Are Gun Bros Just Overcompensating For Something? A New Study Challenges Stereotypes

Are Gun Bros Just Overcompensating For Something? A New Study Challenges Stereotypes

In the opening scenes of 1964’s Goldfinger, James Bond is asked why he always carries a gun. His wry and surprisingly self-deprecating answer? “I have a slight inferiority complex.” 

It’s a familiar stereotype. Guns, the popular idea says, are a stand-in for penises – and men who own them are probably just overcompensating for something. It’s not only a trope in movies, either: it turns up in Freud, in the headlines – even in supposedly rigorous “scientific studies”. There’s just one problem: according to a new analysis out of the University of Texas at San Antonio Hill, it’s entirely backwards.

“Guns are clearly phallic symbols. Guns are clearly associated with masculinity,” the authors write. “However […] the psychosexual theory of gun ownership consistently fails in its assertion that men who have trouble with their penises or are dissatisfied with their penises are especially likely to acquire guns as a means of compensation.”

The results come from analysis of data collected from more than 1,800 men in the 2023 Masculinity, Sexual Health, and Politics (MSHAP) survey, a national probability sample from across all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. 

“The primary purpose of the MSHAP survey is to empirically document the intersection of masculinity, sexual health, and politics in the United States,” the study explains – it covers all kinds of lifestyle questions, from your feelings about your penis size, to your employment status, to mental health, to even how cool and nice you are.

It also asks about gun ownership. And to be honest, the results were pretty much what you’d expect: older men, US-born men, straight men, and men who live in rural or Southern areas were more likely to own guns; men with college degrees, who scored higher on “social desirability,” tended to own fewer guns.

But there was one surprise – at least for anybody who bases their worldview on movies like Deadpool or Dirty Harry. “The odds of owning a gun […] are lower for men who are more dissatisfied with the size of their penises,” the study reports. “In fact, each one-unit increase in penis size dissatisfaction reduces the odds of owning any gun by 11 percent […] and the odds of owning a military-style rifle by 20 percent.”

Now, we know what you’re thinking. We’re just taking these guys’ word for it about how big their dicks are? In a study about penis size dissatisfaction?? Have we learned nothing?

Well, you’re not wrong. “Although we control for social desirability bias, our measurements of penis size are based on self-reports, not direct measurements,” Terrence Hill, a professor of sociology and demography and first author of the study, told PsyPost. There are also limitations intrinsic to the study design: as a cross-sectional study, it can’t draw any conclusions about causality, or how gun ownership patterns may change over time.

Indeed, finding some explanation for the results may prove difficult – or even impossible. “Because there is no theory for why men with bigger penises would be more likely to own guns, we do not believe that this association is real,” Hill said. “In other words, we believe that this association is likely spurious or due to factors that we failed to account for in our study.”

But that doesn’t mean Hill and his colleagues can’t speculate. “For example, the association […] could be due to the fact that men with higher levels of testosterone tend to have bigger penises and are more likely to engage in risk-taking behavior,” he suggested. 

“In the future, we would like to acquire funding to formally assess our testosterone hypothesis. We also have other projects in mind that test other taken-for-granted assumptions about guns.”

The study is published in the American Journal of Men’s Health.

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