The four reasons for America’s gun mania
April 27, 2014
It would be hard to argue that America is NOT the undisputed leader in passion for owning firearms. This passion is reflected by the fact that America has the highest gun ownership of any country with 89 guns for every 100 citizens. Contrast this figure with Russia having nine guns per 100 citizens and Pakistan’s 12 per 100 and one begins to see that we are outliers in gun ownership. How did America become so manic about owning guns?
I would suggest that the answer is a four legged stool with the first leg being the gun manufacturing industry’s drive to increase profits. The second leg and third legs are the gun industry’s use of new media to convey a fear based message that resonates with a minority of susceptible citizens. And, the fourth leg, without which the others would be etiolated, is a complacent majority.
The firearm industry has been estimated to have an economic impact in the United States of 38 billion dollars.  It is not surprising that the gun industry does everything necessary to promote their product. Since firearms are essentially durable goods, in order to grow their market and continue to increase profits, the gun industry must constantly find new buyers of their products and find ways to sell more firearms to existing gun owners. What seems to have worked is to craft a message of fear and nationalism.
The communication of such a message is epitomized by the National Rifle Association (NRA). The NRA portrays itself as representing the average sport shooter and maybe at one point it did but it now is the throat piece of the gun industry. The delivery of their message has been intensified by the rapid developments in electronic communication that facilitate rapid dissemination of their information. Social media also provides a positive feedback loop or echo chamber that effectively reverberates their message.
But the message is flawed and irrational. One argument is that the Second Amendment provides an absolute right to own whatever firearm a citizen desires but nothing is absolute and gun proponents conveniently dismiss “well formed militia” with nary a nod to strict interpretation that is often cited when other aspects of the constitution are debated. Then there’s the farcical argument that guns are necessary for personal protection. This justification seems to be the darling of arguments for advocating gun ownership despite the fact that study after study unequivocally concludes that by owning a gun you are far more likely to die from a gun related injury. An October 2013 article in The American Journal of Medicine concluded, “…the current study debunks the widely quoted hypothesis that guns make a nation safer. “ The facts are not in dispute. Guns do NOT make you safer.
The gun industry may be aware of the facts but they are not encumbered by them. Instead they correctly recognize that if they can reach the right segment of the population facts become superfluous. The characteristics of this segment may be driven more by neurophysiology than logic. Or more charitably, this segment may think they’re being logical but they may be cognitively “wired” differently from others. I’m alluding to the interesting work of Chris Mooney that identifies neurophysiologic differences between conservatives and progressives. One such difference is that conservatives, possibly because of a more active amygdala, are more likely to make decisions based on fear or protection. The NRA’s effectiveness may because they know what strings to pluck to persuade this susceptible segment of the population that they are under attack and guns will protect them.
America’s gun mania is the result of a perfect storm of an industry ensuring its growth by effectively converting the fear of a small segment of the population into gun sales. But none of this would come to fruition without the complicity of complacent majority. According to a 2013 Pew Research pool, the majority of Americans say they would be uncomfortable having a gun in the home. Although a minority, the gun proponents have continued to advance their position by funding a lobbying group that wields considerable influence in Washington and by energizing a small segment of the electorate to elect primary candidates with sworn allegiance to the NRA.
The simple solution to the problem is for the complacent majority to become involved by exerting the minimal effort of voting for rational candidates in the primary elections. The more complex solution would be to draw congressional district using unbiased computer algorithms that would effectively dilute the influence of special interest groups and bring us closer to a true, representational democracy.