There are no shortage of idiotic academic studies out there, but a “researcher” at Arizona State University may be in the running for the dumbest research of the year after releasing two studies that purport to show gun owners don’t sleep any better than people who don’t own guns, and that gun owners aren’t any happier than non-gun owners.
Terrence Hill is an associate professor of sociology at Arizona State, and he’s the lead author of the two studies in question. I wonder how many gun owners Hill has actually spoken to in person, given the fact that his studies are premised on statements like this.
“Gun owners will often tell you that guns help them to feel safe, secure and protected. They will also tell you that guns empower them and make them feel independent and strong. They also talk about how just holding and handling guns is pleasurable,” Hill said. “If guns do make people feel safe, secure and protected, if they are empowering, if they are contributing to feelings of pleasure, then they should promote happiness, but we don’t find any evidence of that. That calls into question whether or not these are real feelings that gun owners have, or are they just part of the culture of owning a gun?”
It could be that gun owners’ happiness is mitigated by having to deal with ridiculous studies like this. I don’t know about you, but I have never, and I do mean never, had a fellow gun owner tell me how “pleasurable” they find holding and handling guns.
Hill made some other bizarre comments to KOLD-TV that make me wonder just how much real world experience he has with folks who own firearms.
Hill said the idea that guns can help people sleep better at night is often presented by interest groups, popular culture and even commercial products, such as bedside gun holsters or special pillows with gun compartments that allow people to sleep with or near their weapon. As a medical sociologist, Hill said it’s his job to question those types of claims through research.
“Whenever people start to promote a certain type of lifestyle – like a type of exercise or a diet – public health is there to test it,” he said. “We think if anybody makes a claim about how guns are good for people’s health and wellbeing, those claims should be formally tested with empirical data. We need to test those claims like we would test any dietary or exercise recommendation.”
Again, I’ve never run across an interest group or a commercial product that promises guns can help you sleep better at night. The commercial products that Hill talks about aren’t about helping people sleep better, but helping them to better defend themselves if they need a firearm. If the premise of the study is garbage, what does that tell us about the results?
Hill’s end game appears to be simple; making folks question the “value” of gun ownership.
“Public health research has shown that guns are associated with thousands of preventable injuries and premature deaths, and the health care costs of those injuries and deaths can reach into the billions. Nobody questions that anymore,” Hill said. “But there’s not much research out there on the personal well-being side of owning guns. We want people to start talking more about the role of guns in people’s personal lives, and, ultimately, this is a broader question for society about the value of guns in our lives. The question really is: Do guns make our personal lives better?”
I have a sneaking suspicion that Hill went into these studies with his mind already made up about what he would find. In fact, as KOLD notes, originally Hill found that gun owners were indeed happier than non-gun owners, so he had to massage the data to get the desired results.
While the data initially seemed to point to a positive relationship between gun ownership and happiness, that relationship disappeared when researchers factored respondents’ marital status into their analysis. It turned out gun owners were more likely to be married, and being married – not gun ownership – was driving happiness.
When the researchers considered marital status and other variables such as race, religion and education in their analysis, gun owners and non-gun owners exhibited similar levels of happiness…
There was one sub-group of gun owners that did show greater happiness. Hill found that gun ownership was associated with greater happiness among people who identified as Democrats, but not among people who identified as Republican or Independent, although that trend has been declining over time.
One possible explanation for the difference could be that Democrats and Republicans may own guns for different reasons, Hill said.
“Some people use guns to enhance a recreational lifestyle – for activities like target shooting – and this might promote happiness because it enhances a lifestyle,” Hill said. “Gun owners who identify as more liberal or democratic may be more likely to use guns for that reason as opposed to emphasizing self-defense. There is previous research that shows Democrats are less likely than Republicans to own a gun for protection.”
That’s an odd finding, since other studies have shown Republicans are generally happier and more satisfied with their lives than those identifying as Democrat or liberal. It’s all just a little too perfect, especially when Hill’s abstract notes:
In bivariate and partially adjusted models, we observed that the odds of being very happy were higher for respondents who reported having a gun in their home. This association persisted with adjustments for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, employment status, household income, financial satisfaction, financial change, number of children, religious attendance, political affiliation, urban residence, region of interview, and survey year. In our fully adjusted model, gun ownership was unrelated to happiness. The original association between gun ownership and happiness was entirely confounded by marital status. In other words, gun owners only appeared happier because they are more likely to be married, which increases happiness.
Maybe if you really want to be happy, you should be a married gun owner. It’s worked out pretty well for me, anyway.
Personally, I don’t own guns to make me happy, or to help me sleep better at night. I own firearms to protect myself and my family, to hunt, to target shoot, and because it’s my right to do so. What would truly make me happy is to see nonsense studies like this consigned to the dustbin of academia.