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Guns and Democracy: Anti-System Attitudes, Protest, and Support for Violence Among Pandemic Gun-Buyers (WP-22-37)

Matthew Simonson, Matthew Lacombe, Jon Green, and James Druckman

The last decade has given rise to substantial concern about democratic backsliding in the U.S. Manifestations include decreased trust in government, conspiratorial beliefs, contentious protests, and support for political violence. Surprisingly, prior work has not explored how these attitudes and behaviors relate to gun-buying, an action that provides people with the means to challenge the state. The researchers address this topic by focusing on individuals who took part in the unprecedented gun buying surge during the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a survey with over 50,000 respondents, they find that—relative to other Americans—pandemic gun buyers are more likely to distrust government, believe in conspiracies, protest, and support political violence. Moreover, the authors find that gun buyers who hold anti-government views and attend protests are especially likely to say they bought guns for political reasons. The researchers’ findings highlight a crucial dynamic underlying the recent spike in gun sales with consequences for American democracy.

Matthew Simonson, Postdoctoral scholar, University of Pennsylvania

Matthew Lacombe, Department of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University

Jon Green, Senior research scientist, Northeastern University, and Fellow, Harvard Kennedy School, Harvard University

James Druckman, Payson S. Wild Professor of Political Science and IPR Fellow, Northwestern University

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