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Students fire a variety of weapons during a firearms training course at the Albany Rifle and Pistol Club near Shedd in March. A group of Oregon State University researchers recently concluded gun violence prevention groups are using middle-of-the-ground ideology to influence legislative policy and public opinion.

Mark Ylen, Mid-Valley Sunday (File)

A group of Oregon State University researchers recently concluded gun violence prevention groups in the United States are “middle-of-the-ground” in ideology. 

This surprised the professors as it contradicts some depictions of gun violence prevention groups as “anti-gun,” they said.

The researchers spent two years studying national and regional gun violence prevention groups and concluded they are motivated to reduce death and injury by firearms, but that they want to do so while reserving the right to own guns, said Aimee Huff, assistant business professor, and Michelle Barnhart, associate marketing professor.

This philosophy has allowed gun violence prevention groups to gain ground on both the legislative level and in public opinion, the researchers hypothesized. 

The professors were joined in their research by OSU business professor Jim McAlexander and Brandon McAlexander of the University of Arkansas. Their findings were published July 3 in the Journal of Macromarketing.

While extensive research exists on the gun lobby, the motivations of gun owners and the public health risks associated with firearms, little research has been done on the work of gun violence prevention groups, the researchers said. So, they wanted to study the groups to better understand the larger issue of gun violence.

The study lists the groups the professors researched but the names used are pseudonyms for the actual groups studied, the researchers said. 

The professors interviewed members of these groups and observed them while they worked to gain public support during phone banks and rallies. The researchers also went to state capitols when bills related to reducing gun violence were being introduced. The professors interviewed state senators about their experiences working with gun violence prevention groups.

The researchers were taken aback by what they found.

“We thought when we began to study the gun violence prevention groups that we were going to find they were ‘anti-gun,’” Barnhart said. “That they really had a mission to impose extreme restrictions on gun ownership and that they supported people not having guns and wanted to remove the right to have guns. That’s how they’re typically portrayed when pitted against gun rights groups.”

Instead, the professors found the groups balance individual rights with an effort to reduce gun deaths and injuries.

“This surprised us, but we also found it encouraging because they seemed to be ‘in the middle’ of the gun debate,” Barnhart said.

This makes sense because other constitutional rights have restrictions, the researchers said.

“You can’t yell ‘fire’ in a crowded theater,” Barnhart said. “That is a restriction on the First Amendment right to free speech.”

The professors were also surprised to find the gun violence prevention groups directly targeting consumers.

“People think of these groups as being focused on legislation and trying to lobby Congress people to change laws,” Huff said. “It also surprised us that they put a lot of effort into working directly with consumers to have them more carefully think about behaviors related to guns.”

In example, the gun violence prevention groups spread information about safe storage practices, she said.

The researchers said the study illuminates the role consumer interest groups have in directing social change. While they didn’t set out to measure the influence of the gun violence prevention groups on society, the professors found evidence that the groups are having some success on the legislative level and in relation to social norms.

Policy changes include an increase in the number of states requiring universal background checks from 12 in 2012 to 18 in 2016, the researchers said. A Gallup poll indicates the percentage of respondents who want the nation’s laws or policies on guns to be more strict rose from 25 percent in 2012 to 38 percent in 2016, the professors reported.

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