suicide rates. People who attempt suicide with a handgun are significantly more likely to die than those who use other methods.

An analysis of 677 shootings by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania also found gun carriers are 4.5 times more likely to be shot and 4.2 times more likely to be killed than those who are unarmed.

There may be a correlation between some types of gun ownership and other mental health issues. For example, research published in 1997 found owners of semi-automatic guns are more likely than other gun owners to binge drink.

A 1995 study found, by a margin of 3 to 1, Americans feel less safe when more people in their communities have guns.


  1. Carrying a gun increases risk of getting shot and killed. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17922-carrying-a-gun-increases-risk-of-getting-shot-and-killed/
  2. Gun homicides and gun ownership by country. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/nation/gun-homicides-ownership/table/
  3. Gun ownership. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/hicrc/firearms-research/policy/
  4. Guns and suicide: A fatal link. (2008, Spring). Retrieved from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/magazine/guns-and-suicide/
  5. Stroebe, W., Leander, N. P., & Kruglanski, A. W. (2017). Is it a dangerous world out there? The motivational bases of American gun ownership. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 014616721770395. doi:10.1177/0146167217703952
  6. Why do Americans own handguns? Fear of crime and a broader sense of danger. (2017, June 8). Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/06/170608072909.htm

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Adam

    June 17th, 2017 at 9:26 AM

    and some are just wrongly convinced that someone soon is going to come through and take away their constitutional right the have a gun. i don’t think that this is the intent of too many of our politicians but for some reason there is this fear among the right wing that this is just around the corner form becoming a reality.

  • George

    June 22nd, 2017 at 9:46 AM

    Well I’m standing my ground and having my guns in my house

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

2 Z k A



* Indicates required field

Therapist   Treatment Center

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

Title   Content   Author

Recent Comments

  • Justin Lapilusa: Peter, well said. Acceptance begins with accepting the whole self. Thanks for posting!
  • Dr. Michelle Kukla: Absolutely so true, Courtney! As long as you check in with the survivor to make sure they are comfortable with a hug, this can...
  • Theo: I have often wondered how couples who seem to be so in love on their wedding days can one day become so unhappy with themselves and one...
  • Courtney: There is not one person out there who is always going to have the right words all the time. But sometimes a hug and a smile can go a long...
  • Pate: While I don’t think that there is anything which would ever take away from the benefits of working with a therapist one on one and...
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.