We Have To Get It Right: Only Gun Owners With Lots of Guns Tend to be Angry, Unstable, Impulsive


Photo Courtesy: Metro International via Saugus Police

This week an article was circulating around social media with a headline that would draw cheers from many, though by no means all, progressives: “Bombshell: Gun Owners Tend to Be Angry, Unstable, Impulsive.” If one clicks on the article, there is indeed some bombshell research contained within it. However, the headline does not accurately reflect the research study’s findings and misses the chance to inform, as well as advance, a policy argument. It is unfortunate because it doesn’t do progressives any favors to circulate headlines that are erroneous. It ends up putting us on the defensive as we have to defend why statements are being made that don’t reflect reality.

Researchers at Duke and Harvard conducted research with results that can help form social policy, indicate to family and friends when a loved one may be dangerous, and destigmatize a group that has long been maligned as unsafe. The social scientists who completed this research used the National Comorbidity Study to get their findings. The National Comorbidity Study has been conducted since the 1990s as a study of mental health and substance abuse in the community, most recently using a nationally representative sample of 5,563 people with the purpose of determining the percentages of mental illness and substance abuse in the population. The calculation of whether randomly selected research participants have either problem was done through an extensive, standardized, face-to-face interview. There are also questions about the use of professional services, etc. The most recent iterations have included questions related to gun ownership. This is where the “bombshell” research results come from.

The researchers found that 8.9% of those who reported being impulsively angry also reported gun ownership. This is not a small percentage if we, as Americans, are trying to keep guns out of the hands of people who could easily be at sudden risk of shooting any number of people. On the other hand, it also means that over 90% of the people who get impulsively anger did not have a gun. Because of the way the study is structured, the converse—over 90% of gun owners were not impulsively angry—is also true. Oops, there goes the bombshell idea that “gun owners tend to be angry, unstable, impulsive.”

What made this study so useful is that they were able to pinpoint who is at risk for violent behavior. It comes as absolutely no surprise that people who owned six or more guns or who had a history of violent behavior were those who reported the riskiest behaviors of “outbursts of anger,” “getting into fights,” or “smashing or breaking things.”  These are the people who are at risk for killing someone. The vast majority of these people don’t have a diagnosable mental illness, and reported never having been committed, so the study’s authors point out that the focus on keeping guns away from people with serious mental illness who have been committed is misplaced. It ends up stigmatizing a group further that already struggles heavily with stigma.

The study’s findings do give the nation some direction in how to proceed. Background checks that look for inpatient hospital commitments are very unlikely to find the people at real risk for violence. Instead, they should focus on violent histories. This does leave many of us stymied as we think of the dozens of mass murders that have sadly accumulated in our nation’s history with perpetrators often committing their crimes as a first act of violence. The study’s other finding is helpful in this regard. People who have six or more guns were statistically more likely to exhibit the angry, impulsive, and unstable characteristics. In the wake of many of these shooting tragedies, we learn that those who did commit them have an arsenal, or their families do. These are the people we should be targeting our attention toward. Stockpiling weapons and acting out violently are two risk factors for impulsive anger, which is strongly associated with the majority of the roughly 14, 000 homicides that happen each year. However, what all of this data also means is the vast majority of people with a gun didn’t exhibit problematic symptoms.

It would be simple if gun owners in general were angry, impulsive, and unstable. We could be convinced as a nation to put the issue to bed, and restrict gun ownership significantly, perhaps finally interpreting the musket-using, Constitution writers in a way that makes sense for public health and safety. However, it is far more difficult, because too many rational, reasonable gun owners believe they can patrol the country with an eye out for the 9% who are ready to pop off at any moment. As many a wise person has said in asking someone stuck in an infinite loop of despair to consider their repeated behaviors, “How’s that working out for you?”

22 Replies to “We Have To Get It Right: Only Gun Owners With Lots of Guns Tend to be Angry, Unstable, Impulsive”

  1. The 9% give us atrocities again and again.
    Each time America demands tighter gun
    control the NRA promptly halts reform.
    Things won’t get better until this cycle is
    broken. Remember the definition of insanity.
    And Yvonne, I too have been wondering if he
    is on vaca. Hope you are well, mon.

  2. I was about to inquire myself Yvonne. Dj, how are you sir? Concerned fans want to know, hope you’re OK.

  3. “it doesn’t do progressives any favors to circulate headlines that are erroneous. It ends up putting us on the defensive as we have to defend why statements are being made that don’t reflect reality.”

    Ironically, Republicans do it all the time and have a hissy fit when anyone points it out. They would, however attack progressives relentlessly if they did it. Hypocrisy anyone?

  4. Republicans are Hypocrisy Central. Yes DJ, hope you’re ok.

    We don’t have much in the way of research in gun owners and crazies. It’s almost as if the two intertwine.

    Or perhaps that guns give a feeling of power to the impotent. And as Conservatives demonstrate everyday- Power Corrupts.

  5. What about the lazy, neglectful dopes who leave their guns lying around for children to play with? Hundreds, perhaps thousands of kids have been killed, and yes these kids were playing with loaded weapons.

  6. Here is a good start, clean up the criminals with guns, then see how gun violence goes down to nothing! Especially Chicago where more died than the War in Iraq, for the same period. Oh, by the way, you left out that you did not mention legal gun owners.

  7. I live close to a mile from my nearest neighbor. I live a thousand feet in the woods. I keep a pistol in every room of my house. I own six. I keep a shotgun in the bedroom. I do not consider myself crazy. There are no small children who come to my house. This is no liberal conservative issue. There are over 300 million legal guns in this country. Gun rights are a settled issue. Move on to something else

  8. So @yodelberry, let me get this right, since when did HOUSE NEGRO’s get their dwellings so far away from the main house?? damn dude, it sucks to be you!! BTW have you seen DJANGO? those were the days HUH??!!

  9. Moongrim, the reason that we don’t have the best information is because the Nazi Republican Army…NRA has purchased legislation to expressly prohibit ANY studies linking firearms to crime, murders or being a public health hazard. They have sued Universities and private researchers and have won because the NRA has made research illegal. I baited them once by requesting data and received a registered letter from one of their pool of sharks demanding that I cease and desist or I will be sued. I pressed the matter and am still in a little battle with them now. I have them wondering about who is really backing me with the funds.

  10. As has been PROVEN time and time again even ONE gun in the hands of someone unstable and angry is deadly to many that the NRA gleefully denies and yet profits from.

  11. 10,000 kids are injured or killed every year- because of guns.

    Gun ownership is a given. Responsible Gun Ownership is not.
    And it’s the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility, the lack of anything approaching a sane mindset concerning guns- that many of us have a problem with.

    And until guns are handled with something approaching maturity- it will continue to be an issue.

  12. Washington, DC — States with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest overall gun death rates in the nation, according to a Violence Policy Center (VPC) analysis of new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control.
    Meanwhile, states with the lowest overall gun death rates have lower rates of gun ownership and some of the strongest gun violence prevention laws in the nation.


    Try again Mr. Ammosexual/oneshot

  13. …”Gun rights are a settled issue”…NO! they are NOT!!! Until there are NO MORE needless deaths from firearms and NO criminals having EASY AND NRA APPROVED access to fire arms it is NOT a settled issue. Don’t try and make us all part of your paranoia and fear. I have friends who live as you do who DO NOT! own a single firearm. So your fear is YOURS not OURS!!

  14. As a liberal with guns, I want to ask you people — do you really want to be completely unarmed with the teabag nutjobs stampeding around? Take a look at the morons with their Jade Helm paranoia, do you really want to be helpless with these raging idiots in your neighborhood?

  15. For the record, I’ve got those looney tunes in my neighborhood.

    Their numbers are slowly but surely winding down, due to the fact that…

    They get hurt by an ‘accident’ involving either their firearms or some of their powder…

    So if and when the teajobs actually do something more concrete than being revolting and actually revolt, I’m willing to bet my life that they’ll do an outstanding rendition of the Keystone Kops.

  16. Where do you think the 60-80 million unregulated guns on the streets came from? Originally?


    What does one wish to do with their OLD guns….when they desire to buy NEW guns?

    Violent crime continues to drop, as the pop. grows, yet to hear the NRA: “There are armed gangs of drug-dealing thugs on EVERY street in America!”

    Buy MORE GUNS!

  17. I used to have a neighbor a couple of houses down, who was impulsive, obnoxious, and solidly Pro-Republican. And a Gun Fanatic.

    I’ve not heard it too much from him, since he got into an argument with his girlfriend, and she shot him in the face.

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