Does Owning A Gun Make You Racist?


By John Lott

Original Post

If you believe a new study, whites who own guns do so because they harbor  racist feelings towards blacks. Indeed, in the study, four Australian and  British psychologists also claim that racism is associated with opposition to  gun control.

The lead paragraph on this study in Friday’s New York Daily News summed up  the claim this way: “Racism and guns go together.”

So how is racism measured? Well, you are apparently “racist” if you don’t  agree that the legacy of slavery still has a great impact on how blacks are  faring today. After all, slavery was abolished 158 years ago.

Besides, blacks were doing relatively better on many dimensions, such as family stability, during the early 1960s than today.

Of course, people might disagree with these points, but that doesn’t mean that they are racist.

OK, so conservatives are more likely to own guns than liberals (big surprise there), and they are more likely to believe that people are more responsible for how well they do in life than something that happened to their ancestors over a century and a half ago.

Even more telling, when I examined this data set I found that non-whites and blacks who hold these supposedly “racist” views on slavery are also more likely to own guns.

So let’s get this straight. Blacks who don’t believe that slavery in the U.S. is important in explaining how well a black does in today’s society hates other blacks and is thus more likely to own a gun?

The authors focus on people who are racist being the ones who are more likely to buy guns, but they also speculate: “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.”

Seriously? So are blacks and non-whites also becoming more racist against blacks after they buy guns?

The study’s lead author, Kerry O’Brien, explained to the New York Daily News that their conclusions are so sensible because: “There had already been research showing that … blacks are more likely to be shot, so we thought there must be something happening between the concept of being black and some whites wanting guns.”

There is an obvious problem with this claim. Blacks, not whites, are killing blacks. Indeed, in 2012, over 91 percent of blacks were murdered by other blacks.

O’Brien contends: “we couldn’t make sense of why there would be resistance to gun reform in the U.S.” and that “we found the arguments for opposing gun control counterintuitive and somewhat illogical.”

Wrong again. The police can’t protect everyone, instantly, 24-hours a day, seven-days-a-week. And the fact that victims might be able to defend themselves can also deter criminals.

Ironically, O’Brien told an Australian newspaper: “the freezing of government funding for any social research associated with guns since the late 1990s had effectively ‘suppressed’ information on the subject.”

If his own study is an example of the quality of the academic research the government would fund, we are indeed better served not wasting taxpayer dollars on it.

But a more serious answer is that I was able to put together the data used in their paper in a couple hours. Academics across the world are being paid to do research. It is part of their job.

If someone teaches only six hours a week during the school year, how hard is it to find time for research?

I have done the largest studies on crime and I never had to receive a grant from the federal government to do my research.

There is another problem with the federal government doling out funds for research. Politicians just cannot separate politics from the money hand out. They aren’t bribing researchers, but they favor researchers who are likely to agree with them.

Disappointingly, none of the media coverage on this paper even bothered asking other academics to critique these claims.

The notion that gun owners must be racist appears to fit journalists’ worldview so well it probably never dawned on them that this research was fatally flawed.

If you really want to confront racism and gun ownership, ask why liberals keep pushing new taxes and fees on gun owners that primarily disarm poor blacks. Why don’t liberals think that poor blacks can be trusted with guns?

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns. He is the author of several books, including “More Guns, Less Crime.” His latest book is “Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench” 

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