The cultural theory of risk posits that individuals' worldviews decisively shape their assessments of what dangers are worthy of regulatory amelioration. When evaluating competing claims and evidence, individuals naturally consider what crediting or discounting an asserted danger would convey about their society's values. Previous studies have shown that differences over values explain public disagreements over myriad societal risks from environmental catastrophe to foreign invasion to economic collapse. These results have been used to develop procedures for resolving various disputes in which conflicting cultural values and conflicting factual beliefs reinforce one another.
The current study will use the cultural theory of risk to examine public attitudes toward guns. The gun control debate features competing claims of risk: that insufficient regulation of guns will make citizens vulnerable to deliberate or accidental shootings, on the one hand; and that excessive regulation will leave citizens unable to defend themselves from attackers, on the other. The hypothesis of this study is that cultural orientations determine which of these risk claims individuals are likely to take more seriously. To test this hypothesis, the investigators will design and conduct a nationwide survey on cultural orientations and gun-risk perceptions. They will also consider the implications of the cultural theory of risk perception for resolution of the gun control debate.