Four academics from Australia and the UK have really gone out of their way to put together some poorly done research (Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly). A copy of their paper is available here (PLos One, October 31, 2013). They basically claim that gun ownership is related to racism among whites. Here are some comments:
– Why only use this test on whites? One would expect they would find the same relationship for blacks.
Take the Symbolic Racism Scale (the only measure that they really find significantly related to guns) — P. 9: “participants indicated the extent to which they agree (1 = agree strongly to 5 = disagree strongly) with statements such as ‘Generations of slavery and discrimination have created conditions that make it difficult for blacks to work their way out of the lower class’ (reverse scored).”
You don’t have to be racist to believe that after 150 years since slavery’s abolition, the legacy of slavery doesn’t still have a particularly big effect on how well blacks are doing these days. There are many other ethnic groups that came to the US very poor and suffered discrimination and still have since then ended up doing very well. Jews, Chinese are a couple of obvious examples. In addition, blacks were doing relatively better on many dimensions, such as family stability, during the early 1960s than they are now. See many books by Professor Thomas Sowell for example. People might disagree with these points, but that doesn’t mean that they are racist.
[As I examine below, for some reason blacks or non-whites who hold these supposedly racist views towards blacks are also more likely to own guns.]
Conservatives have long been known to be more likely to own guns and they would be likely to be claimed to be racist based on how they are likely to answer the racism questions, but that is not the same as saying that they are racist.
– The “Black Violent Stereotype” and “Implicit racism” measures are never really significant when anything else is accounted for. And they are not even significant on their own and thus there is not much point in discussing them.
These four psychologists claim that the causation might go either way. That racists buy guns or that buying guns makes one racist.
Similarly, simply owning a firearm may lead whites to develop more negative attitudes towards blacks. There is some experimental research showing that participants who have recently held a firearm produce enhanced salivary testosterone levels and display increased aggression toward others. Causality aside, greater control of firearms is the most logical direction for public health policy. . . . .
UPDATE: Some of the media is actually giving this study news coverage. Take a story from the New York Daily News:
One question asked, “How well does the word ‘violent’ describe most blacks?” and participants were given five responses to choose from, ranging from “extremely well” to “not at all well.”
An “extremely well” response was seen as an endorsement of a stereotype. . . .
One would think that the news article should have mentioned that this variable is not statistically significant.
“It is particularly noteworthy that the relationship between symbolic racism and the gun-related outcomes was maintained in the presence of conservative ideologies, political affiliation, opposition to government control and being from a southern state, which are otherwise strong predictors of gun ownership and opposition to gun reform,” said the study, published in the scientific journal PLOS ONE . . . .
This paper arbitrarily uses only a subset of the factors that can account for gun ownership. For example, here is a list of some of the variables that could have been accounted for but were not: religion and church attendance rate, marital status, party registration, home ownership, the state that the lived it (not just whether they were in the South, but even other other parts of the country or particular states), and who they supported for president. With 3,292 whites in the sample, it would have been very easy to account for these other factors. Since no explanation is offered for what they decided to include and what they didn’t, one wonders how many combinations of the control variables were tried before they presented the particular factors they decided to include in their estimates. (There were a lot of minorities in the sample that could have been studied. There were 492 blacks, 275 Hispanics, and 181 other.)
O’Brien, the lead author told the New York Daily News that “we couldn’t make sense of why there would be resistance to gun reform in the U.S.” and an Australian newspaper that “we found the arguments for opposing gun control counterintuitive and somewhat illogical.” One obvious explanation is that police are important in protecting people but that they themselves understand they arrive on the crime scene after the crime has occurred. As to this paper’s emphasis on suicides, it seems surprisingly unfamiliar with the research indicating that there are a lot of different ways for people to commit suicides.
UPDATE 2: I was so curious why these authors didn’t run the same regressions on non-whites, I decided to do it myself. First, my attempt to redo their regression result for gun ownership. My question is whether it is credible that these researchers didn’t try to run these regressions on non-whites. I find that hard to believe, if only as a way of double checking their results. Click on screen shots of the regression data to make them larger. All the variables used in the O’Brien et al paper are used here with the exception of the “implicit racism” variable, which they found no evidence that it was statistically significant in any case.
Now rerunning the same regression on non-whites. Despite the much smaller sample, you still get statistically significant effect for this supposed measure of symbolic racism. So are non-whites who are racist against blacks more likely to own a gun? Hardly seems reasonable.
I also redid the regression for support of concealed carry.
Again, running the regression on non-whites produces the same result and raises the same question about their measure of symbolic racism.
I did the regressions that used the question of whether people favored banning handguns and I got similar results (this post is getting too long, but they are available upon request).
I also reran the regressions just on blacks, though the sample was cut by about half (now just n=217, compared to n=2205 for just whites). In both cases the coefficients for gun in the home and favoring concealed carry were again positive, though only the coefficient for favoring concealed carry was statistically significant (with a z-statistic = 2.63 and it significant at better than the 1 percent level).
These authors claimed: “we found that none of the variables reported in models for white participants were significantly related to any of the gun-related outcomes for blacks. ” But that looks obviously false to me. Not only is there the result just discussed, but I reran the univariate regressions reported in Tables 1, 2, and 3 for just blacks when looking at the measure of “Symbolic Racism” based on this question regarding slavery. There are many more observations here (n=492) and all the results show a strong significant relationship between this so-called measure of racism and blacks owning guns. Are blacks who believe that slavery isn’t still significantly related to today’s problems facing blacks racist toward blacks and thus are more likely to own guns because of that racism? Setting the variable der04=2 means that the regression only at the answers to the survey questions given by blacks. Setting it equal to 1 means that we are only looking at whites.
Amid the commemorations of the first anniversary of Hurricane Sandy, rich with progress reports on repair and rebuilding, there was an overlooked moment—one for which ribbon cuttings and indexes of municipal development are no salve. On October 29, 2012, as the storm ravaged New York’s coastal areas, Glenda Moore struggled to free her two young sons, aged four and two, from her flooded car, only to see them swept from her grasp and drowned. When Moore, a five-three African-American, sought help from nearby residents, they turned her away.
Two weeks ago—a year and four days after Moore’s children died—Renisha McBride, a nineteen-year-old African-American woman, was involved in a car accident in a Detroit suburb at around 1 A.M. In the hazy series of events that followed, McBride, who was intoxicated, knocked at the door of Theodore Wafer, a white homeowner who fired a shotgun through his screen door and killed her. It had been less than two months since Jonathan Ferrell, a twenty-four-year-old African-American, was killed by police in Charlotte, North Carolina, after crashing his car into an embankment and knocking on the door of a nearby home, whose owner called 911 to report a robbery in progress.
On Friday, the Wayne County prosecutor, Kym Worthy, announced that Wafer would be charged with second-degree murder and manslaughter. Worthy discounted the role of race in the events of that night in Dearborn Heights—her decision to bring charges, she said, had “nothing to do whatsoever with the race of the parties.” But for McBride’s family and many observers in Detroit and beyond, there is a lineage of suspicion that binds the disparate events listed above.
There is an irony at the heart of these incidents, one that is difficult to notice beneath the din of decibels with which we discuss race, crime, and fear in this country. African-Americans are both the primary victims of violent crime in this country and the primary victims of the fear of that crime. In the wake of Trayvon Martin’s killing, defenders of George Zimmerman pointed defiantly to statistics showing that African-Americans committed a disproportionate share of violent crimes—damning stats, wielded like a collective bad report card, that no black person in this country is ever in danger of forgetting, if only for the sake of his or her own safety. But those numbers are mute on matters of actual human experience; they have nothing to say about the blink of time in which a petite grieving mother registers as a threat, or an inebriated nineteen-year-old motorist intimidates a fifty-four-year-old man who has a shotgun. There is almost a sense that McBride’s death is not news; it’s a case study—a cliché with a casualty.
It is entirely reasonable to be alarmed by an unexpected knock in the middle of the night, and it’s not difficult to imagine someone nervously answering the door with a weapon nearby. But the Rorschach moment is what happens next: is it possible to look through a cracked-open door and register Moore or Ferrell or McBride as something other than an amalgam of suspicions?
The raging debates over racial profiling forced police departments to confront the question of what constitutes reasonable suspicion, but at a time when the lines between police authority and that of the common civilian are increasingly blurred, those concerns have been partially privatized. Self-defense is now a matter of interpretation, divining the truth of what we see when we look at another person.
The week of McBride’s killing, students in an African-American history class I teach discussed the case of Rubin Stacy, an itinerant black farm worker who died in Florida in 1935. Stacy showed up unexpectedly at the Fort Lauderdale home of Marion Jones, a white woman. She screamed and her neighbors alerted police, but a mob quickly gathered and Stacy was hung from a post near the Jones residence. His lynching was commemorated witha postcard; a investigation revealed that Stacy was no thief—in the midst of the Great Depression, he was going door to door begging for food.
The circumstances of Stacy’s death are different from those of Ferrell’s and McBride’s—their killings are understood as tragedies, whereas his was a source of civic pride. But in the fractured moment when a request for help is read as something far more sinister, the calculations yield results that are all but indistinguishable.
Mourners gather after Renisha McBride’s funeral in Detroit. Photograph by Joshua Lott/Reuters.
As we digest the news of yet another high-profile gun crime, the conversation inevitably comes back to the question of why stricter gun-control laws are so difficult to pass in this country.
There are a variety of explanations, of course, including the political clout of the National Rifle Association. But there are also deeper, psychological reasons why so many Americans would rather endure mass shooting after mass shooting rather than agree to any restrictions on gun ownership.
And one of them, it appears, is ingrained racism.
That’s the implication of a newly published study, which finds a link between gun ownership, opposition to gun control, and “symbolic racism”—racist attitudes that are not overt, but nevertheless color one’s view of the world.
A research team led by Kerry O’Brien of Monash University in Australia reports a high score on a common measure of racial resentment increases the odds that a person will (a) have a gun in the house, and (b) be opposed to gun control. This holds true even after other “explanatory variables,” including political party affiliation, are taken into account.
“The statistics on firearm-related suicides and homicides in the U.S. might reasonably be expected to convince U.S. citizens that action on reducing gun ownership and use would be beneficial to their health,” the researchers write in the online journal PLOS One.
“Yet, U.S. whites oppose strong gun reform more than all other racial groups, despite a much greater likelihood that whites will kill themselves with their own guns (suicide) than be killed by someone else.”
They conclude that these “paradoxical attitudes” among American whites—who oppose measures that would reduce their own risk of violent death—can be explained in part by “anti-black prejudice.”
O’Brien and his colleagues analyzed data from several waves of the American National Election Studies, large-scale surveys that take place during federal election years. The sample of voters skewed slightly conservative: “Just over half (52 percent) of the sample had a gun in the home, 66 percent opposed bans on handguns in the home, and 52 percent reported support for permits to carry a concealed handgun.”
After providing detailed demographic information, participants answered four questions taken from the Symbolic Racism Scale. Specifically, they expressed their level of agreement or disagreement (on a one-to-five scale) with statements such as, “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.”
O’Brien and his colleagues took a range of variables that could influence attitudes toward guns out of the equation, including age, income, education level, political ideology, party identification, and whether the person lived in the South. They then measured whether implicitly racist attitudes predicted greater support for guns and gun rights.
Indeed they did.
“For each one point increase in symbolic racism, there was a 50 percent greater odds of having a gun in the home,” they write, “and there was a 28 percent increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns.”
In contrast, there was no correlation between attitudes toward guns and the one question that measured overt racism (whether they felt the word “violent” described “most blacks”). The researchers note that fewer than 10 percent of participants strongly endorsed that notion; they suspect a significant number recoiled from its blatantly prejudiced tone and answered negatively “in order to avoid appearing racist.”
O’Brien and his colleagues caution that while the “view that racism underpins gun-related attitudes is plausible and supported by evidence,” their study shows correlation, not causation. It’s conceivable that “simply owning a firearm may lead whites to develop more negative attitudes towards blacks,” they write.
Conceivable, but how likely?
Either way, the researchers note, “the results indicate that symbolic racism is associated with gun-related attitudes and behaviors in U.S. whites.” That unpleasant fact will have to somehow be addressed before more stringent gun control becomes a reality.
LAX gunman Paul Ciancia pictured with bullet wound to the face
Paul Ciancia, 23, is in critical condition after he was shot in the face by police when he opened fire at Los Angeles International Airport, killing one TSA agent and injuring two others. Officials say Ciancia is receiving medical treatment and is currently unresponsive.
“The shooter took a .45 caliber round to the face,” a law enforcement source told the Daily News.
A bullet knocked his teeth out, split his tongue and blew away part of the madman’s face.
A stunning photo that surfaced Saturday shows Paul Ciancia’s face bloodied, his hands cuffed behind his back and pools of blood soaking the carpet at Los Angeles International Airport.
Here’s the thing about gun-nuts: They are mainly fools and victims. They are fools because they spend an extraordinary amount of money on their arsenals, thus keeping the gun lobby manufacturers happy. And they are victims because if there is a necessary condition for someone being shot, owning a gun would be it.
Here’s why they’re cursed. First, as I mentioned before, cult-like adoration for the big manly guns (and ammo) basically puts the owner with the fetish for guns at greatest risk of being harmed.
Yes, we get the sporadic mass shootings by some deranged gun-nuts, but when compared with the 30,000-plus total gun deaths in the U.S. (or about 88 per day), statistically speaking, the casualties for those are minuscule (if horrendous for the people affected, of course).
Second, from what I know about the dynamics of violence, no matter the NRA bullshit propaganda, statistically speaking, a gun owner is highly unlikely to ever be in a position to use his gun to protect himself against a robbery.
The robbery is more likely to happen by surprise. You’re at an ATM, turn around, and there is a gun in your face, asking you to hand over the cash. Or you’re walking to your car while looking at your iPhone, open the car door, and out of nowhere, a guy with a gun is right behind you asking you for the keys.
To the contrary, those who own guns with the mentality to be ready for those moments, oh that glorious moment when they can actually be justified in shooting the thug that’s robbing them, may feel a false sense of security knowing they have a gun, thus increasing the likelihood to be shot by the bad guy.
Here’s the thing, when I’ve owned guns, it has never crossed my mind that I would be in a “perfect” position to ever use it to protect myself against a robbery, or something like that. It has been just a hobby; it was kind of cool to let the semi-auto 9mm do its thing at the shooting range.
My experience growing up in violent environments where shootings were almost a daily occurrence is that the best thing you can do to protect yourself is to try to avoid situations where you may become a target. So basic stuff, like just being aware of your surroundings, locking your door as soon as you get inside the car, keeping an eye on people who may be acting a little strange in public.
I estimate that those things (basic safety precautions) are more effective at keeping you safe, than any gun, by a 10 to 1 ratio. By the time the bad guy has a gun in your face, you may as well hand over the cash, and keep your life. Either way, your super-duper $2,000 dollar semi-auto is not going to do jack-shit by the time that happens.
Finally, there is a fringy element on the right, the extreme paramilitary-type guys with the semi-auto in one hand and the bible in the other, holding both tight to their chest, rocking back and forth, wild-eyed, just waiting, waiting for just the right time, the right conditions to either take on the government, or some other perceived threats, being egged on by the right wing talkers (aka gun lobby tools).
Again, they’re good for the gun lobby manufacturers and dealers, and for businesses that peddle underground bunkers, and for those who sell survivalist provisions, etc.
But it is highly unlikely that they will ever get their wet-dream realized, where their right-wing revolution kicks off, giving them the excuse they are looking for to act. It ain’t going to happen. So they will basically continue playing G.I. Joe in their camouflage garb, keeping their bunkers well-stocked, and spending huge amount of money on their arsenals, for a revolution that will never come.
Again, all the while just by having so many guns around, the only people they are endangering the most are themselves and their families (unfortunately, of course), statistically-speaking.
And yes, yes, I’m aware about the dominionists, and about the egging on by the NRA telling people that police forces can’t defend them because they don’t have any funding, and that people need to armed themselves against thugs and robbers and criminals (using lots of code language). And I’m aware about many of these people infiltrating our military, including higher echelons, etc.
Yes, there is some danger there, but guess what? If it ever got to that, which is highly unlikely, I’ll bet on the good guys, on the real men (and women) of valor, of integrity. History is on our side. It has been messy, but as a society, we’ve beaten back the racist ultra-nationalists, the religious extremists, every single time.
So, yes there are lots of guns in the U.S. (something very unfortunate). But guess what? Liberal and progressive-minded cities have less guns, and therefore less gun deaths.
Obviously, we can’t relent on pushing back on the NRA, and ALEC, and their nonstop attempt of flooding the country with guns; that’s a given.
But in the final analysis, the gun-nuts have it worst, for many reasons: On average, it is almost impossible for any given person to find themselves in a situation to use their guns to protect themselves (anecdotes notwithstanding); they are spending a fortune on useless arsenals (which at least keep the gun lobby happy); and they will never get their right-wing (dominionist) revolution; and they are putting themselves at greater danger than non-gun owners.
So keep up the fight, but do not despair… We’ll win in the long run.