Study: Racism Linked to Gun Ownership and Gun-Control Opposition

There’s a correlation between racism and gun ownership and gun-control resistance among white Americans, according to a study published by scientific journal PLOS ONE. The study was conducted in the wake of the Sandy Hook shootings to measure the country’s attitude towards gun ownership.

The group, led by Dr. Kerry O’Brien, professor of behavioral studies at the University of Cambridge and Monash University, conducted the study and found a relationship between racism and the loose attitudes towards guns in America, primarily in the southern states. The study took into account many sociopolitical and socioeconomic factors, such as income, education, political ideology, and even location demographics.

According to their rubric, every one point of symbolic racism equaled a 50 percent increase of the chances of owning a gun and a 28 percent increase supporting loose gun laws. Symbolic racism is different than traditional, outright racism. Researchers found that people are mostly reluctant to openly express racism and negative stereotyping of blacks, however, there is still underlying, subtle racism that researchers cite, which is symbolic racism.

Subtle, though explicit, as the study explains, symbolic racism is a conflation of “anti-black affect and traditional values.” In this form of racism, the attitude towards blacks is rooted in the negative stereotypes of them being dangerous and lazy. Those who harbor those feelings are usually needlessly fearful and hostile towards blacks. And, as opposed to overt racist legislation like Jim Crow laws and the separate-but-equal doctrine, symbolic racism affects laws and institutions seen as benefits to African-Americans, like food stamps for instance.

Fifty-two percent of the sample had at least one gun in the household, and 66 percent “opposed bans on handguns in the home.” Those surveyed had a tendency to lean more Republican, and those with more conservative views had a higher tendency to favor concealed weapons permits for handguns.

Two years ago, there 32,000-38,000 gun deaths in the country annually, including over 11,000 homicides and over 19,000 suicides. Gun-related murders accounted for almost 70 percent of all homicides and there was a gun involved in just over half of all suicides.

“Coming from countries with strong gun control policies, and a 30-fold lower rate of gun-related homicides, we found the arguments for opposing gun control counterintuitive and somewhat illogical,” said O’Brien. “For example, US whites oppose gun control to a far greater extent than do blacks, but whites are usually more likely to kill themselves with their guns, than be killed by someone else.”

Outside research has suggested that a gun inside the household creates a 2.7 to 4.8 fold increase of a gun-related death of a family member.

“The study is a first step,” said O’Brien. “But there needs to be more investment in empirical research around how racial bias may influence people’s policy decisions, particularly those policies that impact on the health and wellbeing of US citizens.”

American-conducted research of this kind is few and far between “because . . . restrictions on funding for research on gun control in the US.”

Josh is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. Follow him on Twitter @dnJdeli.

About the Author

Joshua De Leon

Josh de Leon is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.

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