Political Behavior

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 241-262

First online:

Self-Interest, Symbolic Politics, and Public Attitudes Toward Gun Control

  • Robin M. WolpertAffiliated withDepartment of Government and International Studies, University of South Carolina
  • , James G. GimpelAffiliated withDepartment of Government, University of Marylands

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Numerous studies have found that immediate and tangible self-interest has a minimal influence on public attitudes toward many policy issues. We examine public attitudes toward gun control in order to determine whether gun owners exhibit distinctive policy preferences. Our results indicate that self-interest strongly influences public preferences on gun control and that banning handguns evokes stronger self-interest effects than banning assault weapons or imposing a waiting period on purchases of firearms. We conclude by discussing why gun control evokes self-interested calculations among gun owners, the implications of our findings for self-interest theory, and suggestions for further lines of research.