Does an `Obama Effect’ Increase Gun Ownership and Shooting?

The New York Times and other US media are reporting that President Obama will be featured in a live televised town hall get-together to discuss gun violence in the United States, renewing his emphasis on the pressing need for more gun restrictions.

The event follows meetings with the Attorney General to discuss what executive actions the President can take to curb gun violence, which has been pushed up the political agenda yet again following shootings in San Bernardino, California on December 2 when 14 people were killed.

However new research, just published in the  academic Journal of Public Economics, has uncovered the existence of a large ‘Obama Effect,’ driving an unprecedented demand for guns in the USA in 2008/2009 – specifically in the months leading up to and just after his election as President.

The Journal of Public Economics is edited by distinguished academics based at various eminent universities across the world, including the London School of Economics in the UK, and Dartmouth College, USA.

Fears of Future Policy

The study, by Emilio Depetris-Chauvin from the Universidad de los Andes, Bogotá, Colombia, presents robust statistical evidence that an unprecedented increase in the demand for guns, in the run up to Obama’s election, was partially driven by fears of a future Obama gun-control policy.

Furthermore, this research, mostly conducted when Emilio Depetris-Chauvin was reading for a Ph.D. at Brown University, found that the ‘Obama Effect’ did not represent a short-lived ‘substitution effect,’ in other words, that people who had intended to buy a gun at some point in the future, merely brought forward their decision to purchase such a weapon.

A ‘substitution effect’ would indicate that this ‘Obama Effect’ doesn’t mean that more guns entered circulation over the longer term.

This investigation found that the apparent ‘panic’ buying of guns in the months before and immediately after Obama got elected, did permanently increase the total number of guns in circulation.

The stock of guns in “large Obama effect” states became permanently larger. In fact, four years after the election, the demand for guns was 30% larger in the states that had the largest increases during the election campaign.

The research found that states which had the largest increases in the demand for guns during the 2008 election race were also 20% more likely to experience a shooting event with at least three people killed, following Obama’s election.

These states also experienced between 8 and 15% more crime with guns following Obama’s election.

The study entitled, “Fear of Obama: An empirical study of the demand for guns and the U.S. 2008 presidential election,” reminds us that during 2008 and early-2009, the United States experienced skyrocketing sales of firearms, as well as shortages in common types of handgun ammunition.

Federal tax receipts from the sales of pistols and revolvers increased by almost 90% during the fourth quarter of 2008, compared to the same quarter a year earlier.

Sales Soaring

In December 2008, by which time firearm sales were soaring, President-elect Obama urged gun owners to “not rush out and stock up on guns”.

While the concurrent timing of growing gun sales and permit applications with the 2008 U.S. presidential election is strongly suggestive of an effect involving Obama’s election, on the demand for guns, worsening economic conditions or a more general election effect might also explain the apparent association.

But this study, using the FBI’s firearm background check reports, found the demand for guns responded especially to monthly information concerning the specific likelihood that Obama would be elected.

According to the most conservative specification, during this election period, a 10-point increase in the probability of Obama being elected is associated with a 4.5% increase in the demand for guns nationwide.

A common explanation for the gun sales surge is the perception and fear that the election of Obama would lead to stronger legal restrictions on gun ownership and their use in the near future.

This potential mechanism is referred to as the “fear of gun control” theory, and this theory itself was strongly supported by the data analyzed in this study.

Does an `Obama Effect’ Increase Gun Ownership and Shooting?

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen

Dr. Raj Persaud & Dr. Peter Bruggen are regular contributors to Psych Central Professional. Dr. Rajendra Persaud, also known as Raj Persaud, is a leading consultant psychiatrist, broadcaster and author of popular books about psychiatry. He is well known for raising public awareness of psychiatric and mental health issues in the general media. He has published five popular books and has received numerous awards. The Times recently placed him as one of the Top Twenty Mental Health Gurus in the world.

Dr. Peter Bruggen was part of the UK Royal College of Psychiatrist's Podcast Editor Team, with Dr. Persaud. From 1969 to 1994 he was a consultant psychiatrist at Hill End Adolescent Unit, St Albans. He was also a consultant psychiatrist from 1969-90 at the Tavistock Clinic. His work has featured family therapy at the death bed, working with families in the community rather than admitting adolescents to hospital, and staff relationships. Dr. Bruggen has also written three books, including Surviving Adolescence and Helping Families (both with Charles O'Brien), and Who Cares? True Stories of the NHS Reforms, for which he conducted face-to-face interviews with one-hundred people.


APA Reference
Dr. Peter Bruggen, D. (2019). Does an `Obama Effect’ Increase Gun Ownership and Shooting?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 25 Sep 2019
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Sep 2019
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