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New Research Summary: How does precarious masculinity apply to men's gun ownership?

Updated: Oct 3

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We sat down with Nicholas Borgogna, Ph.D. (Texas Tech University) to talk about his new article published in our flagship journal, Psychology of Men and Masculinities. In the article, entitled "The Precarious Masculinity of Firearm Ownership," Borgogna and colleagues explored whether threats to masculinity were associated with increased interest in owning firearms. This important work suggests that firearm ownership may serve as one way for men to to prove or regain their sense of manhood. We encourage readers to check it out!

Borgogna, N. C., McDermott, R. C., & Brasil, K. M. (2022). The precarious masculinity of firearm ownership. Psychology of Men & Masculinities, 23(2), 173–182. https://doi.org/10.1037/men0000386

What were the key questions you were addressing in this article?

Our primary question had to do with whether the concept of precarious masculinity was applicable to men's gun ownership. The precarious masculinity paradigm (see Vandello & Bosson, 2008) suggests that men, as compared to women, are socially compelled to perform their gender - often at the expense of their own wellbeing. A key aspect of the precarious masculinity paradigm is that masculinity is tenuous and must be continuously proven, especially when threatened. Given that gun ownership is more prevalent among men, and that gun violence (both perpetration and victimization) is heavily disproportionate towards men, we thought there might be a connection. That is, owning a gun might be a way of performing one's masculinity, especially when one perceives his masculinity to be threatened.

What were the main conclusions of your article?

We found the hypothesized connection! We gave men and women identical surveys (describing them as personality surveys). We then gave them completely fake personality profiles. The only thing we switched was their masculinity (for men) or femininity (for women) scores (all completely fake). We then showed them pictures of various firearms and asked them things like how much they wanted the different firearms. Sure enough, men who had received threats to their masculinity (i.e., were told they had low masculinity) reported wanting the firearms more than the control participants. Consistent with the theory, no such effect was evident in women whose femininity had been threatened! The effect sizes were meaningful, but also modest.

What are some key implications of your findings for research or practice?

Our findings suggest that, to some extent, men's gun ownership is the product of insecure masculinity. As such, if you were to take the route that gun violence can be reduced by reducing gun ownership, you would want to design outreach interventions that weaken the firearm-masculinity connection. On a more individual level, if you're working with men clients who are at risk for gun violence, you would want to look for ways of improving gender role security. You could perhaps take a positive/constructive masculinity approach or perhaps also look for ways of defusing the masculinity-firearm connection (i.e., you don't have to own/use a gun to be a man).

Where do you see this line of research heading in the future (i.e., what's next)?

One of the conceptual jumps that is implied throughout this paper is that insecure masculinity might also, at least partly, be related to gun violence. While more than likely this is the case, we did not actually measure any gun violence indicators. A good next step would be to figure out a way of testing this precarious masculinity - gun violence connection.

Nicholas Borgogna, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor - Psychological Sciences

Texas Tech University

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