It’s Madness All Right….

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Right now, Guns and Ammo is running a March Madness themed ad campaign on its website.

Here’s how it works.  Like the NCAA tournament, there are four divisions: Handguns, Rifles, Modern Sporting Rifles, and Shotguns.  Within each division, there are 16 types of guns listed that face off against one another.  They are seeded.  For instance, in the first round, the “Smith & Wesson M&P 10” is a 1-seed, facing off against the 16th seeded “Salient Arms Tier 1.” (Presumably, the seeds are based on how they did in the regular season?)  Fans vote on their favorite and the winner moves on to the next round until we get to the final and can finally learn the answer to the question we’ve all been waiting for… most popular gun.

I want to mention first that I’ve never seen so many advertisements on one website.  The contest is brought to you Galco Gunleather.  The rifles are brought to you by Burris; handguns by Laserlyte, and so on.  There’s a banner for Smith & Wesson at the top (maybe that’s why they’re a 1-seed), another banner for a thermosight at the bottom, and ads for various magazines on both sides.  It’s almost as though advertisers have found the perfect place to target an overly-devoted and obsessive group of consumers.

Aside from wandering into an advertising nightmare, the entire contest is weird as hell.  Guns are tools.  This is a contest where people go vote for their favorite tool.  I’m pretty sure Bosch isn’t sponsoring a March Madness-themed contest where people vote for their favorite power-drill or sander.  I did go check, though, just to be sure and, no, they’re not.  And if they were, I’m pretty sure no one would go vote because there are very few power-drill enthusiasts out there.

Here’s the thing, though.  It would be less weird for people to go vote on their favorite power tools.  Power tools are not designed with the explicit purpose of killing people like many of these guns.  The Smith & Wesson M&P 10 is designed for “multiple uses” but at least two of those uses, tactical and defensive, include killing people.  I can’t find as much information about the Salient Arms Tier 1 (I’m beginning to understand why it was a 16-seed) but it would appear to have a similar purpose.  What qualities are people voting on?

On top of all that, though, there’s strangeness in the fiery passion with which people are trying to defend their choices.  On Facebook, where the campaign is being advertised, people are taking to the comments to defend their choice and sway others.  Respondents are angry over how few people appreciate their preferred gun.  Some are indignant over even being asked which they prefer, as though they are being forced to decide which child they love most.  How dare you even ask?  These guns are each special in their own way!

I’m not trying to make light of it.  I’ve often found the culture of gun-enthusiasm a bit haunting.  I remember once listening to two kids in the bookstore of an airport arguing over which assault rifle was better, the same way two kids might talk about whether or not Michigan State had a chance to win the east as a 4-seed.  Unlike basketball, though, this isn’t a game.  It simply can’t be healthy to think about guns this way yet, right now, there are tens of thousands of people doing just that and several massive companies making millions by promoting it.

By Ryan C. Martin

Fact-Check: Did the NRA support gun control when the Black Panthers advocated that minorities arm themselves?

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Yes, but it’s complicated.

UCLA law professor, Adam Winkler, explains in a 2011 article for The Atlantic that the National Rifle Association, or the NRA, has been in existence since 1871 and was originally created to be an organization that would provide marksmanship programs. Through most of the NRA’s history it supported, or at least, condoned gun control initiatives including the 1968 Gun Control Act, which expanded the government’s ability to prohibit criminals and those with mental impairments from owning firearms. It wasn’t until 1977, when Harlon Carter took leadership that the organization began its more strict 2nd Amendment Rights agenda.

The reference to the Black Panther Party probably refers to the Mulford Act enacted in 1967 under Ronald Reagan during his period as Governor of California. This act effectively restricted citizens from carrying guns in public and created one of the countries most strict gun control regulations. This was a direct reaction to the Black Panther Movement’s rise in California and in the 1960s, the NRA would not yet have been a hard-line advocate for gun ownership rights. In the 1980s Reagan changed his opinion on the subject. He would begin to actively encourage 2nd amendment rights to keep citizens safe from the despotism that could be enacted by government, just what African Americans had been hoping to achieve in the 1960’s when he had instead endorsed the Mulford Act. The post 1977 NRA endorsed their first presidential candidate, Ronald Reagan, after both had switched to a more strict 2nd amendment rights defense.

So, to a certain extent the statement is true; The NRA was supportive of gun control in the 1960s during the Black Panther Movement. But by the late 1970s the organization’s goals had changed and both groups would advocate minimum restrictions on gun ownership.

By Katie Ledvina
Katie is a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay with majors in Psychology, Public Administration, and Political Science and minors in Human Development and Global Studies. Following graduation Katie plans to begin work in administration or research for a public or nonprofit human service provider in the field of public health.

Resources/For more information:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/adam-winkler/when-the-nra-promoted-gun_b_992043.html

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/09/the-secret-history-of-guns/308608/2/

http://www.sfgate.com/opinion/article/NRA-took-hard-right-after-leadership-coup-3741640.php

5 Things I Learned (or was reminded of) During My Dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura

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Last week, thanks to my good friend, Regan Gurung, I was lucky enough to sit down for a two-hour dinner with Dr. Albert Bandura.  For those of you who don’t know of Dr. Bandura’s work, he’s arguably the most famous living psychologist (or, at least, amongst the top three) and certainly the most popular.  His most famous work, The Bobo Doll Study, changed the way people thought of both learning and aggression, as it flew in the face of the accepted theories of the time, conditioning and catharsis, respectively.

The Bobo Doll Study, first done in 1961, is thought of by most psychologists to be one of the three most famous psychology studies of all time (along with the Milgram Obedience Experiments and the Stanford Prison Experiment).   In fact, if you haven’t heard of it, it’s probably because you never took an intro psych class or because you took an intro psych class a very long time ago and simply forgot (i.e., it’s unlikely it wasn’t covered).  What many people don’t realize, though, is that it wasn’t just one study.  It was a series of studies that led to two books on aggression and paved the way for a massive shift in the way psychologists thought about learning.  Consequently, his work matters to me as a psychologist, an anger and aggression researcher, and a teacher.

I don’t mind sounding a little bit star-struck by saying that this dinner was one of the highlights of my relatively young career.  It wasn’t just fun, though.  It was meaningful in other ways.  Here are five things I learned (or was reminded of) from Dr. Bandura.

1. Basic research matters.  In my research methods course, I try and drive home to students the idea that basic research is important.  Even though applied research feels more exciting and more important (wouldn’t we all rather find the cure to something than do the studies that lead up to finding a cure?), the vast majority of applied research projects find their roots in basic research.  Dr. Bandura provided me with more ammo for this discussion by reminding me that his original bobo doll study was not designed with any sort of application in mind.  This was a study on learning and aggression, pure and simple.  Yes, it was putting behaviorism to the test and, yes, it had clear implications to a host of areas (e.g., media violence, advertising).  In fact, Dr. Bandura is now working on several international projects to apply this work.  But, none of that changes the fact that it was originally carried out as a test of theory with no other intentions.

2. There’s an important place for social activism in academics. Even though his work started as basic research, his current work is clearly intended to bring about social change.  He described a book he’s writing on moral disengagement where he will tackle a variety of politically controversial topics (e.g., gun violence, climate change).  Meanwhile, he’s involved in literacy projects on at least three continents.  To those who believe that professors should avoid any sort of activism, Dr. Bandura serves as a nice example of how wrong they are.  He’s doing important work that changes the lives of people across the globe.

3. The support of your institution matters. One thing I was completely unaware of was that there had been many attempts to discredit Dr. Bandura early in his career.  The Bob Doll Study, which he completed as an untenured professor at Stanford, was seen as a threat to some fairly powerful groups (television networks, advertising agencies, etc.).  At one point, he was asked to testify at a congressional hearing on television violence and, as a result of his work, advertising standards were changed to cut out acts of violence.  Not surprisingly, some groups worked to find fault with his research, and he even described turning on the news to find a special on him and the flaws in his research.   I asked him if it bothered him and, though he didn’t answer that question directly, he did tell a story about being invited to a meeting with a Stanford administrator at the height of all this.  The administrator said, “They’re saying some pretty bad things about your research [pause].  Don’t let the bastards get you down.”  I can only imagine that for an untenured professor who found himself somewhat unexpectedly in the public eye, that sort of support would go a long way toward giving him the courage to carry on.  I also found myself wondering if that sort of thing would happen again today.

4. So does passion. Before we even entered the restaurant, he started telling us about his upcoming book.  And it didn’t stop there.  He talked us through almost every chapter- not just the content, but why he was interested in it and how he arrived at his conclusions.  As he talked about his work, there was an excitement in his eyes unlike anything you would expect from someone who has been doing this for 50-plus years.  He is genuinely passionate about this book.  He is not doing it for the money (“the sales will take care of themselves,” he said.).  He’s writing it to leave at least one more mark on the world he’s already influenced so greatly.

5. Take pictures. As I said before, most psychologists will tell you that there are three studies in Psychology that stand out as the most famous:  The Milgram Obedience Experiments, The Stanford Prison Experiment, and Bandura’s initial Bobo Doll Study.  Regan asked him why he thinks these three studies became so well known.  He pointed to three things: (1) each had social implications. (2) each involved aggression and included findings that were surprising to people, and (3) each had photo and video evidence of their findings.  We spent a lot of time on this last one and how, in a visual world like the one we live in, video/photo footage goes a long way toward helping ideas stand out to people.  In fact, some of the other famous studies in psychology (Mischel’s Marshmallow Test, Asch’s Conformity Experiment, and Chabris and Simons Invisible Gorilla Study) all include video footage that helps drive the point home for students and the public at large.

More Guns, Less Crime? Nope.

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Since the Sandy Hook shootings on December 14th there has been considerable discussion of gun violence in the United States.  As often happens with discussions of policy-making, though, very little of the conversation has been driven by the research on gun-related crime.  Gun-enthusiasts, in particular seem to gravitate toward anecdotal evidence of how legal gun ownership is the only way to prevent gun related crime.  In fact, just days after the shooting, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, argued that “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Of course, as has been addressed before, the data on the impact of concealed carry laws has been difficult to interpret and has allowed for differing conclusions.  However, the relationship between gun ownership in a community and gun-related crime in that community can be tested empirically.  This was what Dr. Anthony Hoskins set out to do in his 2011 article in Criminal Justice Studies where he found, quite simply, that when it comes to murder and aggravated assault, more guns equal more crime.

His paper used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (a telephone survey conducted every year) and was designed to explore the relationships between percentages of homes with a gun in particular counties with the rates of murders, robberies, and aggravated assaults in those counties, while controlling for a host of demographic variables (e.g., total population, unemployment rate).  Ultimately, he was evaluating three different theories on gun ownership and crime: (1) that gun ownership rates are unrelated to violent crime, (2) that gun ownership rates are associated with a decrease in violent crime (the view held by LaPierre and other gun enthusiasts), and (3) that gun ownership rates are associated with an increase in violent crime.

In the end, his evaluation found support for the third hypothesis, that the more guns in a community, the higher the violent crime rate.  Specifically, what he identified is that the “introduction of a gun into a violent incident raises the risk of injury or death” (p. 127).  In other words, yes, you can kill someone with a hammer or a baseball bat, but you cannot kill them from as far away or in rapid succession the way you can with a gun.  It should also be noted that these findings run completely contrary to what LaPierre and other gun advocates have been arguing.  They would argue that a higher percentage of gun owners in a community would be negatively correlated with all three forms of violent crime.  Instead, it was positively correlated with two types of violent crime (murder and aggravated assault) and uncorrelated with the third (burglary).

By Ryan C. Martin

Reflections on Gun Violence, Gun Enthusiasm, and Whether or Not Killing is Cool

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Over the last few days, I’ve read article after article about the tragedy in Connecticut.  From the need for gun-control to the need for civility, from why gun control won’t work to why we need to do more for the mentally ill, it seems every topic has been covered.  I admit, I’ve been angrier than most people over this shooting and it’s been hard to control it sometimes.  I’ve been told by friends, family, and acquaintances that there is no sense blaming anyone and that it doesn’t do any good to get angry.

I’m writing this as much to process my own anger and sadness and fear as anything else.  With all due respect to those who want me to stop pointing fingers, I simply don’t agree.  I don’t believe this shooting, or any shooting, just happens.  I think they are allowed to happen because we as a society have failed in a variety of ways to do the things that need to be done.

In the interest of full-disclosure, let me start by saying that I hate guns.  I have no interest in them and no desire to own, use, or even hold one.  Ultimately, the reason I hate guns is because I have no desire to kill anyone or anything.  I’m certain I would if I had to in order to protect myself or my family.  But if I ever did kill someone, I know I would be tortured by it forever.  It would haunt me because, when all is said and done, I think killing is always bad… even when it’s justified.

Despite my hatred of guns, I don’t fault people for wanting to own a gun for defense.  I think it’s usually a bad decision to own a gun (the data says they rarely save lives and increase the chances of accidental death in the home dramatically) and I would discourage my friends and family from doing so.  But, ultimately, people make lots of bad decisions about safety and this is just one of them.  Nor do I fault people for enjoying hunting.  While I don’t see the appeal, I understand that people enjoy it as a sport the same way I enjoy certain sports.

So, to any gun owners out there who might be reading this, please don’t think I am trying to paint you all with one brush.  I’m not.  I know many gun owners and find them to be responsible, smart people.  In fact, the gun owners I know are equally repulsed by what I’m about to describe.

There is a type of gun-owner, the gun-enthusiast, that seems different from the responsible gun owners I know.  Gun-enthusiasts do not see guns as tools for hunting or protection exclusively.  They see them and are attracted to them as killing machines.  They think guns are cool and they think that the bigger the gun in their hand, the tougher they are.  They are the ones who have bumper stickers that read, “Don’t mess with the 2nd Amendment and I won’t be forced to exercise it” or signs up in their yard that read, “Trespassers will be shot.  Survivors will be shot again.”  More to the point, they are the people who created, sold, and/or bought the gun range targets designed to look like Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old, unarmed, boy who was killed by George Zimmerman in February, 2012 (these targets sold out before anyone had a chance to complain about them).

I like to cling to the idea that the people I’m talking about are rare.  I’m not so sure, though.  In trying to get a better sense of what gun-enthusiasts are like, I visited the website of Guns and Ammo, the self-proclaimed, “World’s Most Widely Read Firearms Magazine.”  Quite honestly, the things I saw and read there are more than a little upsetting.

The first thing I saw on their website was the article, “Gift Guide for the Tactical Guy,” featuring a photo of Santa, in dark sunglasses, holding a rifle.  Incidentally, it’s actually one of two photos of Santa holding a gun on their homepage.  The other is for a caption contest and shows Santa in what looks like a war zone, firing a large gun.  If you click on the link, you will find hundreds of submissions to the contest, including the following:

  • Instead of coal, you get lead
  • Delivering gifts in Afghanistan….
  • We wish you a merry Christmas to you and your kind
  • Merry CHRISTmas–taliban–These ROUNDS are on me..gifts delivered!!
  • Naughty, Nice, Expendable….its all good!!
  • If you’re against Christians you’re against me. If you’re against me I’m against you. Since I have a bigger better rifle and more ammo, I’ll win. Too late, you loose.
  • Ho Ho Holy War.

This is exactly what I mean when I talk about people finding joy in the idea of killing.

I went back to read the article about gifts for tactical guys where my first question was, of course, “what’s a tactical guy?”  I know what it means to be tactical and think of myself as tactical about a great many things (the use of words, for example) but I don’t think that’s what they were referring to.  A quick glimpse at the gift guide reveals that, to them, a tactical guy is someone who is prepared to kill at a moment’s notice.  A tactical guy carries an assault rifle or automatic pistol whenever they leave the house.  A tactical guy carries a tactical tomahawk that is “built to pound” and is perfect for “breaching operations.”  Finally, a tactical guy also has dress pants specially designed to conceal weapons for a night on the town.

And this isn’t all.  I found articles explaining why assault rifles are better for home defense than you might think, on what the media doesn’t understand about guns (full of unverified claims), and even an article on what your assault rifle says about you.  But what was most revealing to me was what I found in the discussion forums.  The good news is that most of the people who posted seemed relatively responsible, though a little paranoid.  They discuss things like strategies for using ATM machines late at night, the best types of holsters, and gun-related current events.  Though I disagree vehemently with the politics, most of it was pretty similar to what you find on any political thread on any Facebook page or discussion forum.

Scattered within these relatively reasonable posts, however, were hauntingly upsetting comments about killing.  In response to this story about a recent shooting in Minnesota, one person wrote that no good deed goes unpunished and how unfair it was that the shooter would be punished after doing the cops a favor by taking out two criminals.  Later, regarding a law he/she opposed, one person made reference to lynching the politicians who passed it.  Finally, in response to President Obama’s speech at the vigil in Newtown, one person wrote, “Why don’t idiots with guns ever target some of the gun grabbers? 20-something innocent kids die, and at least that many worthless congress-critters live on to trample on our rights. There’s something way wrong with that picture!”

To this person, the tragedy wasn’t that 27 people were killed, it’s that the wrong 27 people were killed.

As I was writing this, a friend alerted me to the story on NPR about the AR-15, the gun used by the shooter in Connecticut.  Melissa Block interviewed gun expert, Malcolm Brady, who described the gun as “cool” several times, even referring to it as “the Rambo effect.”  When pressed about his description of it as cool, he couldn’t really answer other than to say that some may be reliving their days in the military.  Later in the interview, he estimated that sales of this gun will go up in response to this tragedy.  Again, when pressed, he couldn’t really give a clear answer other than to say that “the people who will be buying them will be buying them in the premise that I can prevent that same thing happening at my house or my business or my location.”

But I think the real answer is something he already said several times.  I think the reason sales are going to go up is largely because some people think this gun is cool and will make them tough.  They don’t think of it as a tool.  They think of it as accessory.  They want to be like Rambo and on some level they hope they get a chance to use it.  The question that needs an answer is the one Melissa Block asked but didn’t get a real answer to:

“I have to ask you, Mr. Brady, you’re talking about the coolness of a weapon that was just used to mow down 20 children?”

By Ryan Martin

Five Facts About Guns, Anger, and Violence

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Gun policy debate appears to be heating up across the country, prompting much discussion about the relationship between guns and violence.  Unfortunately, such discussions are rarely data-driven and typically reflect sound bites of the “guns don’t kill people, people kill people” and the “more guns, more crime” variety.

To counter that, below are five facts about guns, anger, and violence.

Seeing a gun increases aggression.  It may sound strange but researchers have known since a 1967 study by Berkowitz and LePage that the presence of a weapon increases aggression.   It is an example of a psychological phenomenon referred to as priming whereby, because we associate weapons and violence (due to prior experience), seeing a weapon activates our aggression script.  Priming occurs in a variety of contexts.   In fact, it is a well known concept in advertising because certain stimuli encourage certain behaviors (e.g., just as seeing a weapon activates our aggression script, seeing food activates our eating script).  The findings from the 1967 study have been replicated many times including a 1998 study by Anderson and colleagues that asked “does the gun pull the trigger” and found that “extant research suggests that it does” (p.313).

Holding a gun increases testosterone. The above findings on priming along with research suggesting that testosterone is associated with aggression in humans and animals prompted Klinesmith and colleagues (2005) to look at the relationship between guns, testosterone, and aggression.  Remarkably, what they found was that when participants (all males) interacted with a gun for 15 minutes, their testosterone levels increased and they were more likely to engage in an aggressive act than those participants who interacted with a children’s toy.  The authors state that, though their study is “far from definitive, its results suggest that guns may indeed increase aggressiveness partially via changes in the hormone testosterone” (p. 570).

Possessing a gun increases the chance of dying in a gun related assault.  An often cited reason for owning a gun is the need for protection.  Though this has received considerable attention in the literature on gun violence, the most recent and, arguably, the most thorough is a 2009 study by Branas and colleagues exploring the link “between being shot in an assault and possession of a gun at the time” (p. 2034).  The authors found that those in possession of a gun were more than 4 times more likely to be shot in an assault than those not holding a gun.  In those instances when the victim had the opportunity to fight back, those in possession of a gun were more than 5 times more likely to be shot.  The authors conclude that “although successful defensive gun uses can and do occur, the findings of this study do not support the perception that such successes are likely” (p.  2037)

When people are angry, they are more likely to think a neutral object is a gun.  A 2010 project explored the impact of our emotional state on threat detection.  The researchers, Baumann and DeSteno, induced various emotions and asked participants to quickly identify whether or not an object was a gun.  Across several tests, participants who were angry were more likely to misidentify a neutral object as a gun, suggesting that in an emotionally heated situation (like a potentially violent encounter), people are likely to error in the perception of the situation.  Specifically, they are likely to assume the person they are in conflict with has a weapon when he or she does not.

The data on right-to-carry laws are inconclusive.  Those in favor of concealed carry laws often point to a series of books by John Lott, including the 1998 book titled More Guns, Less Crime: Understanding Crime and Gun Control Laws (the third edition was published in 2010).  His books argue that crime rates go down when states pass concealed carry laws.  Lott’s explanation is that criminals are deterred from violence for fear of being shot by a legally armed citizen.  Consequently, the more gun owners in a community, the less violent crime in that community.  Not surprisingly, his books have been criticized by gun control advocates for a variety of reasons including using a limited sample, ignoring important variables, and ignoring data from other samples with contrary findings.  Later editions of the book have sought to address these criticisms.  However, in a 2004 review of the literature on gun violence, which included Lott’s data (found here), Wellford and colleagues conclude that “with the current evidence it is not possible to determine that there is a causal link between the passage of right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 150).  Likewise, they argue that “additional analysis along the lines of the current literature is unlikely to yield results that will persuasively demonstrate a causal link between right-to-carry laws and crime rates” (p. 151) and they call for different types of research on this question.

By Ryan C. Martin