Are US gun owners and gun control opponents more racist?

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A few weeks ago, the usual suspects in the media were going berserk over a new study that correlates pro-gun attitudes with anti-black racism in the US.  I've been digging through the details.

Here's the study itself (long article): Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions

Here's a shorter plain-English news article describing the study (and recommended by the study's lead author): Study Links White Racism With Opposition to Gun Control

In brief, the authors mined some data from a large survey taken in 2008-2009, and they claim to have found a correlation between racial resentment of whites against blacks, and the likelihood of whites to own guns or be anti-gun-control.  Only data provided by US whites were used in this study.

To determine the level of "symbolic racism" (racial resentment that falls short of outright anti-black bigotry), they used these four questions:

Do you agree strongly, agree somewhat, neither agree nor disagree, disagree somewhat, or disagree strongly with this statement?

  • Irish, Italians, Jewish and many other minorities overcame prejudice and worked their way up. Blacks should do the same without any special favors. [Agreement = racist]
  • Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class. [Disagreement = racist]
  • Over the past few years, blacks have gotten less than they deserve. [Disagreement = racist]
  • It’s really a matter of some people not trying hard enough; if blacks would only try harder they could be just as well off as whites. [Agreement = racist]

For a measure of overt racism, they used this question:

  • How well does the word “violent” describe most blacks? ["Extremely well" or "very well" = racist]

They also used data from an "Implicit Attitudes Test" -- I'll let the authors describe this one:

...the race IAT was administered online, requiring participants to rapidly associate pictures of white and black faces with positively- and negatively-valenced words. Participants were asked to press the key “P” for white faces and for positive words and “Q” for any other stimulus. Alternatively, they were asked to press “P” for black faces or positive words and “Q” for other stimuli. ... This score is coded so that positive scores indicate an unconscious preference for whites over blacks.

Regarding guns, survey participants were asked whether they were gun owners and whether a gun was present in the home.  They were also asked their opinions on whether gun possession in the home or licenced concealed-carry should be legal.

There were also various statistical tests and adjustments based on assorted other questions (conservatism, political party, gender, geographical location, income, etc.).  I didn't attempt to understand all these details.

The results:

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 [on a 5-point scale], there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home, and there was a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns. ... Higher IAT [Implicit Attitudes Test] scores were not related to gun ownership and gun control in full models. Higher scores on black violent stereotyping were not related to any of the gun-related outcomes...


No correlation with black violent stereotyping.  (Although you could argue that nobody answered this question honestly.)

No correlation with "unconscious preference" for whites over blacks.

Positive correlation with so-called "symbolic racism".  I'd say there's some room for disagreement about whether these four questions are measuring only racist attitudes.  Conservatives and libertarians might be inclined to see in these questions some assumptions about the proper role of government in creating socioeconomic equality, and answer accordingly.  Coincidentally, conservatives and libertarians don't much like gun control.  Duh.

As for the authors, they are blatantly anti-gun and make no effort to hide it.  They refer to pro-gun attitudes as "paradoxical" and not "logical", and they say that "gun control policies may need to be implemented independent of public opinion."

Although the authors are careful to note that "the correlational nature of the study clearly prohibits causal inferences", in the very next paragraph they state that "anti-black prejudice leads people to oppose [gun control] implementation", which sounds exactly like an assertion of causation to me.

My opinion: the only important conclusion here is that there is no correlation between overt racism ("black violent stereotyping") and pro-gun attitudes.  The rest of the study tells us nothing.