James Shepperd, University of Florida – Understanding the Gun Divide in America

Why is the gun divide so sharp in our country?

James Shepperd, professor of psychology at the University of Florida, looks at one of the dividing lines and how both sides are actually concerned with the same thing.

​​My research expertise is in the area of Self and Self-processes. I am particularly interested in people’s expectations about the future and how expectations persevere and change in the face of challenging information. I also explore how people respond when they receive challenging information. My research specifically focuses on three areas: 1) optimism, risk perceptions and behavior, 2) fluctuations in future outlooks, and 3) maintaining desired self-views.

Understanding the Gun Divide in America


Each week brings news of another horrific act of gun violence in America. Yet, Americans seem unable to unite in action to increase safety.

Ironically, the inability to unite may arise from pursuit of a shared goal—the goal of safety. All people want to feel safe, yet differ in what makes them feel safe.

Opponents to gun restrictions, view guns as a source of safety. They feel safe when armed and resist efforts to restrict their access to guns.

In contrast, supporters of gun restrictions view guns as a threat to safety. They feel unsafe when others are armed and view restrictions as necessary to increase safety.

At the University of Florida, we tested the role of safety perceptions in a survey of conceal campus carry.

Gun owners separated themselves into two groups: those who own guns for protection reasons, and those who own guns exclusively for non-protection reasons such as sport or collecting.

Protection owners supported campus carry and thought it would decrease gun crimes on campus. They also reported that if they carried a concealed gun, people would feel safer.

Non-protection owners felt the opposite in all regards. In fact, they responded the same as people who do not own guns. And, if we look at the entire sample, two-thirds opposed campus carry.

Opponents and supporters of gun restrictions propose “cun”-flicting solutions to gun violence. Both feel that the other‘s solutions imperil safety. But both groups fail to recognize that exclusive satisfaction of their own safety threatens the safety of the other group. Ending gun violence in America starts with respecting the safety needs of all people.


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