Political Behavior

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 241–262 | Cite as

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

  • Robin M. Wolpert
  • James G. Gimpel
Article

Abstract

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.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

REFERENCES

  1. Bankston, William B., Carol Y. Thompson, Quentin A. L. Jenkins, and Craig J. Forsyth (1990). The influence of fear of crime, gender, and southern culture on carrying firearms for protection. The Sociological Quarterly 31: 287-305.Google Scholar
  2. Bea, Keith (1995). Gun control. Congressional Research Service Issue Brief. Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service.Google Scholar
  3. Bordua, David J., and Alan J. Lizotte (1979). A subcultural model of legal firearms ownership in Illinois. Law and Public Policy Quarterly 2: 147-175.Google Scholar
  4. Branscombe, Nyla R., and Susan Owen (1991). Influence of gun ownership on social inferences about women and men. Journal of Applied Social Psychology 21: 1567-1589.Google Scholar
  5. Brown, Richard M. (1976). The American vigilante tradition. in Hugh D. Graham and Ted R. Gurr (eds.), Violence in America: Historical and Comparatie Perspectives (pp. 153-186). Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  6. Citrin, Jack, Beth Reingold, and Donald P. Green (1990a). American identity and the politics of ethnic change. Journal of Politics 52(4): 1124-1153.Google Scholar
  7. Citrin, Jack, Donald P. Green, Beth Reingold, and E. P. Walters (1990b). The official English movement and the symbolic politics of language in the United States. Western Political Quarterly 43: 85-108.Google Scholar
  8. Conover, Pamela Johnston, Stanley Feldman, and Kathleen Knight (1987). The personal and political underpinnings of economic forecasts. American Journal of Political Science 31: 559-583.Google Scholar
  9. Danigelis, Nicholas L., and Stephen J. Cutler (1991). Cohort trends in attitudes about law and order: Who's leading the conservative wave? Public Opinion Quarterly 55: 24-49.Google Scholar
  10. Dixon, J., and A. Lizotte (1987). Gunownership and the 'southern subculture of violence.' American Journal of Sociology 93: 383-405.Google Scholar
  11. Doherty, Kathryn, and James G. Gimpel (1997). Partisanship, information and the public reaction to issues of candidate character. Political Behavior 17(3) 418-429.Google Scholar
  12. Ellison, Christopher G. (1991). Southern culture and firearms ownership. Social Science Quarterly 72(2): 267-283.Google Scholar
  13. Feagin, Joe R. (1970). Home defense and the police. American Behavioral Scientist 13: 794-814.Google Scholar
  14. Feldman, Stanley (1982). Economic self-interest and political behavior. American Journal of Political Science 26(3): 446-466.Google Scholar
  15. Gimpel, James G. (1998). Packing heat at the polls: gun ownership, interest group endorsements and voting behavior in gubernatorial elections. Social Science Quarterly, forthcoming.Google Scholar
  16. Gimpel, James G., and Robin M. Wolpert (1998). The structure of public support for gun control: The 1988 battle over Question 3 in Maryland. In John M. Bruce and Clyde Wilcox (eds.), The Changing Politics of Gun Control (pp. 111-124). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.Google Scholar
  17. Green, Donald P., and A. E. Gerken (1989). Self-interest and public opinion toward smoking restrictions and cigarette taxes. Public Opinion Quarterly 53: 1-16.Google Scholar
  18. Hill, G. F., Howell, F. M., and E. Driver (1985). Gender, fear and protective handgun ownership. Criminology 23: 541-552.Google Scholar
  19. Hofstadter, R., and M. Wallace, eds. (1971). American Violence: A Documentary History. New York: Knopf.Google Scholar
  20. Huddy, Lenore, and David O. Sears (1989). Opposition to bilingual education: symbolic racism or realistic group conflict? Unpublished manuscript, University of California Los Angeles.Google Scholar
  21. Kinder, Donald R. (1986). The continuing American dilemma: White resistance to racial change 40 years after Myrdal. Journal of Social Issues 42(2): 151-171.Google Scholar
  22. Kinder, Donald R., and Lynn M. Sanders (1987). Pluralistic sources of public opinion on race. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago, IL.Google Scholar
  23. Kinder, Donald R., and D. Roderick Kiewiet (1979). Economic discontent and political behavior: The role of personal grievances and collective economic judgments in congressional voting. American Journal of Political Science 23(3): 495-527.Google Scholar
  24. Kinder, Donald R., and D. Roderick Kiewiet (1981). Sociotropic politics: The American case. British Journal of Political Science 11: 129-162.Google Scholar
  25. Kleck, Gary (1996). Crime, culture conflict and the sources of support for gun control. American Behavioral Scientist 39(4) 387-404.Google Scholar
  26. Kluegel, James R., and Eliot R. Smith (1983). Affirmative action attitudes: Effects of self-interest, racial affect and stratifcation beliefs on whites' views. Social Forces 61(3): 797-824.Google Scholar
  27. Langbein, Laura I., and Mark A. Lotwis (1990). The political efficacy of lobbying and money: Gun control in the U.S. House, 1986. Legislative Studies Quarterly 15: 413-440.Google Scholar
  28. Lau, Richard R., T. A. Brown, and D. O. Sears. (1978). Self-interest and civilians' attitudes toward the Vietnam War. Public Opinion Quarterly 42: 464-483.Google Scholar
  29. Lau, Richard R., and David O. Sears (1981). Cognitive links between economic grievances and political responses. Political Behavior 3: 279-302.Google Scholar
  30. Lazarsfeld, Paul F. (1957). Public opinion and the classical tradition. Public Opinion Quarterly 21(1): 39-53.Google Scholar
  31. Lizotte, Alan J., and David J. Bordua (1980). Firearms ownership for sport and protection: Two divergent models. American Sociological Review 45: 229-244.Google Scholar
  32. Lizotte, Alan J., David J. Bordua, and Carolyn S. White (1981). Firearms for sport and protection: Two not so divergent models. American Sociological Review 46: 499-503.Google Scholar
  33. Marciniak, Liz Marie, and Colin Loftin (1991). Measuring protective handgun ownership. Criminology 29(3): 531-540.Google Scholar
  34. Marshall, Chris E., and Vincent J. Webb (1992). The impact of gender and race upon armed victim resistance: Some findings from the national crime survey. Criminal Justice Policy Review 6: 241-260.Google Scholar
  35. Mathesian, Charles (1995). Firepower. Governing 8: 16-20.Google Scholar
  36. McDowall, David, and Colin Loftin (1983). Collective security and the demand for legal handguns. American Journal of Sociology 88: 1146-1161.Google Scholar
  37. Mead, Lawrence (1992). The New Politics of Poverty. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  38. National Rifle Association (1984). Ten Myths About Gun Control. Washington, DC: National Rifle Association.Google Scholar
  39. National Rifle Association (1995). Compendium of State Laws Governing Firearms. Washington, DC: National Rifle Association.Google Scholar
  40. Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth (1993). The Spiral of Silence: Public Opinion—Our Social Skin Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  41. Schuman, Howard, and Lawrence Bobo (1988). Survey-based experiments on white racial attitudes toward residential integration. American Journal of Sociology 94(2): 273-299.Google Scholar
  42. Schuman, Howard, and Stanley Presser (1981). The attitude-action connection and the issue of gun control. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science 455: 40-47.Google Scholar
  43. Sears, David O., and Jack Citrin (1985). Tax Revolt: Something for Nothing in California. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  44. Sears, David O., and Carolyn L. Funk (1990). Self-interest in Americans' political opinions. In J. J. Mansbridge (ed.), Beyond Self-Interest. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, pp. 147-170.Google Scholar
  45. Sears, David O., and Carolyn L. Funk (1991). The role of self-interest in social and political attitudes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology 24: 1-91.Google Scholar
  46. Sears, David O., and L. Huddy (1990). On the origins of political disunity among women. In L. A. Tilly and P. Gurin (eds.), Women, Politics and Change. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, pp. 249-277.Google Scholar
  47. Sears, David O., and Richard R. Lau (1983). Inducing apparently self-interested political preferences. American Journal of Political Science 27: 223-252.Google Scholar
  48. Sears, David O., C. P. Hensler, and L. K. Speer (1979). Whites' opposition to “busing”: self interest or symbolic politics. American Political Science Review 73: 369-384.Google Scholar
  49. Sears, David O., Richard R. Lau, Tom R. Tyler, and Harris M. Allen, Jr. (1980). Self-interest vs. symbolic politics in policy attitudes and presidential voting. American Political Science Review 74: 670-684.Google Scholar
  50. Sears, David O., Tom R. Tyler, Jack Citrin, and Donald R. Kinder (1978). Political system support and public response to the energy crisis. American Journal of Political Science 22: 56-82.Google Scholar
  51. Sheley, Joseph F., Charles J. Brody, and James D. Wright (1994). Women and handguns: Evidence from national surveys, 1973–1991. Social Science Research 32: 219-235.Google Scholar
  52. Smith, D. A., and C. D. Uchida (1988). The organization of self-help: A study of defensive weapons ownership. American Sociological Review 53: 94-102.Google Scholar
  53. Smith, T. W. (1980). The 75 percent solution: An analysis of the structure of attitudes on gun control, 1959–1977. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology 71: 300-316.Google Scholar
  54. Sniderman, Paul M., and Richard Brody (1977). Coping: The ethic of self-reliance. American Journal of Political Science 21: 501-523.Google Scholar
  55. Spitzer, Robert J. (1988). Gun control: Constitutional mandate or myth? In Raymond Tatalovich and Byron Daynes (eds.), Social Regulatory Policy. Boulder, CO: Westview, pp. 213-227.Google Scholar
  56. Spitzer, Robert J. (1995). The Politics of Gun Control. Chatham, NJ: Chatham House.Google Scholar
  57. Stein, Robert M., Stephanie Shirley Post, and Allison Rinden (1997). Attitude accessibility and Anglo-American opinions on immigration policy. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, Chicago, IL, April 10–12.Google Scholar
  58. Stone, Peter H. (1993). Is the NRA bleeding internally? National Journal 25: 626-628.Google Scholar
  59. United States Department of Justice (1980–1995, annual). The Sourcebook of Criminal Justice Statistics. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office.Google Scholar
  60. Williams, J. Sherwood, and John H. McGrath (1976). A social profile of urban gunowners. In J. A. Inciardi and A. E. Pottieger (eds.), Violent Crime: Historical and Contemporary Issues. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  61. Wright, James D. (1981). Public opinion and gun control: A comparison of results from two recent national surveys. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences 455: 24-39.Google Scholar
  62. Young, Robert L. (1985). Perceptions of crime, racial attitudes and firearms ownership. Social Forces 64(2): 473-485.Google Scholar
  63. Young, Robert L. (1986). Gender, region of socialization, and ownership of protective firearms. Rural Sociology 51: 169-182.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • Robin M. Wolpert
    • 1
  • James G. Gimpel
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Government and International StudiesUniversity of South CarolinaUSA
  2. 2.Department of GovernmentUniversity of MarylandsUSA

Personalised recommendations