Tuesday, November 5, 2013

New Research Details the Strong Relationship Between White Racism and Gun Ownership

New research from Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly in the journal PLS One suggests that there is a relationship between a person's levels of "symbolic racism", gun ownership, and support for concealed carry laws.

They detail how:
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, there was a 50% greater odds of having a gun in the home (see Table 1), and there was a 28% increase in the odds of supporting permits to carry concealed handguns (see Table 3)...

Opposition to gun control in US whites is somewhat paradoxical given the statistics on gun-related deaths, and such opposition may be undermining the public health of all US citizens. This study examined for the first time whether racism is related to gun ownership and the opposition to gun control in US whites. The results support the hypothesis by showing that greater symbolic racism is related to increased odds of having a gun in the home and greater opposition to gun control, after accounting for all other explanatory variables. 
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.
These findings will be misread and misunderstood. This results because many people do not understand how social scientists construct knowledge and make truth-claims. This outcome is also a function of how political opinion has become conflated with empirical facts and reality in the 24/7 news cycle.

Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly are not suggesting that beliefs about guns are caused by (modern) white racism. Likewise, they are not arguing that having a gun necessarily makes one more likely to be a racist. O'Brien and company are not claiming that all conservatives are racists or bigots; nor, does their research indicated that all gun owners are racists.

"Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions" narrowly focuses on the relationships between attitudes, values, beliefs, and yes, in some cases, behavior.

This is sound social science because the authors takes a well-documented and researched phenomenon, "symbolic racism", and relate it to an important issue of public concern. Surprising and counter-intuitive research findings are an essential part of creating knowledge and shifting paradigms forward. Research that further explores and enriches what we should already know--symbolic racism emphasizes a narrative of black criminality and white victimhood; thus, attitudes about guns should be central to that story--is invaluable because of how it buttresses existing knowledge while also suggesting areas for further investigation.

The public and the media want simple, "yes" or "no" answers to the questions surrounding complex political issues. They have great difficulties is understanding that sometimes the answers to complex social questions are "yes", "no", and "perhaps something else or a combination of the two".

Kerry O’Brien, Walter Forrest, Dermot Lynott, and Michael Daly signal to this in the following passage:
Finally, the correlational nature of the study clearly prohibits causal inferences. While a view that racism underpins gun-related attitudes is plausible and supported by evidence on other race-related policy decisions [18], [23], it could be argued that there are other plausible but unmeasured variables that could explain the pattern of relationships we find here.
Their research is especially powerful because it highlights how white racial attitudes are not separate and apart from politics. In a post civil rights era when racism and conservatism are very much the same thing, these relationships and dynamics are going to be further exaggerated and out-sized.

What researchers call the "new" and "old fashioned" types of racism, help to structure an individual's more general political worldview. Moreover, racial attitudes are so powerful that they influence beliefs about ostensibly "race neutral" policy matters such as foreign policy, government spending, taxes, and the like.

"Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions" is being met with complaints and denials. This is predictable. However misguided the thought process, for many people, guns are integrally tied to their sense of personal identity, masculinity, and notions of "freedom".

As I discussed with professors Richard Slotkin and Ann Little, attitudes about guns and gun ownership are also central to America's history of racial Apartheid and formal White Supremacy.

The suggestion that white people's levels of racial resentment may be related to gun ownership also arouses white grievance mongers and white victimologists.

The following point is a subtle, but very important one. Contemporary conservatism is extremely anti-intellectual: empirical research and "science" are to be treated with immediate suspicion. In the Right-wing political imagination, the academy is a bastion for its traditional enemies, those "intellectuals", "feminists", "gays", "liberals", and "multiculturalists" who are "anti-American" and "don't love the country".

As demonstrated by their positions on global warming, tax policy, the economy, and other matters, because the Tea Party GOP is possessed by a "hallucinatory ideology", they immediately reject any information that does not confirm their own twisted view of political and social reality.

In all, empirical claims about guns and race are a mix of highly combustible elements in contemporary American politics.

Racism remains a social force that over-determines the life chances, negatively, for people of color in the United States. Gun violence is a public health crisis. Solving these problems will require an embrace of the sociological imagination, and all of the insight and richness it can provide. Unfortunately, the public discourse in the United States is highly polarized, anti-intellectual, betrayed by a failed 4th Estate, and where conservatives hide behind twin ramparts and redoubts of cultivated disinformation and misinformation.

"Racism, Gun Ownership and Gun Control: Biased Attitudes in US Whites May Influence Policy Decisions" demonstrates how white racism and attitudes about guns are tied together. We have made great progress in fighting the former. Yet, we are unable to stop sacrificing our children to the gun gods, or putting an end to the blood ritual that is gun violence. America defeated Jim and Jane Crow. Yet, the United States cannot find the national will to beat back the power of the National Rifle Association. This failure of will is a national tragedy.


Bryan Ortez said...

Great stuff, sir. A friend of mine from South Africa sent me a message this morning about a Franz Joote. He is an Afrikaner and runs a paramilitary camp for boys aged 13-19 whom he trains with ideas about black inferiority. He says that black people have a smaller cerebral cortex and are the most barbaric of peoples. There is also the Red October movement or whatever in South Africa where the fear of white genocide is very powerful.


chauncey devega said...

That white genocide argument is a strong one and has gained much traction via the "respectable" right-wing media. See there framing of it as white people becoming "extinct". Silliness. But a good insight into their sense of threatened superiority. I will check out that link.

Scopedog said...

Thanks for this, Chauncey. I especially liked this:

"The public and the media want simple, "yes" or "no" answers to the questions surrounding complex political issues."

This stood out for me.

Also, in the interest of disclosure, my brother is a gun owner and collector and licensed firearms instructor (and he also taught me how to shoot and the ways of gun safety). He isn't crazy; he's just about the most well-mannered person you could ever meet. But he was the first to tell me that when it comes to gun ownership/gun crimes/racism/mass shootings, there are many factors and it is never a yes or no thing. Still, I do not own a gun.

Scopedog said...

Whenever I hear this--the framing of white people becoming "extinct" and that they're "losing everything", all I can think of is Chris Rock's line about, "If they're losing everything, then who's winning? Because it ain't us!"

Bryan Ortez said...

After reading about this Franz Jooste I was interested in seeing if there are any American groups that have a similar aim and pursuit. I came across this piece from May 2012.

The white genocide argument is very strong in many places. There is a facebook page called American White History Month, they push that stuff. There are a couple of blogs I have been made aware of, News 4 Whites and TradYouth.org, they push this garbage fear mongering against the entirety of black Americans for the criminality of a few.

Mez Kitsu said...

I am sorry, but I must strongly disagree with this article. I’m a Native South American and ownership of firearms has been a tradition in my culture for hundreds of years. We took up arms to defend against the Spanish, and our traditional monarchy has had a right to keep arms long before the Americans wrote their Bill of Rights. There is not one anti-gun group or anti-gun person within my culture, and the fact that my culture has stronger gun rights than Americans do means that I find it incredibly hard to believe that gun ownership could be linked with white racism. With the exception, of course, in that our guns have allowed us to defend ourselves from white racism (such as the Spanish conquistadors)!

Now I must write another valid point toward this. Your article is entitled “white racism”, yet the research shows only “racial resentment”. Now if we believe that all races are equal, and I indeed do, then we must also believe that all races are capable of racial resentment. In this case, we must also conclude that gun ownership can be linked to “black racism” just as much as it can be to “white racism”. In my case, could it not be “indigenous racism” given my cultures gun ownership tradition and history of conflict with white people?

Perhaps. But I do not agree. In fact my people have worked hard to eliminate racism. Today a white person is just as respected on our land as a fellow native is. We have less racial conflict, or “racial resentment”, than your country does. Despite our history, we have overcome. Yet we keep our guns today for many reasons, including so that we may defend our land from attack. Racial resentment? No. Conquistador resentment? Absolutely. Whatever the case, firearms have a strong and proud tradition in my culture, and we never used them for any act of racism.