While guns go hand in hand with “God and country” in American popular culture, leading to a stereotype that gun owners tend to be more religious, a new study finds that the subset of gun owners with the strongest pro-gun policy views are actually the opposite.
The people most likely to oppose gun control report a different, more emotional reason for owning guns: Their firearms are symbols of empowerment that give their lives meaning in the same way that other Americans find meaning in family, religion, or professional or monetary success.
They are also most likely to be economically disenfranchised white men, who aren’t strongly religious, meaning they don’t regularly pray, go to church or read religious texts. This group tends to be staunchly in favor of gun rights and to strongly oppose gun control measures, such as bans on handguns, semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.
But the study didn’t just look at people who like guns ― it examined who is most likely to gain a sense of meaning from owning a gun. Identifying why this variation among gun owners exists could inform our understanding about how different types of gun owners perceive gun policy and gun violence.
The study, which was published in the journal Social Problems on Nov. 20, utilized data from the 2014 Baylor Religion Survey of 1,527 Americans. The survey asked the 577 respondents who reported owning firearms about their reasons for gun ownership (recreational vs. protection vs. collection), their views on gun policies measures like semi-automatic weapon bans and arming teachers to protect schools, as well as how owning a gun made them feel (safe, responsible, confident, patriotic, in control of their fate, more valuable to their family, more valuable to their community, respected).
“Men have been socialized their entire lives that ‘being a man’ includes being a good provider and a good protector,” said Carson Mencken, professor of sociology at Baylor University and author of the study.
“The historical events that led to the Great Recession also created economic disenfranchisement for many,” he said. “We argue that this disenfranchisement affected the ability of men to deliver on the ‘provider’ role.”
‘They cling to guns or religion.’
And as the researchers point out, when Barack Obama was campaigning for president during the economic recession in 2008, he hit on their thesis as he noted the bitterness of downtrodden working-class…