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Thursday, October 28, 2021

The motivations of gun-rights advocates versus those of gun-control proponents

MICHAEL GLASGOW  [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR
MICHAEL GLASGOW [CC BY 2.0] / FLICKR
Gun-rights advocates not all redneck Republicans; gun-control proponents not all peace-promoting hippies

Contrary to popular belief, not all gun-rights enthusiasts are white-trash, redneck extremist Republicans who only care about their latest hunting adrenaline rush. Rather, advocates of gun rights are subconsciously motivated by a multitude of underlying factors that have little to do with personal vendettas against victims of gun violence and everything to do with an advocate’s race, socioeconomic status and level of education.

A recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that 54 percent of white Americans strive to protect gun rights. This stands in marked comparison to the 30 percent of black Americans who hold similar attitudes toward guns.That 54 percent of white people support the rights of gun owners shows gun violence simply does not apply to them in the same way that it does to black people.  

This is not to say that all white gun-rights activists are racist, but it does point to a disregard for black people that many white people hold. Interestingly, proponents of gun-ownership cite self-protection and safety as their primary argument for owning guns and resisting gun reform.

However, this is counterintuitive and slightly paradoxical, as white people are considerably more likely to commit suicide with firearms than to die from firearm homicides. This implies that gun-rights advocates’ motivations extends beyond their alleged personal protection and — harsh as it seems into a subtle disregard for problems that do not apply to them.

We are all guilty of this subconscious indifference toward people whose problems are not our own. It’s human nature. And in psychological terms, it relates to psychological egoism, or the theory that we are always motivated by what is in our own self-interest. And although it is always important to maintain a sense of self-preservation, it is equally vital to be compassionate, genuinely sympathetic people. This change is hard to manifest in a legislative or even quantifiable sense, but it remains up to the individual to look at the issue of gun control objectively rather than through the lens of one’s personal interests.

In the same Pew study, researchers found that 53 percent of college-educated people would prefer more gun control, implying that the more educated the person, the more inclined they are to lean in favor of gun-control. This may be because those who go to college have a more diverse and socially-aware perspective of the world as a result of thought-provoking courses and contact with the myriad viewpoints a college experience provides.

According to The Association of American Colleges and Universities, the role of colleges and universities in fostering global learning has never been more crucial. The college environment, which can be characterized as a cultural melting pot, provides students proximity to individuals who represent numerous cultural, social and religious identities.

This, in turn, fosters an understanding and empathy for people whose situations may differ from our own. For example, hearing the story of the first-generation student in your chemistry class that attends college during the day and works an eight-hour shift after class forces you to put yourself in their shoes and expand your own perspective.

In the same way, a college education may explain why gun-control proponents advocate for curbing gun ownership — they have a deeper compassion for differences and, despite their race or personal prejudice, are able to look beyond their own self-interest and gain insight into the lives of others.

Ultimately, the gun debate is far more complex than simply race or level of education. There are a multitude of factors that influence a person’s affinity for gun control or gun-rights activism — a personal tragic experience, a vehement belief in adhering strictly to the Constitution or an unexplainable, irrational desire to go one way or the other, to name a few.

However, considering the relationship between racism and a college education as they relate to gun violence is vital if we hope to understand the nuanced attitudes toward firearm ownership.

       

Written by: Tamanna Ahluwalia — tahluwalia@ucdavis.edu

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