Legal gun ownership by blacks may reduce opposition to gun control among racist white Americans

According to new research published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

An estimated 7.5 million American adults became new gun owners between January 1, 2019 and April 26, 2021, and black people accounted for 20% of first time purchases. The increase in gun ownership among black Americans is particularly notable given that historically they have been less likely than white Americans to own guns – largely due to racist laws, such as than the “black codes” that emerged after the American Civil War. .

The authors of the current research sought to better understand whether attitudes of racial resentment still play a role in promoting opposition to gun rights.

“Growing up in the United States, even more so now, you have to deal with guns and their general prevalence in our country,” said study author Gerald Higginbotham, postdoctoral research associate at Frank Batten. School of Leadership and Public Policy. at the University of Virginia.

“But from a research perspective, I became interested in exploring this question using social psychology methods early in my graduate studies after seeing mainstream gun rights organizations protesting in favor of the protection of people’s guns from government excesses, but which were extremely silent when it came to black owners. gun rights (and lives) that were being trampled on by the government (e.g., Philando Castile, Jacqueline Dixon, Jemel Roberson).

“Secondly, going to learn about current black gun organizations as well as the history of gun control in the United States and its long ties to racism really reinforced the need to ask the question, to who do white Americans collect gun rights?”

To determine whether white Americans associate gun rights with their own racial identity, Higginbotham and his co-authors recruited a sample of 100 white Americans (who identified as Democrats or Republicans) and gave them a test. implicit association. Implicit association tests are used to measure the strength of an individual’s automatic association between mental representations in memory.

The test works by measuring how quickly people are able to associate different words with different groups of people. The faster a person is able to associate positive words with their own group and negative words with other groups, the more likely they are to have an implicit bias. The Implicit Association Test has been shown to be a reliable predictor of discriminatory behavior, and it has been used to investigate a wide range of topics, including racial bias, gender bias, and ageism.

Researchers found that participants who scored higher on a measure of racial resentment toward Black Americans were quicker to match photos of white people to phrases about gun rights (e.g., self-protection, National Rifle Association) and photos of black people to gun control phrases (eg waiting period, no guns, gun free zone).

In other words, participants who agreed with statements such as “If black people tried harder, they might be as good as white people” exhibited an implicit bias in which they associated gun rights with fire to white Americans and gun control to black Americans. The researchers observed a similar pattern of racial bias among those who identified as Republicans.

Importantly, 32% of participants reported owning a firearm. But control of firearm possession did not change the results.

Next, Higginbotham and his colleagues examined whether white Americans would show reduced support for gun rights if legal gun ownership among black Americans was highlighted. They used Amazon’s Mechanical Turk platform to recruit a final sample of 393 white Americans. Participants were randomly assigned to read an article that either reported that black Americans were getting concealed carry permits at a higher rate than white Americans or that white Americans were getting concealed carry permits. firearms at a higher rate than non-white racial minorities. .

The researchers found that racially resentful participants expressed less support for concealed carry permits after reading that black Americans were obtaining them at a higher rate.

Reading about black Americans obtaining concealed carry permits only seemed to impact the specific gun right that blacks were described as exercising more than whites. This did not seem to affect the extent to which white Americans expressing racial resentment agreed with statements such as “In general, if more people had guns, there would be fewer crimes” and “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

The findings provide evidence that “racist attitudes play a role in how white Americans think about and support the right to bear arms in the United States,” Higginbotham told PsyPost. “We found that white Americans who expressed high levels of anti-black sentiment more strongly associated gun rights with whites (and gun control with black Americans). And, crucially, these white Americans were less supportive of gun rights if blacks are portrayed as using them legally more than whites.

The researchers replicated their findings in a nationally representative sample of 380 white Americans. Thirty percent of these participants reported owning a firearm and 13% reported having a concealed carry permit. As with any study, however, the new results come with some caveats.

“A caveat is the relative nature of our results, which we describe as a limitation in the research paper,” Higginbotham explained. “For example, the Implicit Association Task (IAT) we used in Study 1 inherently measures the relative strength of the association between race and gun rights/control. We found that participants racially resentful whites showed a stronger association of white Americans with gun rights, but given the relative nature of the IAT paradigm, this also indicates that these participants simultaneously showed a stronger association of black Americans with gun control fire.

“This ‘relative’ association leaves open an important question for future research, especially since the United States is not black and white, and that is whether people racialize gun rights as” for whites” specifically or as “not for blacks” more generally. An additional question would be whether the patterns we observed in our data hold for other gun policies besides concealed carry.

Higginbotham and his colleagues also stressed that anti-black racism should not be used to build support for gun control reforms.

“I hope this research will make people more seriously educate themselves and consider the full history of gun law in the United States,” Higginbotham told PsyPost. “I think it’s hard to move forward if we’re not all aware of the multiple forces that have brought us to our current moment and the current mythologies. Learning this story for me has really helped shape my understanding of the long role that racism has played in guns in the United States, even though it is not yet part of today’s mainstream discourse.

“Furthermore, my collaborators and I want to be clear that our results are not intended to suggest that racism could be a way to build support for gun control legislation in the current climate of dire distress. and deadly armed violence. Many black people legally own guns, go to shooting ranges, are members of gun clubs, use guns for work, and enjoy guns, just like any American citizen.

“I think an attempt to politically weaponize the fact that black people are also legitimate gun owners, in order to increase some white people’s support for gun control, violates, and dangerously, black people who just trying to live their life and use their rights. like any other American citizen,” Higginbotham continued. “But it’s not only dangerous, it’s also short-sighted.”

“When you think about politics in practice, if support for gun control legislation is motivated by anti-Blackness, then does anti-Blackness show up in its intent, its language, its application, for example who is it targeting? Again, we found that people showed less support just for the specific gun rights that black people were described as using. This finding may suggest that gun regulations achieved by exploiting white American anti-blackness may disproportionately target black rights rather than focus on meaningfully saving lives.

The study, “When Compelling Bias Meets Immovable Politics: Legal Black Gun Ownership Undermines Gun Rights Advocacy by Racially Resentful White Americans,” was authored by Gerald D. Higginbotham , David O. Sears and Lauren Goldstein.

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