Study: White Gun Owners More Likely To Be Racist

A new study suggests that being a white racist makes you far likelier to both own a gun and oppose stricter gun control laws. This conclusion was reached after the researchers controlled for other variables, like partisan and ideological identification, geographic location, age, gender and all sorts attributes — and the degree of correlation they found was quite significant. It’s a study that will no doubt upset a lot of white gun owners (and also, I suppose, openly racist whites who are anti-gun).

The study, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE, found that for every one-point increase in “symbolic racism,” which is measured on a five-point scale, white Americans were 50 percent more likely to have a gun in the household. Furthermore, there was no such correlation regarding gun ownership and other demographic attributes.

The concept of symbolic racism was coined by David O'Sears and P.J. Henry, of UCLA and Yale, in the 1970s as a way to explain why many white Americans who professed support for racial equality also opposed, by and large, policies designed to rectify racial inequality. As the study’s authors explain:

Symbolic racism is a belief structure underpinned by both anti-black affect and traditional values. The anti-black affect (racism) component of symbolic racism is said to be established in pre-adult years through exposure to negative black stereotypes (e.g. blacks as dangerous, blacks are lazy), to the point that phenomena such as crime and physical violence have become typified as black phenomena. The anti-black affect is not necessarily conscious or deliberative, but may be felt as fear, anger, unease, and hostility towards blacks.


Because symbolic racism represents an ingrained schema, individuals high in symbolic racism will react in a negative manner, often unconsciously, to issues perceived to involve a racial (i.e. black) component.

Symbolic racism is measured, in part, by gauging respondent’s support for policies that either seek to promote racial equality, like affirmative action and school busing, or policies that they perceive as benefiting blacks, like welfare spending and reduced prison sentences.

The paper also found a somewhat counterintuitive finding regarding the correlation between other demographic factors and attitudes toward guns (emphasis mine):

Conservative ideology was also significantly related to stronger support for permits to carry concealed handguns after adjusting for other explanatory variables. Similarly, stronger republican identification, being from a southern state, and anti-government sentiment were associated with opposition to gun-control policies, but not with having a gun in the home. With the exception of sex, and to a much lesser extent education, demographic variables were not related to having a gun in the home or opposition to gun controls.

So tons of attributes that might often be associated with gun ownership didn’t actually predict gun ownership; only the level of symbolic racism did. This helps explain one paradox in gun attitudes, which is that while white Americans own guns and oppose gun control in far higher levels than black Americans, they're also "considerably more likely to kill themselves with those guns, than be killed by others or blacks."

The NRA freakout will commence in three, two...