Question of the Day: Does Gun Training Cause People to Be Less Violent?

In the debate over the right to keep and bear arms and the secondary question of the utility of being armed, some social scientists have attempted to show that the presence of guns makes people more aggressive. This claimed “weapons effect” has been discredited. The best summation of the failure to show such an effect, in my opinion, was this article published in The Volokh Conspiracy in 2011.  A short excerpt follows . . .

Thus, EMA v. Brown rejects the “violent video game effect” studies for failing to demonstrate a compelling state interest. Indeed, EMA suggests that the studies do not even rise to the level of a trivial state interest. Quite significantly, for Second Amendment purposes, the very similar “weapons effect” hypothesis likewise is presented as something which is equally non-compelling, and no more than trivial. 

The studies on video games have led, at worst, to some minors being unconstitutionally deprived of video games. In contrast, the “weapons effect” has become an article of faith among many anti-gun advocates, who are convinced that guns turn peaceable people into dangerous aggressors. Many anti-gun laws have been enacted in part because of this wrongful idea, and some of those laws have deprived the victims of violent crimes from having the means of effective self-defense. Indeed, continuing belief in the non-existent weapons effect is a major reason why nine states still deny law-abiding trained adults the constitutional right to carry licensed firearms for lawful protection in public places.

While it is clear that a “weapons effect” that makes people more aggressive has not been found, no one seems to be looking at the fairly obvious alternative hypothesis, that making a decision to legally carry a deadly weapon is highly correlated with being less aggressive.

While I am a mild-mannered person, I know that being armed has made me acutely aware of the potential for trouble, and has lead me to avoid unnecessary potential conflicts. All concealed carry instructors who I know, or have even read, advise students that the best way to win a fight is to avoid the conflict in the first place. Far from precipitating conflict, those who legally carry weapons go to considerable lengths to avoid conflict.

The evidence shows that people who obtain concealed carry permits are far more law-abiding than the general population.   They are much less likely to be arrested, and far less likely to commit felonies, including murders. We are not talking about small differences, either; people with concealed carry permits are many times more law-abiding than the rest of the general population.

In my experience over the 15 years that I taught concealed carry courses, the students were exceptionally polite, self controlled, helpful, and responsible individuals, far above the norm of the community. This could either be the result of self selection, where only self controlled, polite individuals tend to apply for concealed carry permits; it could be that the presence of firearms tends to bring out the best behavior in most people; or it could be a combination of the two. I suspect some of both is the correct answer.

I have noticed the same for people who openly carry firearms, but the sample size is smaller, and no one collects this statistical information. It’s worth noting that in all the open carry demonstrations that have been held around the country, I have not read of a single negligent discharge of an openly carried firearm.

It has been an article of faith in the gun culture that training in firearms teaches responsibility. Centuries of tradition hold that when children are trained in the safe use of arms, they become more responsible, not less. Thomas Jefferson recommended that a young relative, Peter Carr, take up the gun for exercise, rather than ball games:

A strong body makes the mind strong. As to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives a moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise, and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun therefore be the constant companion of your walks.”

Peter Carr was about 15 at the time. Responsibility is learned, much like other habits.  I am not surprised when people who are taught responsibility act responsibly.

©2014 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Gun Watch

comments

  1. avatar PeterK says:

    That Jefferson quote is awesome.

  2. avatar pod says:

    Owning and carrying a firearm has made me more acutely aware of my surroundings and situations. I’ll go around a bad neighborhood if it means I lower my chances of having to use my gun in a defensive capacity. DGUs where the trigger is pressed are no fun. The cops will show up. You will take a ride.

    I don’t carry a gun to look for trouble, I carry a gun on the slight chance trouble finds me, despite my best efforts otherwise.

    1. avatar Roymond says:

      Ditto that. I used to go through bad neighborhoods just because on a bicycle travel time was important (I also learned that when six guys fan out across the street to stop you when on a bike, accelerating to high speed and aiming at the biggest guy will scatter the “wolves”). When I’m carrying, no way am I going to go anywhere I don’t have to when there’s a higher risk involved.

      Though if I absolutely have to go such a place, I certainly don’t leave my sidearm behind!

  3. avatar Tyler says:

    Many people, myself included, are far less violent with the addition of firearms to their lives. Speaking for myself, I would allow myself to be engaged or allow a verbal dispute to escalate prior to carrying a firearm daily, but possessing the capabilities of lethal force puts into reality potential consequences of even verbal altercations. Hence why I find myself, and many others I know, a consistent practitioner of a mindset of avoidance.

    1. avatar Rick Testa says:

      Yup, this^

      I found that my study (in my younger days) of martial arts had a similar, but less pronounced, effect.

  4. avatar Chadwick P says:

    No doubt about it I am more level headed since I have been armed. With freedom comes great responsibility and even though I surely don’t feel free I still have some freedom. As others have said I know I tend to avoid confrontation and bad areas because I don’t want to use my gun. At least I don’t want to use my gun on somebody else. I love shooting and building firearms and it’s that love that makes me tip toe around things even like drinking in public areas. I don’t want a run in with johnny law for anything and have my right to bear arms put in jeopardy. Guns have made me a better person without a doubt.

  5. avatar TravisP says:

    I guess it depends on the Focus of the Training. We receive a lot of firearms training in the infantry, and we have no issues pulling the trigger

  6. avatar Excedrine says:

    I don’t think the act of carrying a gun makes someone less violent in-and-of-itself.

    One would already have to have that moral center, that conscience, first in order for that to happen. Even then, only after they’ve been made well aware of the possible ramifications of misusing the gun.

    Always the person before the tool in all things and under all circumstances, without exception.

    This is what those sexist, racist, classist, anti-rights, and anti-Humanist gun controllers need to understand, acknowledge, and admit aloud. Publicly.

  7. avatar mike oregon says:

    I first noticed that when everyone is armed everyone is courteous when I was hunting, since getting competent training and my CHL being aware of my surroundings, avoidance and de- escalation are normal behavior for me, and the fellow ccw people I know.

  8. avatar Rog Uinta says:

    Robert A. Heinlein, bless his libertarian soul, wrote in The Number of the Beast:

    ‘Me, I stay out of rows; I’m a coward by trade and wear fake zero-prescription glasses as a buffer – when some oaf snarls, “Take off your glasses!” that gives me time to retreat.’

    I read that passage at the tender age of 12 and immediately recognized the value in it. Some 30 years later, at 6’2″ and 230 lbs., I still live by it. I have avoided more fights than I can remember. Except in matters of dire need, violence is just not worth it.

  9. avatar BradN says:

    The immense responsibility of carrying a firearm every day has ingrained a sense of duty to conduct myself with the utmost agreeable and peaceful manner possible when out in the world. It has absolutely made me into a better human being and has forced me to resolve conflicts peacefully as I understand the power that I wield on a daily basis.

  10. avatar H says:

    There was a time when about 1/2 of my elementary students took Martial Arts. When their other class mates would break into Power Rangers, TMNTs or other Ninja play those students who actually studied could be seen standing quietly. Hmmm….

  11. avatar ThomasR says:

    It comes down to what is the cultural norm.

    In certain cultures, being “disrespected” means that an immediate and lethal response is required.

    Not just the gangster culture here in this country but many tribal cultures around the world respond in the same way.

    What many people in this country, especially from liberals, really don’t understand is that our American culture is almost unique.

    Despite our civil war; we have had a history of a culture that respects the rule of law and a mostly peaceful tradition of transition of power between groups after an election.

    Most countries are ruled with an iron fist of tyranny and terror. With the most violent minority faction ruling over the many by force of arms. In those countries, having a gun does not make you more peaceful.

    Of course, now that progressives are more in positions of power, the respect for the rule of law has been thrown out the window and the willingness to use the force of arms to enforce un- constitutional laws is becoming the norm.

    In my opinion, we as law abiding gun owners are generally more in tune with our traditional American norms of behavior when it comes to the carrying of a weapon for self-defense.

    Progressives; coming from the lawlessness and lack of respondibility that their belief system reinforces; are natural enemies of the American tradition of personal self-defense and the bearing of arms that is the symbol of a mature and free individual.

    1. avatar Garrison Hall says:

      “Progressives; coming from the lawlessness and lack of respondibility that their belief system reinforces; are natural enemies of the American tradition . . .”

      +100 Well said, Thomas.

  12. avatar JasonMfromSoDakota says:

    “It is better to be violent, if there is violence in our hearts, than to put on the cloak of nonviolence to cover impotence. For the violent man can become nonviolent, where the impotent man can not change.” Ghandi

    I along with most concealed carriers carry in order to stop violence upon innocent people with greater violence directed at the perpetrator. I don’t talk smack to people and do not seek out confrontation as some folks can’t control their emotions and instinctively resort to violence over words or driving actions. Plus I know I’m not the only person with a gun so the boy scout rule of preparedness applies. I know that I win all confrontations by not being in them, but if I can’t avoid one I have at least two guns on me to skew the results in my favor. I prefer being around Christian veterans and others who are trained in violence but no longer practice it, and they are proud of dispatching evil men not ashamed. In a gun fight theses men will protect any person around them while not being very nonviolent towards the aggressor and won’t run away as some CCW on here would.

    Carrying a gun means an individual has made a choice to be prepared in case they are thrust into a violent situation, and have chosen to combat random acts of violence with trained and skilled violence. Carrying a gun comes with the responsibility that the tool in your possession is made to lethally stop imminent threats in defensive situations by protecting innocent life with deadly force. Part of the that responsibility also comes with being aware of your surroundings to ensure the gun stays in your possession at all times as it is the user that determines the guns actions.
    Concealed carriers tend to be more law abiding as we have to know the laws that pertain to usage of a defensive tool, since said usage leaves the citizen open to charges from the state and civil damages. We also know the value of the freedom and the money that could be taken from us for being negligent or complacent with guns.

    1. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      “Carrying a gun means an individual has made a choice to be prepared in case they are thrust into a violent situation, and have chosen to combat random acts of violence with trained and skilled violence.”

      Perhaps an even better choice of words: “[the armed individual] has chosen to combat random acts of violence with righteous violence.”

  13. avatar Rokurota says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if some self-selection were at play here. Felons, domestic abusers, and the like are prohibited from owning guns, so they’re out of the pool. I also think “gun culture” has a lot to do with evangelizing safety and shutting down idiocy at the range and elsewhere. Anti-gun people who come to the range with me are always surprised that everyone there is not an alpha male lunatic Rambo wannabe.

  14. avatar Curtis in IL says:

    “The evidence shows that people who obtain concealed carry permits are far more law-abiding than the general population.”

    Thank you, Captain Obvious. Perhaps the fact that they don’t issue such permits to felons, wife beaters and drunk drivers has something to do with it?

  15. avatar GenghisQuan says:

    Absolutely.

    Carrying has objectively made me a better person. I’m more aware of my surroundings, and I constantly have a weight (albeit a miniscule one because LCP) on my leg reminding me that while I have the option, it’s very much a last resort that only comes out when a line has been crossed, and that I should do everything I reasonably can to defuse situations because even a good shoot is a legal nightmare.

  16. avatar Skyler says:

    Violence of action is needed if you don’t have a weapon. If you are threatened by someone then without a weapon you might be more inclined to escalate the level of response so that you can intimidate your antagonist in the hope that he will back down. With a weapon available you can be more confident that you can respond if the antagonist persists. That is, knowing that you can shoot a gun makes it safer to ignore or not react overtly to a threat.

  17. avatar Ralph says:

    Well, I would imagine that bad guys become less violent in the presence of a well-trained and armed defender.

  18. avatar OakRiver says:

    I believe that people who are familiar with firearms and train with them are significantly more likely to treat them with respect, as they are aware of the responsibility that comes with possessing, owning, and/or carrying a firearm. This is why when there is a relaxation of gun laws we don’t see bloodshed in the streets. It is a respect, and responsibility, born from understanding.

    Contrast that with the position taken by those lacking this understanding of firearms. People who don’t think twice about threatening the well being of gun owners, and believe that people have such weak minds that they are influenced by inanimate objects.

    One is a position that comes from knowledge. The other is a position that comes from ignorance.

  19. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    “Far from precipitating conflict, those who legally carry weapons go to considerable lengths to avoid conflict.”

    There is a compelling reason behind this. When you study how to use a firearm defensively, you learn that a reasonably fit adult is physically capable of fighting for at least 10 to 20 seconds after receiving a perfect shot to the heart from a handgun. You also realize that many criminals and lawful people carry concealed firearms and have the ability to return fire if attacked. Thus, it isn’t wise to instigate an attack on someone: there is a good chance that they can seriously injure or kill you in spite of the fact that you are armed.

  20. avatar Paul says:

    How many anti’s would go through the scary vetting process that any CCW permit holder goes through? How many would pass it? At the CCW class we had every race, age, level of wealth and education, and the instructor and many of the students were women. In my gun-friendly county in my gun-friendly, shall issue state, that process begins with a trip for fingerprinting at the JAIL, and then like everywhere else moves on to the STATE POLICE and FBI. If you lie on the forms, you risk a longer return trip to the JAIL. If that process does not in itself select for law-abiding and of even temperament, I don’t know what does. Then at the range everyone from Bubba to Grandma, white and black and all the rest, seems to have a gentlemanly respect for each other, is slow to criticize and quick to offer help, except when a safely violation is observed. Even then there is firm but respectful correction and no dissing. The fact that everyone is “equalized” and also legal surely trumps racial and class nonsense every time.

  21. avatar alexander says:

    So, ” Dr.” Craig A. Anderson, Distinguished Professor & Director, Center for the Study of Violence, at Iowa State University, has made a study that seems to infer that when a person is shown boring pictures and is put into a semi-sleeping state, his reactions will be slower. If, however, he is shown pictures that wake him up, his reactions become faster!… Obviously, Iowa State “University” has fallen low… Would be interesting to know what other school shares that dubious honor for granting this moron a doctorate? And I have no doubt that this “research” was performed on taxpayer funding; obviously, since, according to Jonathan Grubber, only the American taxpayers are stupid enough to pay for this.

  22. avatar IAB2 says:

    Then this…and talk to A81 about whats happening on the streets with early outs of prison, due to lawsuit against the state, pushing prisoners on county jails, who have to turn some loose for over crowding,
    and the new proposition reducing some crimes to give more early outs.

    http://www.calgunlaws.com/lapd-caught-manipulating-crime-statistics/

    read about Stanford Law looking at early numbers and being cautious about trends but the feeling was bad.

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