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Controversial study links US white gun ownership to racism

By Brett Wilkins     Nov 12, 2013 in Politics
An international scientific study linking firearms ownership by white Americans with racism and resistance to gun control has raised eyebrows and ire in the United States.
Researchers from the University of Manchester in Britain, Monash University in Australia and other universities published the findings of their study, "Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions," in the peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One late last month.
"Racism is related to policy preferences and behaviors that directly affect blacks and appear related to a fear of blacks (e.g., increased policing, death penalty)," the study abstract begins.
The abstract continues:
After accounting for all explanatory variables, logistic regressions found that for each one point increase in symbolic racism there was a 50 percent increase in the odds of having a gun at home. After also accounting for having a gun in the home, there was still a 28 percent increase in support for permits to carry concealed handguns, for each one point in symbolic racism.
It concludes:
Symbolic racism was related to having a gun in the home and opposition to gun control policies in US whites. The findings help explain US whites' paradoxical attitudes towards gun ownership and gun control. Such attitudes may adversely influence US gun control policy debates and decisions.
The study's researchers, led by Monash University behavioral studies professor Dr. Kerry O'Brien, analyzed data from the American National Election Studies (ANES), which provided a large representative sampling of voter information. Explanatory variables linked to gun ownership and opposition to gun control, such as age, gender, education, geography, income, political self-identification and anti-government sentiment, were entered in logistical regression models. So were indicators of racism, as well as stereotypes about violent black men or, as renowned American professor and author Michelle Alexander termed the object of whites' racialized fear of blacks, "criminalblackman."
"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, whose researchers were mainly British, Australian and New Zealander. "For example, US whites oppose gun control to a far greater extent than do blacks (by a 20 point margin, according to a January Pew Research survey), but whites are actually more likely to kill themselves with their guns, than be killed by someone else."
"The study is a first step, 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," added O'Brien.
The study did not examine the historic role of racism in enacting gun control legislation targeting blacks. Anti-black gun control laws date back to at least 1751 and the French Black Code in the Louisiana Territory. In the US era, white fear of blacks led numerous states and territories to ban blacks from firearms ownership.
More recently, the National Rifle Association (NRA), once a steadfast supporter of gun control, backed restrictions passed in 1968 that were firmly rooted in fear of black crime. The Black Panther Party's successful campaign to legally and constitutionally arm blacks for their own self-defense and to 'police the police' who were terrorizing black communities was met with alarmed opposition from conservative leaders such as California Governor Ronald Reagan, who declared that there was "no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons," even though citizens have the constitutional right to do precisely that.
Unsurprisingly, gun advocates slammed the study's findings, many without even analyzing or understanding the data.
Fox News' Greg Gutfeld derided "some foreign researchers" who "published a study saying that owning a gun makes you racist," yet another false statement from a network still reeling following its airing of a fabricated transphobic report. The study does not state that gun owners are racist, although it did find that racists are more likely to own guns.
Gutfeld also opined that the study's authors are "probably in the KKK" (Ku Klux Klan).
Dave Workman, editor of the Second Amendment Foundation magazine, called the research "preposterous."
"I think the notion that someone is trying to tie gun ownership to racism is silly," Workman told the Washington Times.
According to the Congressional Research Service, there are as many firearms as people in the United States. More than 30,000 people are killed each year by guns in the US, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports, making firearms the second leading cause of non-medical death in the United States. It is estimated that guns will supplant motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of non-medical US death by 2015.
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