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New Research Details Strong Relationship Between White Racism and Gun Ownership

We defeated Jim and Jane Crow, yet we cannot find the will to beat back the power of the National Rifle Association.

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New research from Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly in the journal  PLS One suggests there is a relationship between a person's levels of "symbolic racism," gun ownership and support for concealed carry laws.

They detail how:

After adjusting for all explanatory variables in the model, symbolic racism was significantly related to having a gun in the home. Specifically, for each 1 point increase in symbolic racism, there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home (see Table 1), and there was a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns...

Opposition to gun control in US whites is somewhat paradoxical given the statistics on gun-related deaths, and such opposition may be undermining the public health of all US citizens. This study examined for the first time whether racism is related to gun ownership and the opposition to gun control in US whites. The results support the hypothesis by showing that greater symbolic racism is related to increased odds of having a gun in the home and greater opposition to gun control, after accounting for all other explanatory variables.

It is particularly noteworthy that the relationship between symbolic racism and the gun-related outcomes was maintained in the presence of conservative ideologies, political affiliation, opposition to government control, and being from a southern state, which are otherwise strong predictors of gun ownership and opposition to gun reform.

These findings will be misread and misunderstood. Many people do not understand how social scientists construct knowledge and make truth-claims. This outcome is also a function of how political opinion has become conflated with empirical facts and reality in the 24/7 news cycle.

O’Brien, Forrest, Lynott, and Daly are not suggesting that beliefs about guns are caused by (modern) white racism. Likewise, they are not arguing that having a gun necessarily makes one more likely to be a racist. O'Brien and company are not claiming that all conservatives are racists or bigots, nor does their research indicate that all gun owners are racists.

"Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions" narrowly focuses on the relationships between attitudes, values, beliefs, and in some cases, behavior.

This is sound social science because the authors take a well-documented and researched phenomenon, "symbolic racism," and relate it to an important issue of public concern. Surprising and counter-intuitive research findings are an essential part of creating knowledge and shifting paradigms forward. Research that further explores and enriches what we should already know is invaluable because it buttresses existing knowledge while also suggesting areas for further investigation. Symbolic racism emphasizes a narrative of black criminality and white victimhood; thus, attitudes about guns should be central to that story.

The public and the media want simple yes or no answers to the questions surrounding complex political issues. They have great difficulties is understanding that sometimes the answers to complex social questions are a combination of yes and no, or perhaps something else.

The authors signal to this in the following passage:

Finally, the correlational nature of the study clearly prohibits causal inferences. While a view that racism underpins gun-related attitudes is plausible and supported by evidence on other race-related policy decisions, it could be argued that there are other plausible but unmeasured variables that could explain the pattern of relationships we find here.

Their research is especially powerful because it highlights how white racial attitudes are not separate and apart from politics. In a post-Civil Rights era when racism and conservatism are very much the same thing, these relationships and dynamics are going to be further exaggerated and outsized.

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