Fear Itself

Scientific American recently published a fascinating article, titled “Why Are White Men Stockpiling Guns?” It began by reciting statistics most of us now know:

Since the 2008 election of President Obama, the number of firearms manufactured in the U.S. has tripled, while imports have doubled. This doesn’t mean more households have guns than ever before—that percentage has stayed fairly steady for decades. Rather, more guns are being stockpiled by a small number of individuals. Three percent of the population now owns half of the country’s firearms, says a recent, definitive studyfrom the Injury Control Research Center at Harvard University.

So, who is buying all these guns—and why?

The conventional wisdom was that gun sales to white guys spiked when a black man was elected President. The article provided a more finely-grained description of the specific “white guys” who went on that buying spree, citing several scientific studies that have concluded that “the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.”

These are men who are anxious about their ability to protect their families, insecure about their place in the job market, and beset by racial fears. They tend to be less educated. For the most part, they don’t appear to be religious—and, suggests one study, faith seems to reduce their attachment to guns. In fact, stockpiling guns seems to be a symptom of a much deeper crisisin meaning and purpose in their lives. Taken together, these studies describe a population that is struggling to find a new story—one in which they are once again the heroes.

Researchers also found pervasive anti-government sentiments among these men.

“This is interesting because these men tend to see themselves as devoted patriots, but make a distinction between the federal government and the ‘nation,’ says Froese. “On that point, I expect that many in this group see the ‘nation’ as being white.”

The entire article is fascinating. It also dovetails with the results of research into political attitudes conducted at Yale.That research built on a decade of political psychology studies that found people who feel physically threatened or fearful are more likely to be conservatives.

Conservatives, it turns out, react more strongly to physical threat than liberals do. In fact, their greater concern with physical safety seems to be determined early in life: In one University of California study, the more fear a 4-year-old showed in a laboratory situation, the more conservative his or her political attitudes were found to be 20 years later. Brain imaging studies have even shown that the fear center of the brain, the amygdala, is actually larger in conservatives than in liberals. And many other laboratory studies have found that when adult liberals experienced physical threat, their political and social attitudes became more conservative (temporarily, of course).

In the research experiment, when subjects were told to Imagine being completely safe from physical harm, their attitudes changed, and their policy preferences became indistinguishable  from those of the liberals in the experiment.

This result may seem far-fetched, but it correlates with social science research that shows lower incidence of social dysfunction and crime in countries with more robust social safety nets.

FDR was onto something when he said we should fear “fear itself.”


  1. Once again, what is the opposite of fear?

    Faith, love?

    I either believe in a Divine Creator or I don’t.

    Amor Fati?

    Maybe those who amass guns fear the evil of man more than they believe in the goodness and greatness of God.

  2. And somehow this minute percentage of the population has managed to control the political discourse for the entire country. And the republican party has made the individuals described in the research the focus of their message and most of their policy discussions.

  3. I have mentioned here before that my uncle was Don Davis of Don’s Guns; once owner of the largest private indoor shooting range and catalog sales in the U.S. He lobbied for years for the same background checks on long guns as Indiana had on handguns; he gave up when Indiana lowered its requirements on handgun background checks. He began with a small gun shop on the south side of Indianapolis (staffed only with Aunt Vicky and himself) and had become a multi-multi-millionaires long before we even heard of Barack Obama. This country has for many decades spread the distortions and lies about the government preventing gun purchases and that they were going to confiscate the guns you had. It escalated when Barack Obama began his campaign for the presidency; a major lie spread with his being a citizen of Kenya and Muslim. All based, of course, on his race alone. The friends and family members I drove away with researched facts in response to the nonsense they were sending me were NOT afraid of the danger guns present their physical safety but of the “colored guy” preventing them from buying guns and sending troops to take their guns.

    “The conventional wisdom was that gun sales to white guys spiked when a black man was elected President. The article provided a more finely-grained description of the specific “white guys” who went on that buying spree, citing several scientific studies that have concluded that “the kind of man who stockpiles weapons or applies for a concealed-carry license meets a very specific profile.”

    We have watched the escalating mass shootings in unimaginable places; churches, schools, military installations (which are “gun free zones”), stores and on our streets. One week ago we woke to the news of a one year old baby girl being blown away while sleeping on her grandmother’s couch by someone shooting from the street over a personal insult. The profile of the shooters has never yet, that I have seen or read, been anyone trying to protect their family or themselves. They have their own agenda and have researched the most proficient way to carry out their killing, and some of them purchased their weapons legally. When you live in a country which has laws preventing conversion of ordinary rifles to assault level but has laws allowing the sale of conversion kits and “bump stocks” to rifle owners, as well as legally selling assault rifles to the general public, we can expect these killings to continue…and to continue to escalate.

    I am not anti-gun; for 5 years I had a permit to carry a handgun for personal protection from a specific threatening person. When I no longer needed it, I sold it.

    “That research built on a decade of political psychology studies that found people who feel physically threatened or fearful are more likely to be conservatives.”

    We see proof of the above copied and pasted statement day in and day out in the media; we see it when the shooters are identified and their “reasons” uncovered. What better proof of this statement and the fact that we can expect NO CHANGE in gun laws from sitting elected officials than from Scalisi who was shot and nearly killed on a baseball field by a man using a rifle enhanced by a “bump stock” who still supports selling those and conversion kits.

    Do you believe those elected officials actually fear for their physical safety or for the loss of wealth coming from the NRA and gun manufacturers who have bought their protection?

    As Uncle Don used to quote, “Better to have a gun and not need it than to need it and not have it.” He was speaking about personal safety; NOT blowing away elderly people praying, people enjoying a night out in a club, our own members of the military or our children in their schools, all locations which should be places of safety. He often spoke of deep concerns over some of his customers who were allowed to legally purchase any and as many weapons as they could afford and the law required him to allow them that civil right to buy.

  4. Is there any research on why these terrified white guys always blame everyone else for their lot in life? They can’t find a good paying job, but they refuse training for better jobs. Things are bad where they live, but they won’t move to a better place. They want the world to cater to them, so they won’t have to take initiative and make changes. “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.” (unattributeable)

  5. Once the gun manufacturers realize they sell significantly more guns under liberal presidents (they expected HRC to win and overproduced units, by the way and then gun sales fell under DJT), they will start to secretly back them financially. They want to exploit that fear.

  6. Why make it so complicated? The greatest fear is the loss of WHITE POWER due to the rapid change in demographics. That’s why Trump has 50% of Americans still supporting him. That’s a real honest to goodness threat. Quit running away from the real problem and deal with it if you can for a change. Who said it was going to be easy?

  7. This morning on http://www.Salon.com an article was posted with the title: Have Christian nationalists staged a “soft coup,” with Trump as their figurehead? Wow! What a discovery. Now we’ve finally figured it all out. How about that?

  8. I sit at my computer counting 7 rifles and 1 pistol (my personal sidearm a 9mm S&W) in my office, where I keep them – all have breech locks and ammunition separate. I am Mexican-American, 65, live rural, served in the Army Guard, am an ordained Minister (Non-Traditonal) I have NO fear of anyone. Certainly not because of the guns – One Sunday morn I was awakened by my wife, shaking me and pointing to our bathroom in the master bedroom – “Manny there is a Woman standing in our BATHROOM!”… it is 6 am I am out of a dead sleep – there is a .40 cal pistol within reach – did I go for the gun? NO! I was so angry at the fact that someone would dare enter our home like that I yelled,”WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!!!” The woman as I came to see was standing with a solar path light she obviously got from our path to the door it was a spike type… But I was not afraid in the least. She suddenly broke down and was terrified she realized (out loud) she had gotten to the wrong house! She had been partying the night before (we live on the Leech Lake Indian reservation) and had been trying to walk to her Aunt and Uncles place… I told her to finish using the bathroom and meet me in the living room. Which she did, and I wound up driving her home to her Mom’s place in the Village 3-1/2 miles away. I found out the next day from someone I knew – that Woman had been discharged from the Marines a week before and came home directly from Service in Afghanistan! She could have lost her life HERE after fighting with our troops over there! – think about that – You see the point is to this note: If she had gone by accident to my neighbors house – she would have died entering the house – they are armed and NRA people. Now as an ordained minister I have the feeling she wound up at our place – because someone was watching over her sorry butt! The guns had nothing to do with it. So I own a lot of guns! I plan on building my collection over time for my grandkids which I now have 9 and 1 greatgrandchild. Three of my grandsons have been shooting since they were 6 years old! For us it has always been part of our lives – not some maniac pursuit of ‘weapons’. Hell you can use a knife – or a rock! I could have killed that person with my bare hands – you don’t need a gun.
    Yes there are ‘white guys’ that fit the description provided – but please let’s be correct about this – it isn’t just ‘white’ guys – I know African American, Native American and others that have tons of guns! But ‘yes’ ‘whiteguys’ seem to make up the majority of idiots that fit the profile you speak of from the article. But that is just a parcel of what is happening in this country. Where it is all headed is anyone’s guess – but if there is going to be an all out ‘ban on firearms’ – it won’t come from a Democrat I can tell you that.
    Maybe they should ban gun sales to ‘white guys’… ~8)

  9. “Fear and fatigue makes cowards of us all.” – Vince Lombardi.

    Of course these white guys are afraid. Peggy nails it. The fear is the secondary behavior to being intellectually lazy, irrespective of the intelligence level. These people are paralyzed by their own fear to the point they can’t even fix their own problems.

    Pathetic. Dangerous. Self-destructive.

  10. Marv, interesting link to the Salon Article. It dovetails nicely with the idea of authoritarianism. As currently defined, authoritarianism refers to how much people prefer conformity to authorities and norms within the groups with which they identity. Authoritarianism does not mean that people want to live in a totalitarian state. The Evangelicals and as a former Catholic myself would subscribe to the idea of hierarchy. The Catholic Church is a male dominated religion with a rigid hierarchy.

    The Rabid Reactionary Right view, the Parkland high school students and the other young people who marched against gun violence as disobedient and disrespectful. Hence they should be punished for their “insolence.” This reaction by the Rabid Reactionary Right is a reboot of the venom that was heaped on the Vietnam Anti-War demonstrators and the Civil Rights demonstrators back in the 1960’s. Social Authoritarianism demands conformity.

    There is a good article in the January 2018 National Geographic Magazine on the Science of Good and Evil. The article has an extensive section on the Anatomy of Empathy, that is how are brains are wired from birth and social influences. The social influence they define as:, ” A widespread empathy shutdown can occur when an entire group of people conforms to an ideology of aggression or superiority, such as in war”.

    The Trumpet (aka Agent Orange) without a doubt adheres to the ideology of aggression and his constant reminders of how superior he is.

    We know that soldiers in a shooting war can have an empathy shutdowns, such as torture or shooting POWs. The Rabid Reactionary Right has an empathy shutdown when they invoke their “Culture War Doctrine” the culture warriors view challenges to their doctrine and authority as War and in war you arm yourselves.

  11. I have never owned nor will I ever own a gun and I think the NRA propaganda to the effect that mayhem results when the good guys don’t have guns and the bad guys do is illogical since from a policy viewpoint the obvious solution is to carefully control who gets guns capable of mass killing whether such owners are good or bad guys (since good guys can become bad guys and/or suffer mental illness etc.). Thus if the bad guys and even the good guys do not have guns one could expect a big decrease in home invasions, the ostensible rationale for the NRA’s propaganda campaign, as well as holdups, road rage killings, suicides etc. The NRA’s reliance on the Second Amendment to protect the sale of mass killing weapons is pathetic, enjoys no Supreme Court backing, and is so far from what Madison had in mind in crafting this Amendment as to qualify for fantasy status.

    Finally, the most telling statistic is to look at the gun-killing statistics in Britain and Japan and other such jurisdictions where there are few handguns among their populaces. Such killings are rare, whereas there have been handgun killings in this country since I started to write this response to Sheila’s blog just now. So shall we repeal the Second Amendment, as suggested by retired Supreme Court Justice Stevens? No, not unless replaced by plain words evincing congressional intent in an amended Amendment which will reduce our death count and end this NRA pretense that it stands for anyone’s precious constitutional rights rather than its bottom line, speaking of which, the NRA is now under investigation for allegedly serving as a conduit for 30 million dollars from Russian oligarchs to the Trump campaign, an investigation I am closely monitoring since foreign contributions are illegal and I presume that, if such allegations are proven, then those in the NRA may be criminally liable as aiders and abettors of this criminal act. Pierre in stripes? I can live with that.

  12. Just after finishing my response to Sheila’s blog this morning, I ran across a piece by an anti-gun group claiming that the NRA has admitted to being a pipeline for Russian contributions to Trump’s campaign, an illegal act. Should Mueller or someone at the DOJ call a grand jury together with a view toward indictment of the leadership of the NRA as aiders and abettors of this criminal act, and if not, why not? Do we allow this brazen interference by Putin in our election to go unpunished, and if so, why, when to do so invites further invasion of our electoral turf?

  13. I have zero need nor interest in killing machinery. I realize though that is partially due to always having been in places that are on the safer side of the tracks. I simply have never been threatened with anything.

    My over simplified but useful cultural explanation of the NRA customer base is that they are easy to sell guns to because they are at the authoritarian end of the sale, the opposite of the liberal end. They feel entitled to power and are fear/flight driven rather than intellectually oriented. Anger and hate serve them, thinking not so much.

    Unfortunately they are perhaps 1/4 to 1/3 of us. Many seem to be addicted to what I call Ramboporn.

    It seems to me they are a dying tribe but obviously not fast enough to prevent them from raising an election ruckus or at least contributing heavily to it because they tend to be single issue voters like those wanting authority over women’s bodies or the “Onward Christian Soldiers”.

    They have demonstrated no interest in being “cured” so in our democracy the only choice to tame their lust for power is to unite behind outvoting them. The only way to deal with united deplorables is to unite liberals which is akin to herding cats.

    We gotta do what we gotta do and that is act like single issue voters contrary to our liberal instincts.

  14. Monotonous,

    “As currently defined, authoritarianism refers to how much people prefer conformity to authorities and norms within the groups with which they identity. Authoritarianism does not mean that people want to live in a totalitarian state.”

    Thanks. Unique observation. Explains the source of much of the frustration that we encounter in our attempts to communicate, even common sense issues, with these people.

  15. There was a good article in The Times of Northwest Indiana concerning “Faith Based Schools”.
    A Merrillville private school cannot accept new voucher students in the fall after the State Board of Education on Wednesday denied its request for a waiver from school accountability consequences.

    Faith Academy, an extension of Faith Temple of Christ, earned a D rating from the state school board during the 2015-16 school year. It received an F for 2016-17.

    Under Indiana law, unless the state board grants a waiver, a private school is barred from accepting new students whose tuition is paid by taxpayer-funded vouchers after being rated D or F for two consecutive years. Current voucher students can continue attending.

    Board members also were clearly disturbed after Walton said Faith Academy was looking into eliminating its high school program because that would remove 17 low-performing students from its accountability calculation and help boost its A-F rating in the future.

    It’s widely assumed, but rarely confirmed, that some Indiana charter and private schools routinely take steps to prompt low-performing students to return to their local public school corporations.

    Steve Yager, a board member from Fort Wayne, asked the board’s attorney to investigate whether there are potential legal consequences for a school that directs low-performing students elsewhere to improve its accountability grade.


    I often wonder how rigorous the state is concerning these faith based schools??? By the way IMHO The Times of Northwest Indiana is far better than The Indianapolis Star.

  16. I know this guy: a millennial aged man who lives in Indianapolis, supports the NRA, and owns guns. His facebook posts are mostly about Libertarianism and guns. He is not college educated, not terribly bright, and easily convinced that many things wrong with the world are the result of conspiracies. He criticizes both the Republicans and the Democrats for selling out the country, though I suspect he may have voted for Cheetoface, buying into his anti-establishment rhetoric.

    The key here is indeed fear: FDR was right. I would expand on the base article and say that the fear, at its base, is the fear of death, both of the individual and of the genetic line. There is a point in a man’s life, before he has become successful financially or reproductively, where the pressures put on him to succeed and a failure to perform can drive him over the edge. And of course some people never attain emotional maturity, thus locking them in that state indefinitely.

    I don’t know that this can be remedied. It is the nature of what we are. The insanity lies in easy access to guns.

  17. I live in “Open Carry” Arizona and l absolutely hate the sight of guns on someone. Even the police make me nervous. I don’t ‘GET IT’

    I don’t understand the attraction of carrying a killing machine on you like a purse.

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