Gun owners are racist, according to bad science
White people own guns – and oppose gun control legislation – because they are racist and fear black people. Two new studies advance this dangerous narrative building among our academic elites. While such rhetoric may not come as a surprise among political pundits or celebrities, other serious scholars are now attributing racist motives to gun ownership and opposition to gun control. . These studies are not only based on a multitude of sectarian assumptions, but also on bad science.
The University of Wisconsin recently promoted a new study claiming that in US counties where black people were enslaved in 1860, gun ownership is higher today. In fact, gun ownership, they say, correlates to the number of slaves once in each county. To support this theory more slaves means more guns, the authors construct a historical narrative that white people feared newly freed slaves, bought guns to defend themselves, and then this fear spread in a way or another over 160 years.
But interestingly, last month National Public Radio ran a story about how black people are the fastest growing group of gun owners. If gun ownership is a product of white racism, then that’s pretty curious.
The University of Wisconsin study suffers from a series of flaws, even outside of its poisonous premise that white people believe or feel certain things because they are white. You would never say the same about other races, and we shouldn’t give a pass to academics who traffic in the same kind of racism.
In any correlational study such as this, one must be concerned with the potential for alternative explanations. And a study with the punchline “because slavery” leaves plenty of room for alternatives. For example, the extent of slavery in the southern counties of the United States was much heavier in southern areas that remain rural to this day. The so-called “black belt” of southern agriculture that stretched from Georgia to Mississippi today remains heavily agrarian, rural, and impoverished compared to other parts of the region that have been absorbed by metropolises growing like Atlanta, Charlotte and Nashville. In these regions, large-scale hunting of deer, quail and even wild boar remains more important and may explain higher levels of gun ownership, but this fact is not taken into account in the analysis. study.
Then the authors peddle a kind of “Facebook friend racism theory” that is, charitably speaking, laughable. The authors propose that counties that are more socially connected to southern counties have higher rates of gun ownership. Apparently having a Facebook friend from the South scares you of black people. Again, several alternative explanations come to mind. More importantly, one would expect non-slavery counties in close proximity to slave counties to have both social ties and a similar culture of gun ownership. The newspaper did not take this into account. Also, with the increasing mobility of Americans, it is not clear that ties to someone who lives in an area that once had slaves have any connection to that area’s slave past. Why would it be? Unnecessarily burdened study of such racial biases, coupled with shaky scientific foundations, reinforces the idea that this academic research is less about finding truth and more about bolstering a woke narrative.
A few days after the publication of the study on slavery, the prediction of gun ownership, the American Psychological Association (APA) published another study claiming that white people support gun rights because that they are racist, and when white people oppose gun rights, that is also racist.
Erroneous determination of racism
In setting up its main findings about “racist” white Americans, the APA study uses what is called an Implicit Association Test (IAT) to determine whether study participants harbored racial resentment. IATs attempt to measure the biases that exist below the surface by matching terms, phrases, or images. In this case, for example, the study asked participants to associate gun rights terms (e.g. “hunting”) or gun control phrases (e.g. weapons”) with white faces and black faces. In addition, the study allowed participants to measure their agreement with certain statements such as “the Irish, Italians, Jews and many other minorities have overcome prejudice and moved up the ranks. Blacks should do the same without any particular favor. Apparently, how well a participant matched faces or agreed with a particular statement (on a scale of 1 to 5) allowed the study authors to determine whether a participant was racist.
While IATs once represented an intriguing method for uncovering unexpressed racism, the technique has come under increasing criticism in recent years. In particular, it is widely accepted that a single IAT is not enough to uncover racial bias, even by those who created the test. Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald has extensively cataloged serious academic criticism of IATs.
There are many valid political and legal arguments against all sorts of gun control proposals. But academics are trying to short-circuit the debate by simply labeling opponents as “racists” and gun owners as feeding “white fear.” Discrediting opponents with ad hominem attacks as “racist” is offensive and wrong in itself. But employing “science” based on discredited theories or faulty assumptions is a despicable attempt to foment racial divisions.
Dan Lennington is associate attorney and Dr. Will Flanders is director of research at the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.
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