The Lived Experience of Gun Ownership

Over 17.25 million U.S. citizens hold a legal license to carry a handgun. Why do Americans carry guns? What are the psychological consequences of carrying a deadly weapon in everyday situations? In this project, we will examine the psychological processes associated with, and caused by, carrying a handgun in everyday life.

We will draw on the Coping Model of Protective Gun Ownership, which proposes that many gun owners use their weapons to manage psychological threats to safety, control, and personal meaning. However, while soothing threat reactions, guns may ironically heighten threat perception and vigilance, perpetuating notions that the world is dangerous. We will survey gun-carrying Americans repeatedly within the context of their daily lives to examine their natural perceptions of everyday threat and their worries about personal safety, control, and meaning; both when their guns are accessible and when they are not.

Mapping the psychological landscape of gun carrying is essential for understanding and interrupting the persistence of gun ownership and the violent consequences thereof. By understanding the coping function of guns for dealing with perceived threats (which may be ironically born from carrying a gun), this work can inform interventions aimed to reduce dangerous gun carrying behaviors.

Project Status:
In progress

Principal Investigator (PI):
Samantha J. Heintzelman, Assistant Professor, Department of Psychology, Rutgers – Newark