In an op-ed for leftwing outlet Slate, John Ehrenriech attempts to answer the question haunting the site's readers: "Why are conservatives so obsessed with gun rights anyway?"
Lucky for us, Ehrenriech has the answer: It comes down to shared psychological traits among conservatives, including their supposed tendencies to "exaggerate risks," repress their sexual and aggressive impulses and then project them onto others, their "grievance" and "anger" over "no longer being central to American society and culture," and their inability to deal with "nuance."
Making sure to pack his piece with hyperlinks to sources, Ehrenriech suggests that research thoroughly supports his characterization of conservatives as being exaggeration-prone, repressed, grievance-riddled, "certainty"-obsessed citizens prone to cling to their guns. After providing some rather innocuous and widely-accepted descriptions of the differences between conservatives and liberals, Ehrenriech spells out some of the key factors he claims are driving conservatives to guns:
We all exaggerate risk, but conservatives are especially prone to exaggerate risks. For one thing, conservatives generally tend to see the world as a more dangerous place than liberals do, so they are especially vulnerable to these distortions. They also tend to repress their own aggressive and sexual impulses more and to identify with aggressors. These forbidden impulses may be projected onto others, justifying the decision to see others as a source of danger and legitimizing aggressive responses.
Anxiety about personal danger may resonate with other sources of anxiety. Conservatives are disproportionately concentrated in rural areas and small towns. These are the places that have been most hit by the decline in industrial and agricultural employment of recent decades, with concomitant economic insecurity and community disruption and breakdown. A brooding sense of grievance over no longer being central to American society and culture and a pervasive sense of disempowerment add to the feelings of anxiety.
Arguing that "the healthiest response to realistically based anxieties and other negative feelings would be to address the external sources of the uneasy feelings," Ehrenriech cites some pro-gun control studies that he suggests conservatives won't accept because their "personality patterns," mixed with "universally shared patterns of cognition," lead to skepticism about hard evidence provided by experts, as well as projecting their "anger" onto people who are different than them:
But it is hard for conservatives to accept these arguments. The interaction between characteristic conservative personality patterns and universally shared patterns of cognition leads to conservatives being disproportionately skeptical of evidence provided by “experts” and scholarly studies. So conservatives turn to other means to soothe their anxiety. Some project their own anger onto others, fantasizing that people of color, immigrants, and feminists are the cause of their own inner torments. Anger, if nothing else, makes them feel bigger and more powerful.
Not to miss a good opportunity to reference the target of the #Resistance, Ehrenriech also throws in a little section in which he argues that those struggling with anxiety are more likely to follow charismatic leaders or movements, an assertion which he links to "cognitive consistency" theory:
Finally, another particular source of people’s beliefs may be identification with a charismatic political figure, such as a Ronald Reagan or a Donald Trump, who proclaims himself to be fighting the dragons on their behalf. Or they may reflect the shared beliefs of a specific organization or movement, in this case perhaps the Moral Majority and the Tea Party. These provide both a language and a narrative for beliefs.
Sharing in expressions of anger reduces anxiety and shame, validates one’s own otherwise possibly unacceptable urges and feelings, and provides social validation for one’s beliefs. But then the need for cognitive consistency takes over: Once you identify with figures or movements, their issues become your issues, regardless of their independent appeal. In any case, a strongly held belief about a specific issue such as “gun rights” can help assuage the anxiety that arises directly or indirectly from a felt sense of danger.
So, there you go. Conservatives' various psychological afflictions add up to a group of overly paranoid, repressed, anger-filled, group-think prone folks who can't help but be "obsessed" with guns. Thanks, Slate.
Another, less "nuanced" explanation: Conservatives actually believe that the U.S. Constitution enshrined citizens' rights to defend themselves and are generally realists about human nature and the limits of authorities to protect individuals when faced with immediate threats.