Being a communications major with an emphasis in marketing and public relations, it was quite amusing to see the headline from Breitbart:
They haven’t read up on the classic works of the father of propaganda have they? He was the father of psychology’s (Signund Freud) nephew. His name was Edward Bernays.
The article in question from Psychology Today goes on to lay out the “scientific” argument FOR gun control. That’s more or less that there would be no accidental shootings, mass shootings, or any other shooting if NO ONE had access to firearms.
The nature of this dialogue frustrates scientists who, despite bans on federal funding for gun violence research, have amassed data that permit some fairly clear conclusions about gun ownership and gun violence. One of the most striking conclusions of this research is that the person most likely to be shot by a gun at home is a member of the owner’s household, not an armed intruder.
We might expect this finding to dramatically change the discourse around gun ownership from one about the right to protect oneself from intruders to one about the complex issues, such as domestic violence and suicide, that lead to the bulk of gun deaths in this country. These scientific facts, however, have not only failed to change the conversation but have also been largely unsuccessful at convincing people that on the whole gun ownership makes you less safe. In light of these failures, perhaps we should change the question from “how do we get guns away from people?” to “why do they want to own guns in the first place?” If people have been given all the information they need to make a rational decision about gun ownership, why do they persist in arguing that guns will keep them safe? Put another way, if it’s not a simple lack of information that’s causing people to make the irrational decision to purchase guns to protect themselves, then what else is going on here? What are the psychological principles that might lead people astray and threaten their safety?
None of which refutes the reality backed up by decades of empirical data that an armed society is a polite society, criminals don’t give a rats backside about the legality of weapons, and that crime drops in locations where permits to carry weapons are available. Those findings aren’t financed by National Institutes of Health, but they are facts that cannot be denied.
The article itself goes on to discuss risk perception, aversion to change, playing with the fear centers of the brain, and a ludicrous comparison to the campaign to get people to quit smoking which took decades to catch on let alone have an impact. All the poor little couch people can use as a line of persuasion with their preferred line of attack on changing minds re gun control is “science” which can be and is tainted by insider research – and yes, that does include the impact of cigarette smoking research that was done in the early 20th century. (Winston, R.J Reynolds, et al, said it was just fine and healthy.)
If we can, however, begin to understand some of the basic psychological principles that drive people to discount scientific evidence, we can craft more effective responses and apply them to a range of cases of science denial, from the anti-vaccine movement to climate change denial. But without that deep psychological understanding, without asking the “why” rather than the “how” question, we will not be able to avert potentially dangerous decisions that put all of us at risk.
Thus, we are reminded that Psychology Today is more pop science oriented than a hard core advertising or public relations journal.
What is severely lacking in this whole argument is the reality that humans will not change or be persuaded to change their minds unless there is some benefit in it for them, especially when it is a life-altering decision. Getting women to shave their underarms by saying the hair there was “unhygenic” was rather simple. (An actual marketing campaign about 100 years ago.) It’s a simple action, and the perceived benefits in terms of fashion and looking clean were immense. (Sexual pheromones have nothing to cling to, but there are always trade-offs.) Getting people to believe that climate change is real and make expensive lifestyle changes when the weather doesn’t seem to be any different is a completely different kettle of fish. Plus, there are all sorts of scientists out there disagreeing and proving the “true believers” wrong. Vaccines…it would help their argument if the physicians researching the dangers wouldn’t keep turning up dead.
Which is the challenge of getting humans to change their minds on firearms. There’s all this criminal data that does say the more guns there are in the hands of law abiding citizens, the less crime there is. Next to irresponsible parenting, poor choices in storage, and people who are bound and determined to take their own lives, most humans, let alone Americans, are not going to give up guns just because there’s a chance something bad might happen.