Self-defense Carriers Work to Lower Their Risks


A new report done by researchers from Oregon State University shows that Americans who keep and carry handguns for self-defense actively work to lower the risks involved with having a gun nearby, such as accidentally shooting oneself, inaccurately identifying a threat or being clumsy. The study was published in December in the Journal of the Association for Consumer Research.

The professors, Michelle Barnhart, associate professor of marketing, and Aimee Huff, assistant professor in the College of Business, identified ways that handguns owners work to diminish those risks, including through training, mental rehearsing and routine maintenance.

“It’s sort of like preparing for an earthquake or a tsunami,” said Huff, one of the study’s lead authors. “You can do your best to be prepared, but in the moment, if it happens, yes, you’re going to rely on your training but there’s also going to be a lot of thinking in the moment.” Also, the stimuli in the event will probably be different than what the gun owner had trained for, said Barnhart.

“In 2015, the researchers began studying the risks associated with handgun ownership. They went to gun trade shows and observed attendees and vendors. They attended the National Rifle Association’s annual convention and two researchers even signed up to become NRA members, receiving all the literature that comes with membership. The professors also participated in target shooting and interviewed gun range members, as well as a host of handgun owners, in Texas, Oregon and other states. One researcher became licensed to carry in Oregon. The professors also monitored conversations in four online discussion forums dedicated to defensive handgun use.”

The researchers were looking for all the ways in which gun owners are aware of the risks and are careful because of them. While there is a group of gun owners who only take the minimum training that the law allows, another group lowers their risks by taking more safety training. The researchers discovered one consistent trait among people who carry handguns for self-defense. That was mental preparedness by locating and taking note of the entrances and exits of a building and mentally working through what they would do if an active shooter appeared. Even in online forums, the gun owners would talk over what they would do “if.”

“Mental scenarios are pretty integrated throughout people’s socialization into armed self-defense,” Barnhart said. The professors plan to continue studying gun culture, with their next project possibly focusing on the experience of non-gun owners in a country where there are so many guns, Huff said.

So…take away? Train for a variety of scenarios and then train some more. Know your firearm inside and out. Think things through. Be aware. Be safe.