In US, racism is linked to gun ownership

"White Americans oppose gun control to a far greater extent than do black Americans, but whites are actually more likely to kill themselves with their guns than be killed by someone else. So why would you keep them?" asks Kerry O'Brien. (Credit: Ben Remirez/Flickr)

A new study finds higher levels of racism in white Americans is associated with having a gun in the home and greater opposition to gun control policies.

After accounting for numerous other factors such as income, education, and political ideology, the researchers found that for each one point increase (on a scale from one to five) in symbolic racism there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a gun in the home and a 28 percent increase in support for policies allowing people to carry concealed guns.


Each one point increase in symbolic racism (a modern measure of anti-black racism) was also associated with a 27 percent increase in the odds of opposing bans on hand guns in the home. After accounting for those who already had a gun in the home, the odds were reduced to a non-significant 17 percent increase. However, the authors note that this reduction is unsurprising as opposition to bans on guns equates to self interest on behalf of those who already own a gun and do not wish to give it up.

And racism was already strongly associated with having a gun in the home.

The research, published in PLoS One, was stimulated by gun control debates in the US after mass shootings such as the Sandy Hook tragedy, and research showing black Americans are more likely to be shot than whites.

The most recent figures show there are approximately 38,000 gun related deaths in the US each year, with other research suggesting having a gun in the home is related to a 2.7 or 4.8 fold increase in the risk of a member of that home dying from homicide or suicide, respectively.

Illogical arguments?

“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,” says Kerry O’Brien who led the research at Monash University.

“For example, white Americans oppose gun control to a far greater extent than do black Americans, but whites are actually more likely to kill themselves with their guns than be killed by someone else. So why would you keep them? We decided to examine what social and psychological factors predict gun ownership and opposition to gun control.”

Conservatism, anti-government sentiment, party identification, and being from a southern state were also associated with opposition to gun control, but the association between racism and the gun-related outcomes remained after accounting for these factors and other participant characteristics (age, education, income, and gender).

Symbolic racism

Symbolic racism supplanted old-fashioned or overt/blatant racism, which was associated with open support for race inequality and segregation under ‘Jim Crow Laws’, but it still captures the anti-black sentiment and traditional values that underpinned blatant racism.

Symbolic racism is also related to stronger opposition to policies that may benefit black Americans, such as welfare, and greater support for policies that seem to disadvantage black Americans, such as longer prison sentences.

Study co-author Dermot Lynott from Lancaster University in the UK says they were initially surprised no one had studied this issue before, however, the US government cut research funding for gun-related research over a decade and a half ago, so research in this area has been somewhat suppressed.

According to a Pew Research Centre report the majority of US whites support stricter gun reform, but the results of our study suggest that US whites who oppose gun reform tend to have a stronger racial bias, are more politically and ideologically conservative, and have higher anti-government sentiment, says O’Brien.

“Our results are a first step, but there needs to be more funding for empirical research around how racial biases may influence people’s policy decisions, and particularly those policies that impact on the health and wellbeing of US citizens,” O’Brien says.

Source: Monash University