Past research suggests that Americans arm themselves when they do not trust one another. We reexamine the relationship between social trust and firearm prevalence with improved data and methods. We also control for conditions, including area homicide rates, that other research showed to be related to both social trust and firearm prevalence.
We use structural equation models to assess reciprocal effects of social trust, firearm prevalence, and homicide rates for a nationally representative sample of counties and county clusters (n = 99).
We found no direct relationship between social trust and firearm prevalence. Social trust is related to firearm prevalence indirectly through its influence on homicide rates. Areas with low levels of social trust have high homicide rates, which, in turn, increase firearm prevalence.
Americans arm themselves in response to high levels of firearm violence. Because greater social trust is related to lower homicide rates, public health researchers should be concerned with the community conditions that promote social trust.