In a YouGov survey I asked a representative sample of American adults about guns, danger in the world, and what to do if there is a suspicious person in your neighborhood.  The takeaway: attitudes come together in a manner that, given access to weapons, is rather concerning. 

Among white Americans there is a group of people that 1) own guns, 2) think the world is a very dangerous place, and, despite everything in the news recently, 3) believe that if you see a suspicious person in your neighborhood the best action is to practice vigilante justice. 

I asked three questions: 1) do you own a gun?; 2) what should you do if you see a suspicious person in your neighborhood?; and 3) do you agree with the statement “there are many dangerous people in our society that will attack someone out of pure meanness, for no reason at all”? (the last question is common in psychological surveys). 

The point is not so much whether these people are right or wrong — because whether the world is full of dangerous people is a complex question that I can’t answer here — but rather the point is that attitudes come together in certain constellations that can give rise to certain behaviors: if a person believes the world is dangerous then they are more likely to buy a gun; if they have a gun, then they might feel more emboldened to follow suspicious persons.  The question that is raised then is what can we do about public policy given these attitudes? For example, do we really want widespread access to guns if the people that are likely to buy them also believe in confronting suspicious persons?