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Academic researchers claim gun rights advocates have anti-black racial biases

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University of Illinois at Chicago academics say 'racially conservative Whites' view gun ownership as a sign of good citizenship

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Chicago have published a study that claims "racially biased conservative Whites" support the Second Amendment right to bear arms because they identify gun ownership with good citizenship and suggests mass shootings "may be a symptom of the country's enduring legacy of racism."

This analysis was published in the Washington Post by associate professor of political science Alexandra Filindra, Ph.D. student in political science Beyza Buyuker, and clinical assistant professor of political science Noah J. Kaplan of the University of Illinois at Chicago. They published their findings in the Post after two mass shootings occurred within one week of each other in Georgia and Colorado and amid a renewed national debate over gun control.

These researchers wanted to find out why "gun rights supporters are highly politically organized and unwavering on their views, while gun regulation supporters are not."

"Our research found a reason for this difference: racial differences in rates of gun ownership and beliefs about guns," the researchers wrote. "White Americans are far more likely than any other group to own firearms and oppose gun regulations. To them, guns are potent political symbols. For many people, especially White Americans, guns are integral to who they are as citizens and what it means to be a good citizen."

On the other hand, gun control advocates "tend to think about guns in terms of preventing violence and the harms that guns can inflict," the researchers state. Because "racially conservative Whites" — who are defined as scoring high on measures of anti-black prejudice — associate gun ownership with good citizenship, they "interpret attempts to restrict access to guns not as an effort to prevent gun violence but as an attack on their ability to express their patriotism."

The authors of the analysis cite several studies to support their assertion that white Americans who own guns feel "morally superior" to those who don't and hold racially biased views of black Americans:

Both historical research and our studies of contemporary gun ownership and gun control policy preferences suggest that many Whites share these beliefs. For a century, the National Rifle Association reinforced such beliefs, we find. By owning guns and supporting gun rights, racially conservative White Americans feel that they are showing their moral superiority as good, law-abiding citizens. At the same time, they implicitly express their contempt for African Americans who they believe have failed to uphold the values of American citizenship, such as self-sufficiency and independence from the state. These Whites see efforts to restrict gun ownership as threatening their social and moral status and trying to devalue their status as Americans.

The researchers collected their data in a 2015 nationally representative survey of 1,900 Americans conducted by YouGov. The survey found that 43 percent of whites but only 23 percent of black Americans view gun ownership as a sign of good citizenship. Men were more likely than women to agree with that attitude toward gun ownership, particularly men in gun-owning households.

The study also asked about implicit biases white gun owners may harbor about black people.

"Specifically, we find that Whites who think that Blacks are violent are 38 percent more likely to believe that gun ownership is a sign of good citizenship than those who do not view Blacks as violent. Similarly, Whites who think that Blacks have too much political influence are 32 percent more likely to believe good citizenship and gun ownership go together than Whites who do not," the researchers report.

"We find no evidence of similar associations among African Americans," they added.

The researchers conclude that "racially conservative whites associate Blacks with crime and political corruption, not with good citizenship." They suggest that "the prevalence of mass shootings in the United States may be a symptom of the country's enduring legacy of racism," and they recommend that gun control advocates address these "deeply held perceptions" and "incorporate them in their communications strategies."

The article does not mention the U.S. Constitution or the Second Amendment in its discussion of how white Americans link gun ownership to good citizenship. It also does not acknowledge how gun control policies were historically enforced by white supremacist Democrats to keep firearms out of the hands of black Americans or address how those historic circumstances may have shaped modern views on gun ownership.

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