Between 2016 and 2017, Americans suffered three of the deadliest mass shootings in modern history by a lone gunman: the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Las Vegas strip shooting, and the Texas church shooting. We studied American gun owners in the wakes of these tragedies, theorizing that a by-product of the salience of mass shootings is to increase the salience of guns as means of individual empowerment and significance. We hypothesized that this increase in salience would be especially relevant in the context of thwarted goals, because such individuals may be seeking a compensatory means to interact more effectively with their environment. In 4 studies of U.S. gun owners (N = 2,442), we tested whether mass shooting salience interacted with thwarted goals to predict justification to shoot suspected criminals, as well as ideas about armed vigilantism and perceptions that guns are means of empowerment. The thwarting of goals was either experimentally induced via failure on an achievement task (Study 1), or measured via perceptions of disempowerment in society (Studies 2-4). Mass shooting salience was measured via perceptions of mass shooting threat, as well as temporal proximity and social proximity to specific mass shooting events. Across studies, results indicated an interaction between thwarted goals and mass shooting salience; temporal proximity yielded mixed results. Altogether, thwarted goals motivate people to seek effectiveness and mattering, and guns are more likely to be perceived as means to such ends when mass shootings loom large in the mind.
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