A new study published in PLoS One and lead by Dr. Kerry O’Brien from the University of Manchester ties gun ownership and opposition to stricter gun control policies to symbolic racism in white Americans.
Symbolic racism, also considered “modern” racism, is described as a less blatant form of prejudice embraced through the approval of certain social policies designed to disadvantage blacks in the United States. Since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, this form of racism has replaced old fashioned hate like the approval of Jim Crow Laws with stringent conservative policies like the opposition to social safety nets such as welfare.
Often these policies are easily rationalized in the name of fiscal responsibility or rights (e.g. gun ownership). Individuals who hold symbolically racist beliefs can feel that they themselves are not racist, or even that racial prejudice no longer exists.
After accounting for income, age, location, political ideology, education and gender, researchers discovered that for each point increase in symbolic racism that support of gun-friendly policy increased significantly. For each one-point increase on the study’s five-point symbolic racism scale, the chance of owning a gun increased 50 percent. At the same time, support for concealed carry policy increased 28 percent in addition to a 27-percent increase in opposition to policy prohibiting handguns in households.
“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. For example, US whites oppose gun control to a far greater extent than do blacks, but whites are actually more likely to kill themselves with their guns, than be killed by someone else. Why would you keep them? So we decided to examine what social and psychological factors predict gun ownership and opposition to gun control,” Said Dr. O’Brien as reported by University of Manchester’s news.
Interest in the study gained traction after mass shootings like the one in Newtown, CT nearly a year ago. The latest statistics reveal that over 38,000 deaths a year in the United States are gun related. Other research also shows that gun ownership increases the risk of homicide or suicide in a household anywhere from 2.7 to 4.8 times.
“According to a Pew Research Center report the majority of white Americans support stricter gun control, but the results of our study suggest that those who oppose gun reform tend to have a stronger racial bias, tend to be politically and ideologically conservative and from southern states, and have higher anti-government sentiment. 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,” Said O’Brien.