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Does the presence of weapon increase aggression and aggressive thoughts? Does the trigger pull the finger? Is the individual born with aggressive behavior or is there anything else which makes the person start to think aggressive? In this research, I would like concentrate on the issue of weapons and its presence as an elicitor of human’s aggressive behavior. The weapon or gun by itself is well – established phenomena of aggression. Seeing a gun provokes in people’s mind some kind of violence, attack, hatred, or revenge. Hence, all fall under aggressive thoughts that can escalate into violent behavior. However, how do people know that they are acting aggressive? Individuals are not born with knowing and sensitizing of how aggression is displayed. Individuals have to learn what it means to be aggressive and how to distinguish between aggression and its processes. Aggression is a learned behavior, the same as learning how to pull the trigger, and also understand how action or words can be hurtful to the victim (Buss, A., et al, 1972, p.196). In this paper, I would like to discuss the correlation between guns and aggression, and its application into the real world and finally, apply the theory into the massacre in Columbine High School.

As mentioned above, weapons are known phenomena of aggression. The presence of guns facilitates the aggressive thoughts under certain conditions. If the individual is in any stage of arousal, sadness or anger, the presence of weapon increases the chances of thinking and acting aggressive. Because of the fact that aggressive behavior is the subject of examination for decades, researchers are trying to resolve the issue and find the exact conclusion of what makes people feel aggressive. In Berkowitz and LePage study, male college students were tested if the presence of a gun increases the hatred against the accomplice who provoked the students at the beginning of the test. The study shows that presence of violating objects, such as guns increase the anger and aggressive thoughts in angry students. On the other hand, the non angry participants did not feel any difference in a presence of gun. Even if the gun is not involved as a part of action in the study, just the presence of it increases the aggression in provoked subjects. Such findings could be an impulse for regulation of the sale of dangerous guns. However, in a study of Buss and his colleagues they try to oppose Berkowitz’s findings about gun-increasing aggression. In one part, they concluded that firing a gun had no effect upon aggression, other group of participants shows that if the individual is familiar with gun use and is experienced with it then it does not make any difference upon his behavior. The last part of the study was a very close replication of Berkowitz’s test and surprisingly showed that the presence of gun reduces aggression against the accomplice. The findings show that individuals who were aware of the hypothesis, or who were generally suspicious were not influenced by the presence of gun. (Buss, A., 1972, p.202) The ones who were unaware of the hypothesis produced more aggressive thoughts and behavior. The most important finding is that it significantly depends on type of the subjects. Also, other studies checked the hypothesis in naturalistic settings. Turner et all. , stalled a pickup truck at a traffic signal light for 12 seconds. There was a gun placed on the back window of the truck and half of the motorist saw a bumper sticker on the tailgate saying “vengeance”. The other half saw a bumper sticker saying “friend”. Motorist in the control group saw neither gun nor bumper sticker. The results showed the most horn honking group of motorist was among the ones who saw a gun and vengeance sticker. The following group was members of who saw the gun and sticker friend and the last one were the ones who saw just the truck. The comparison shows a positive relation between gun and aggressive behavior and the theory of gun presence-increase aggression is applied in this particular study. (Turner et all., 1975, Study 2).

Example / Application - Real-life

The latest news disclosed an incident that happened in Edgewood, city of Tacoma on April 28, 2010. As everyone in today’s society is familiar with technology and its use for any kind of business, there was a murder caused by posting an item for sale on Craigslist website. The owner of the item arranged the meeting at the family’s house. The killers acted like a couple looking for a ring for their mother-in-law. (Linguist, M., (2010), CNN News) Once they got into the house the man pulled out a handgun. The incident ended with a murder of the seller while protecting his young son. The theory of weapons effect argues that presence of gun increase aggression. However, it might also cause some kind of arousal, such as excitement or an increase amount of adrenalin in a bloodstream. Would the incident end up in a murder, if the seller decided not to protect his child? The robbers were probably not thinking reasonably because of the extreme situation they were in and all the hormones, that are released throughout stage of arousal might turn them into totally different people. Thus, minor jeopardy might cause the pulling of the trigger. In this case, what might have elicited the violence was when the seller released himself from a plastic handcuffs, hence becoming a potential danger to the robbers. The amount of hormones in the culprits bloodstream caused the assault, and probably the presence of the gun, might have been the antecedent of shooting. We can assume this conclusion because after few days, the one of the attackers turned themselves in. To draw this particular conclusion, we might assume that weapons-increase aggression theory might be applied. On the other hand, the robbers would have been familiar with a gun use, and its presence would not have any affect on their behavior. They might have been just cold blooded killers with no respect to the life. In this case the weapons effect would not be applied to the incident.

Example / Application - Columbine

The use of weapons and the feeling of power they give to a perpetrator, might be perfectly depicted in well-known massacre at Columbine High School. ”Weapons are used in a quarter of violent incidents in the US” (Rand and Catalano, 2007), and carrying a gun in schools is an important and politically salient topic. What makes adolescents want to carry a gun to school? According to researchers Wilkinson Deanna L. and Fagan Jeffrey, carrying a gun, among youths, is for the feeling of safety from physical danger or from other students. According to their study, “About one in seven (15%) reported carrying a handgun in the past 30 days, and 4% reported taking a handgun to school during the year. Nine percent of the students reported shooting a gun at someone else, whereas 11% had been shot at by someone else during the past year.” (Wilkinson, D., L., Fagan, J. 2001, p.111). The Columbine High School incident surely involves use of guns. Many researchers agree that aggressive thoughts among adolescents are closely related to media, the accessibility to violent video games and also violent music. Aggression is not perceived as dangerous act as it was before. Teens do not realize the potential menace of aggression because their surrounding and technology that influence them do not evaluate the danger they can cause. Shooting in Columbine was a cold blooded act which can cover all aspects of aggressive behavior from teens. According to Cullen, D., report published in USA Today News, one of the shooter, Harris, was described as a psychopath who was aware of his behavior. He was deep planning, knew how to be charming and at the same time fooling everyone around. Trebold had serious psychological problems as well. However, Trebold was in suicidal depression who was hating life day after day. In relation to the weapon effect – increasing aggression issue, the Columbine massacre is a different process. It is obvious that guns were used, although not as an elicitor of aggressive behavior. The event was planned for months by the pair and guns played a big part in this planning. After looking at the statistics of wounded and shot students, we can assume that there might have been some increase in violent behavior. Many students were not shot just once, but they usually had several shots in their bodies. Killers shot student’s in heads, neck and chest several times. Psychologist Cullen D. described Harris’s profile as a “cold-blooded, predatory psychopath — a smart, charming liar with "a preposterously grand superiority complex, a revulsion for authority and an excruciating need for control," (Cullen, D., USA Today). There might be some correlation between the number of shots against the students and their psychological profile. Nonetheless, operating a deadly weapon increase his desire of being superior to others and having the control is what influenced his behavior toward wounded students. At the end, they turned the gun against themselves and ended their lives after killing 13 people and seriously wounded 24. After, the Columbine massacre, school policies were made and politicians begun to argue about gun control laws, such as availability of guns and gun related violence involving teens (James, S., D., ABC News). Some other solutions were reducing high capacity ammunition magazines, and center argumentations about bullying, cliques or violent movies and music. However, it is difficult to track problematic students and many of the programs were ineffective because the security was not able to get into crime scene yet and stop mass murderers (Wikipedia).Besides that, “millions of dollars have been spent on metal detectors, security cameras and emergency response plans.”(James, S., D., ABC News) and as mentioned above those changes were sometimes effective sometimes not. The main point is the perception of violence among youths that have to be changed in order to achieve the goal which is reducing the aggressive thoughts and behavior.

In conclusion, the presence of weapons might or might not have an effect on human behavior. It depends on the individual, thus the familiarity with the gun and its use or simply the personality of the subject. We have to realize that everything influences behavior, such as our surroundings and things which we interact with on daily basis. Reducing violent music, video games, movies, etc. might lead to lower amount of aggression among people. A crime is committed every 2 seconds and media is filled with aggression every day. Weapons are a serious threat to the public, and to close this research I would like to use Seneca’s quote: “A sword is never a killer, it is a tool in the killer’s hands.”


Berkowitz, L., & Le Page, A. (1967). Weapons as aggression-eliciting stimuli. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 7, 202-207.

Buss, A. H., Booker, A., & Buss, E., (1972). Firing a weapon and aggression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 22, 196-202.

Turner, C. W., Simons, L. S. (1974). Effects of subjects sophistication and evaluation apprehension on aggressive responses to weapons. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 30, 341-348.

Turner, C. W., Simons, L. S., Berkowitz, L., & Frodi, A., (1977). The stimulating and inhibiting effects of weapons on aggressive behavior. Aggressive Behavior, 3, 355-378.

Turner, Layton, Simons (1975). Processes in aggression. Processes and Personal Variables in Affective Aggression, 2, 38.

Rand, M., Catalano, S., (2006). Criminal Victimization, US Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Statistics, Washington, D.C. (2007).http://www.vrg.cf.ac.uk/Files/BM_weapons_2009.pdf

Wilkinson, D., L., Fagan, J. (2001). What we know about gun use among adolescents. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, Vol. 4, No. 2. http://www.springerlink.com/content/j15w24680g7l5224/fulltext.pdf

James, S., D., (2009). Surviving Columbine: What We Got Wrong. ABC News. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MindMoodNews/story?id=7363898&page=1

Cullen, D., (2009). 10 Years Later, the Real Story Behind Columbine. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2009-04-13-columbine-myths_N.htm

Linguist, M., Falcon, G., (2010). Craigslist Diamond Ad Leads to Deadly Home Invasion. CNN News. http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/05/07/craigslist.diamond.killing/index.html?hpt=T1

Columbine High School Massacre (n.d.). Retrieved 5/7/2010 from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Columbine_High_School_massacre

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