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Holding a gun makes you think others are, too

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Researchers at Notre Dame and Purdue are set to release a study showing that a person holding a gun is more likely to perceive others as also holding a gun.

From Notre Dame:

In five experiments, subjects were shown multiple images of people on a computer screen and determined whether the person was holding a gun or a neutral object such as a soda can or cell phone. Subjects did this while holding either a toy gun or a neutral object such as a foam ball.

The researchers varied the situation in each experiment - such as having the people in the images sometimes wear ski masks, changing the race of the person in the image or changing the reaction subjects were to have when they perceived the person in the image to hold a gun. Regardless of the situation the observers found themselves in, the study showed that responding with a gun biased observers to report "gun present" more than did responding with a ball...

...The researchers showed that the ability to act is a key factor in the effects by showing that simply letting observers see a nearby gun did not influence their behavior; holding and using the gun was important.
In light of the recent events surrounding Trayvon Martin's shooting, this study could hold telling implications in the gun control debate. If George Zimmerman had not been in possession of a gun, not only would he have been unable to shoot Martin, he may not have felt threatened in the first place.

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