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Gun Control And Gun Violence In The USA

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Gun violence previously was, and still currently is, a massive global issue that deserves more attention in order to be rectified. The rate of gun violence in the U.S. remains greater than almost every other country in the world and is at the minimum, seven times larger than countries such as Australia, Canada and France (Alpers & Wilson, 2013). In March 2018, the surviving student victims of the mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, established a gun violence prevention campaign to raise awareness for the founding causes of gun violence. The organisers of the campaign (also known as ‘Never Again MSD’), ‘March for Our Lives’ support and encourage a mandatory government takeover as well as the eradication of “assault weapons” in hopes to lower the quantity of guns in use by 30%. The country’s biggest gun control groups have also made substantial efforts to express themselves as supporters of “gun safety” rather than being anti-gun. They consistently promote themselves as adherents of America’s second amendment, the right to bear arms. The ‘March for Our Live’s campaign drastically changed the mindsets of people all over the world. The dangers of gun violence were finally being taken into serious consideration. It pushed individuals to realise that enough was enough and that it was time for a change.

Gun violence attributes to over 31,000 deaths and 78,000 non-lethal bodily injuries per year, and 1,000 people per day. There are 875 million known small arms in the world, of which 75% belong to the common, civil population (Alpers, P., & Wilson, M., 2013). Americans account for the majority of gun holders in the world, and through a general community poll it was indicated that the main reasons concerning their gun ownership was protection or self-defence (Stroebe, W., Leander, N. P., & Kruglanski, A. W., 2017).

This essay will examine the reasons supporting and opposing gun control from a psychological perspective by focusing on the Belief in a Dangerous World Theory (BDW) and will explore the effects of violent video games on aggressive behaviour. This essay will be used to examine how mental health is important when reasoning with factors that support/ oppose gun control.

Theoretical Background

The theory that has been chosen to focus on for this essay is the ‘Belief in a Dangerous World Theory (BDW)’. The BDW theory was chosen because from a psychological perspective, the possibility of defensive gun ownership is influenced by prejudiced aspects, such as the assumed risk of victimization, rather than a person’s unprejudiced risk of attack (Stroebe, Leander, Kruglanski, 2017). The BDW theory is a mindset about the fundamental aspects of reality, and there is a general belief that the world and mainstream society are unsafe, e.g. “There are many dangerous people in our population, who will attack someone out of pure meanness, for no reason at all”. “Any day now, chaos and anarchy could erupt around us. All signs are pointing to it” (Duckitt, 2001). The ‘Belief in a Dangerous World Theory’ however, is disproportionate to fearing general crime, violence, etc. This will of course depend on determinants such as your location, what time it is during the day, along with other relevant factors (O’Brien, 2019).

Two key concepts that have consistently been found under the BDW theory are: the authoritarian personality and the social dominance orientation. An authoritarian personality indicates that some traits such as “personality or enduring beliefs” (Duckitt, 2011) lead them to “hold prejudiced and ethnocentric attitudes” (Duckitt, 2011). The social dominance orientation was developed in 1993 and it promoted the idea that societies could decrease group conflict by encouraging “consensual ideologies that legitimize social and intergroup inequality and discrimination” (Duckitt, 2011).

Gun Use in a ‘Dangerous World’

In a study done by Cook et al. which studied the findings of the relationship between BDW and attitudes towards groups perceived to pose threats to safety, there was another follow up study done which had been extended through measuring specific prejudicial emotions and responses toward groups posing safety or other threats. Factors such as “social distancing, perceptions of safety threat, and as an associated affective response; fear”. (Cook et al). A procedure called the threat activation procedure was used and it helped solidify that the reported results could be linked back to group stereotypes.

The participants were presented with groups (chosen randomly) that were affiliated with threats to safety: Muslims and illegal immigrants, threats to health: obese individuals and people perceived as non-threatening: Europeans and Americans. They were required to “list five things that immediately come to mind” when they thought about said group, which would automatically prompt any prevailing stereotypes. After the list, they were asking to mark on a 6-point scale (lowest number to highest meant strongly disagree to strongly agree, respectively) their support towards “three face-valid” items from Crandall’s (1991) Social Distancing Scale (SDS). Using the scale, the affective fear toward the group was measured, implying that they felt nervous and/ or afraid about certain members of the group. The results showed that effects of BDW on social distancing was not true for Americans but contradicted the hypothesis made for Europeans which showed social distancing.

In making predictions about the risk for mass shootings, there are no consistent psychological profiles or indicative signs of warnings that are reliable enough to be able to identify those specific individuals in a civil population. A more reliable approach is the strategy of behavioural threat assessment, which is concerned with identifying and mediating with people who have disclosed violent threats or engaged in behaviour that clearly indicated planning or preparation to commit a violent act. The issue of gun violence calls for a thorough study and analysis of a variety of key psychological components, behavioural pathways, social circumstances, and cultural factors that lead to gun violence (Cornell, D & Guerra, G.N, 2013).

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In a 2010 study conducted by Anderson et al., a meta-analytic technique was used to test the impact of violence in video games on characteristics such as “aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, empathy/desensitization, and prosocial behaviour”. The results strongly supported their hypothesis and showed a positive correlation between the presentation to/ of violence in video games and “increased aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, and aggressive affect and for decreased empathy and prosocial behaviour” (Anderson et al. 2010). Further analysis for the 2010 Anderson et al. study showed substantial research design effects and a poor indication of cultural differences in predisposition and type of impact on measurement. It also revealed no proof in the differences of gender susceptibility. Evidence from a range of reviews revealed these effects to be persistent, with barely any proof of “selection bias” (Anderson et al. 2010).

Previous research by Anderson et. al (2003) indicated that violent television, movies, video games and music reveal indisputable evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behaviour in both short and long-term contexts. However, these studies had also indicated that the impact of media violence on aggression have been exaggerated as a result of bias due to prior disclosure of information. This ultimately led to an absence of evidence for aggression being a causal risk factor due to violent video games (Anderson et. al, 2003). A limitation quite frequently presented by the Japanese supporters of the idea that increased aggressive behaviour is not affected by media violence, is that it has greater amounts of violence on media but a weaker amount of violent crime. (Anderson et. al, 2003). Japan distinguishes itself from countries such as America and other Western countries on some standard risk factors for aggression and violence such as: acquiring firearms/ small arms trouble-free.

Rather than argue about if people kill people or guns kill people, a better approach to simplify the prevention of gun violence is the philosophy that people with guns kill people (Cornell, D & Guerra, G.N 2013) or themselves. In 1970, a meta evaluation by Guze and Robins was released which showed that patients with chronic mental health illnesses had an increased risk of suicide by 15%. 17 studies of suicide in patients with “primary affective disorder” and finalised their study with the fact that 15% of depressed patients would die by self-annihilation.

20 years later, in 1990, Goodwin and Jamison added 13 more studies to duplicate Guze and Robin’s results, however they concluded that the rate of suicide in patients with depression had increased by 3.9% making the total of suicide 18.9%. The methods used by both reviews were equal in that they both had the same predictions and biases; these include: the patients used were both almost customised to have been patients who had been hospitalised. Another similarity was that most of their studies had the risk of suicide, follow-up timing of just a couple of years. These two problems as well as more, deformed and misrepresented the genuine risk of suicide in patients who suffered and experienced affective mental health disorders/ illnesses.

Another point to be made when talking about gun violence and mental health issues is the increased risk of mass shootings. Referring back to the media article for the mass shooting in Florida, the ‘March for Our Lives’ campaign, it would be appropriate to predict that people with mental health issues/ disorders could be the reason behind more mass shootings as such. Guns are quite easily accessible, especially in the country of the United States of America, therefore there is an acquired increased risk of more mass shootings if someone with a mental health disorder got access to the weapon. A breakdown of any kind is inevitable when suffering from a mental health issue, if guns were to be in the hands of someone so vulnerable, then anything or anyone could potentially trigger them and lead to that patient impulsively using the gun and causing a lot of bodily harm and bloodshed.


Based on a variety of studies done years apart, it is clear to conclude that violent video games do lead to an increase in unideal behaviour such as aggression in terms of “aggressive behaviour, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, empathy/ desensitization, and prosocial behaviour” (Anderson et al. 2010). Almost each method had the same aim and hypothesis, which was that violence displayed in video games would lead to increased aggressive behaviour in real life and majority of them were proved to be correct. However there were some limitations that were found, although they were impacted by a statement previously mentioned through the ‘Belief in a Dangerous World Theory’, that general crime will be determined on elements such as your location, what time it is during the day, along with other relevant factors (O’Brien, 2019).


Prior to this assignment, I had already known that gun control and gun violence was, and is, a serious issue, especially in the United States of America. What I did not know was how serious of an issue it was. The ‘Belief in a Dangerous World Theory’ is something new that I had learnt through this unit, and it is something I can agree with as I share the unsettling belief that there are people out there in the world who will harm an individual/ individuals with no reasoning or vengeful motive behind their actions. It’s hard not to think that way when you hear and read about news around the U.S that report mass shootings at schools and other random acts of gun violence.

I think the problem requires extensive and deep observation and analysis of the different psychological components, and social and cultural situations and backgrounds, that eventually bring forth acts of aggression and violence via gun use.

My media article talks about a plan to raise the standards for gun ownership in America and decreasing the number of guns being operated. The article reports that many people describe themselves as pro- “gun safety”, instead of anti-gun. They present themselves as supporters of America’s second amendments, the right to bear arms. I find this this hard to believe, because if people were safe with guns then so many acts of violence and deaths would not occur. I think most gun owners use their guns more as a need for self-protection and self-confidence, however there is a thin line that exists between protecting themselves and using their weapons impulsively. Hence, reflecting the misunderstanding the concept from a psychological perspective.


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