There’s a study being published in the November edition of the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology titled “The weapons effect on wheels: Motorists drive more aggressively when there is a gun in the vehicle.” The authors claim that the mere presence of a firearm in a vehicle makes people more aggressive and therefore a danger to themselves and others. Interesting premise, but does it pass the sniff test?
From the abstract:
In this experiment, participants (N = 60) were randomly assigned to drive a frustrating driving scenario with a gun or a tennis racket in the vehicle’s passenger seat.
The study makes its conclusions based on the observations of 60 “random” people. Not necessarily the best sample size from a statistical perspective. But wait, it gets worse.
As is often the case in psychology experiments, the subjects were university students — most likely drawn from the never-ending pool of Psych 101 attendees required to participate in such studies for credit.
College students a poor choice for this study, given their under-developed decision making capabilities. Liberal arts students in particular tend to have had significantly less exposure to firearms and the safety culture surrounding them.
This is a group that’s most likely to join anti-gun movements and rely on “blood in the streets” arguments for their opinion that gun owners are unstable and can’t be trusted with firearms. A classic example of projection, according to some gun rights supporters.
In contrast, gun owners tend to be a self-selecting group who believe in taking responsibility for one’s own actions and defense.
So the study is based on 60 first year psychology students, people who are legally unable to purchase a handgun or obtain a carry permit, whose opinions and training are wildly different from those of typical gun owners. This won’t end well.
Half of the participants entered to find “an unloaded black airsoft training pistol on the passenger seat, which looks like a real 9mm semi-automatic handgun.” […] The other half found a tennis racket on the passenger seat.
They report that the students were more likely to tailgate when there was a gun on the passenger seat, as opposed to a tennis racket. In addition, “the mere presence of a gun increased speeding regardless of the frustrating event participants encountered in the driving scenario.”
The exact results weren’t forthcoming, so we have no idea exactly how much more “aggressive” the “armed” students were than the preppy racket-wielding students.
All of which renders the study pretty much worthless. The only new information we have: students at this specific university were more likely to speed and tailgate when there was a firearm in the seat next to them than the were sitting next to a tennis racket.
What we don’t know: how an actual firearm owner would do in these situations, which seems to be a much more important and pertinent question to answer.
We also don’t know if the increased aggressiveness was a fluke, whether sheer randomness (it was a very small sample) put the more aggressive drivers in the cars with handguns. There doesn’t seem to have been any baseline testing to control for that possibility.
And yet news organizations will no doubt use this as irrefutable proof that the mere presence of a firearm in the car turns an otherwise mild mannered citizen into a bloodthirsty post-apocalyptic raider. Go figure.