- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Are gun ownership and racism linked?

Researchers have found that the more racist beliefs held by a white person, the more likely the person is to own a gun — conclusions that have rankled gun rights advocates.

A team led by Kerry O’Brien, of Monash University in Australia and The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, examined white Americans’ negative perceptions about blacks and compared the rates of both gun ownership and opposition to gun control to discover the correlations.

Researchers based their conclusions on the results of a multiple-choice questionnaire that measured responses to a series of statements about attitudes toward black people. The more strongly a person agreed with a statement, the more points they accumulated.

The total points were then averaged to come up with a score between one and five that determined “symbolic racism.” Researchers found that the more points a person accumulated, the greater their chances of owning a gun and of opposing gun control.

The report, published in the peer-reviewed online publication PLoS One, said that for each one-point increase “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.”

While symbolic racism, which is a subtle but modern measure of anti-black racism, was associated with higher rates of gun ownership, researchers also attempted to identify signs of overt racism, which did not appear to have any correlation to gun ownership.

The study used data collected through the American National Election Studies — an academically run survey of U.S. voters — but only sought to measure white respondents beliefs, since whites have been found far more likely than blacks to oppose gun control measures.

A Pew Research Center study from January found that 53 percent of whites said they want to protect their rights to gun ownership while only 24 percent of blacks said the same.

It’s not the first time race and opinions on gun policy have been linked, and one gun rights activist called the study’s conclusions “preposterous.”

“I think the notion that someone is trying to tie gun ownership to racism is silly,” said Dave Workman, an editor at the Second Amendment Foundation’s magazine.

Noting an increase in the last five years in the number of permits to allow people to carry concealed weapons, Mr. Workman said he’s seen anecdotal evidence that gun ownership is increasing among minorities, including blacks, Hispanics and women.

Others caution that, though linking the two topics in a study can result in knee-jerk outrage, the results aren’t all that surprising.

“One person can read this and say gun owners are racists — and that’s not what it says,” said John Hudak, gun policy researcher with the Brookings Institution. “It says racists are gun owners.”

Researchers note that whites’ stronger opposition to gun control has shifted over the course of the last century. The study says that during the civil rights movement black activists exercised their right to carry guns for protection from police and extreme white factions, and that the response white people was to demand stricter gun control.

Citing results that show attitudes among white people toward guns appear to be influenced by “illogical racial biases,” the study’s authors suggest that gun-control policies might need to be implemented “independent of public opinion.”

• Andrea Noble can be reached at anoble@washingtontimes.com.

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