A Social Psychologist’s Perspective on Gun Violence

A Social Psychologist’s Perspective on Gun Violence: Isn’t It Time To Stop Our National Silence on Gun Control?

Stephen Franzoi

 Over the past few years, local television stations have regularly contacted me in the immediate aftermath of mass shootings in this country. Reporters always ask if I could provide advice on how their viewers can emotionally cope after learning of these tragedies. Lately, what I say to reporters is that while their question is worth asking and answering, a much more important question that news reporters need to be asking social scientists is whether there is social scientific research that can provide insights on how to reduce gun violence. These mass shootings account for only a very small percentage of the annual gun-related deaths that occur each year in our society. Yet to date, it appears that local news stations don’t want to inform the public about such research.

Here is what I have told TV news reporters in past interviews that they have subsequently failed to broadcast to their viewers. Social scientific research finds that (1) the presence of firearms heightens the anger of already angry people and significantly increases the likelihood that they will behave aggressively—this is known as the “weapons effect”; (2) guns kept in the home for self-protection are 43 times more likely to kill someone you know than to kill in self-defense, (3) the death rate of American children from guns is 12 times higher than in 25 other industrialized countries combined, (4) almost half of all deaths among African-American male teens involve firearms, and (5) for households with guns, the risk of homicide is three times greater and the risk of suicide is five times greater than in households without guns. I have also mentioned that both Great Britain and Australia significantly reduced gun violence in their countries over the past 15 years by passing laws that banned semi-automatic rifles and pistols; they passed these laws following mass shootings in their countries.

What is deeply frustrating for me as a social scientist following these national tragedies is that our local news stations ignore stories on how to reduce firearm deaths that involve gun control, most likely because it is a controversial topic and it might anger certain segments of their viewership, most notably the National Rifle Association. So the only thing they think they can discuss with psychologists is how people are emotionally coping with the tragedy, which is similar to the passive response of most politicians to gun violence. In pondering this state of affairs, I see parallels between how we as a nation respond following such tragedies and how dysfunctional individuals respond to threats in their lives. If we had such individuals coming to us for therapy, seeking help in breaking their cycle of being regularly abused by someone close to them, would we be acting responsibly if we simply gave them advice on how to emotionally cope following each beating? Wouldn’t it be our responsibility to encourage these individuals to develop strategies to end their abuse? Isn’t it time that we as citizens also encourage—nay demand—that our politicians and our news organizations also act responsibly in facing our national gun tragedy?



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2 Responses to A Social Psychologist’s Perspective on Gun Violence

  1. Nam says:

    Please keep in mind that banning guns will do nothing to prevent criminals, or mentally unstable people from carrying out violence with guns. Addressing issues pertaining to mental health would go much farther in preventing gun violence.

  2. mj says:

    you see, the United States is industrlizing more than ever. for example the “net” people from all ages can just go on the net and type anything they want or like adds just pop up on screen and they just see. i know that you cannot stop gun violence but if the united states wants to reduce it then i believe that they should slow downe on industrlizing. the reason is that i am an immigrant and i come from a third world country and in my country we do not industrlize that much because people in my country werent so much close to technology and we dont have that much of gun violence. also that if people gets to be so intouch with technology then they would forget what is really important like respect to each other. because in my eyes americans only give respect when they want something. so over all i think if that if the governement want to reduce gun violence and i believe other things then they need to slow downe on creating technology.

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