Racial Resentment and Whites’ Gun Policy Preferences in Contemporary America

Abstract

Our study investigates how and why racial prejudice can fuel white opposition to gun restrictions. Drawing on research across disciplines, we suggest that the language of individual freedom used by the gun rights movement utilizes the same racially meaningful tropes as the rhetoric of the white resistance to black civil rights that developed after WWII and into the 1970s. This indicates that the gun rights narrative is color-coded and evocative of racial resentment. To determine whether racial prejudice depresses white support for gun control, we designed a priming experiment which exposed respondents to pictures of blacks and whites drawn from the IAT. Results show that exposure to the prime suppressed support for gun control compared to the control, conditional upon a respondent’s level of racial resentment. Analyses of ANES data (2004–2013) reaffirm these findings. Racial resentment is a statistically significant and substantively important predictor of white opposition to gun control.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.

Notes

  1. 1.

    Kleck (1996) does not explain how his measure of racial attitudes was constructed, so it is difficult to evaluate his results.

  2. 2.

    We conducted analyses of the 2004–2012 ANES data using a difference in stereotypes measure and also a difference in affect (thermometers) measure. Neither measure was statistically significant in any of the models. This further suggests that racial attitudes linked to old fashioned racism are not driving whites’ opposition to gun control. Results are available upon request.

  3. 3.

    We excluded from the analysis the 26 individuals who completed the survey in less than 6 min or more than 90 min. The rationale for this exclusion was that ‘speeders” were not paying enough attention to the questions while those who took an excessive amount of time to complete the survey most likely did it in parts and these interruptions could have an effect on the data. Including these 26 individuals does not change the results.

  4. 4.

    In addition to gun policy questions, respondents were asked about other policy preferences, attitudes toward government, fear of crime, racial attitude questions, and a long demographics battery.

  5. 5.

    For example, the mean income of the subject pool was lower than that of the U.S. white population ($45,000 vs. $55,000, respectively).

  6. 6.

    We opted for using the IAT pictures as a racial prime, rather than administering the full IAT because of time limitations.

  7. 7.

    We were concerned that the gender of the images’ subjects might affect the treatment and its influence on subjects’ gun policy preferences. Consequently, half the treatment group received images of females only and the other half were exposed to images of males only. Interestingly, our analyses found no systematic differences between the effect of the two treatments. Consequently, for purposes of this paper, we treat exposure to either set of images as a single treatment.

  8. 8.

    Of the six policy proposals that did not fall on the first dimension, five fell on a second dimension (which had an eigenvalue of 1.15) and the sixth fell on a third dimension (which had an eigenvalue of 0.53). This third dimension item asked about immigrants. The five items that fell on the second dimension asked questions about safety rather than gun regulation per se. Examples of policy proposals that fell on this second dimension included: “More teachers and school officials with guns in schools,” “Teach school children how to use and operate guns safely,” and “Place armed guards in all public and government buildings and events (e.g., schools).”

  9. 9.

    Since the responses to the 15 policy and belief items were coded on a four point scale, we analyzed the effects of the treatment using ordered logit; but none of the inferences or substantive results based upon the ordered logit analyses differed from the inferences or substantive results based upon the OLS analyses. In order to simplify interpretation, we are reporting the OLS results. Ordered logit results are available upon request.

  10. 10.

    All dependent variables were recoded such that higher values indicate greater support for increased gun regulation. The key independent variable is binary (1 = treatment; 0 = control). We anticipate the coefficient associated with the treatment to be negative if the treatment primes racial attitudes and racial attitudes are negatively associated with attitudes towards firearms. In these analyses, we also control for age, gender, religion (Protestant), education, income, partisan identification and ideology. Including these control variables does not change the results. But we include the control variables to reassure readers who might be concerned about the characteristics of the subjects or about the randomization algorithm.

  11. 11.

    Our measure of symbolic racism is the standard used in the discipline (e.g., Sears and Henry 2003). See Appendix B for the items.

  12. 12.

    Based upon the ANES data, support for gun regulation among whites has declined during the 2000-2012 period. This is consistent with data from other surveys.

  13. 13.

    Though not reported, we performed an identical analysis of the 2000 ANES (sans the gun in household item). Inferences and substantive effects from this analysis were not meaningfully different from the results reported in Table 2. Results of an ordered logit analysis of the 2000 ANES are available upon request.

  14. 14.

    Consistent with standard practice in the field, included tables indicate statistical significance based upon two-tailed hypothesis tests. However, we think a one-tailed test is more appropriate given that our theory provides an anticipated direction of effect. For the analysis of the 2004 ANES dataset, symbolic racism is statistically significant at the p < 0.05 level based upon a one-tailed test.

  15. 15.

    Technically, we could provide such a change in probability table for each response category. However, providing such additional information seems to us overly burdensome for the reader. Moreover, since so few cases (4–6 %) fall into the “make it easier” response category, the probabilities of being in the bottom category are very small for the overwhelming percentage of cases, so changes in the probability of being in this category due to a maximum change in any one predictor is quite small. In other words, most of the “action” is in changes in the probability associated with being in the “keep these rules about the same” and the “make it more difficult … to buy a gun” categories. Also, since the changes in probability associated with being in the top category tend to be greater than the changes in probabilities associated with a respondent selecting either of the other two response categories, we think that providing the change in probability associated with being in the top category provides an analysis most akin to the standard understanding of maximum effects.

  16. 16.

    Based upon a Wald test, we find that the analyses of the 2004 and 2008 ANES datasets are consistent with the parallel regression assumption, but that this assumption is not met by the ordered logit analysis of the 2012 ANES dataset. However, the relationship between symbolic racism and gun regulation preferences as reflected in the 2012 ANES dataset appears robust to model choice. For example, a multinomial probit analysis of the 2012 ANES dataset using the identical variables yields two coefficients associated with symbolic racism, both of which are in the anticipated direction and both of which are statistically significant at the p < 0.05 level (two-tailed). We discuss the results of multinomial probit analyses rather than multinomial logit analyses because the former is not dependent on the independence of irrelevant alternatives (IIA) assumption. Multinomial results are available upon request.

  17. 17.

    Analysts have noted a few disadvantages to including an LDV on the RHS. For example, in the context of time-series analysis, Achen (2000) notes that including a LDV on the RHS often biases estimates downwards. However, we are primarily interested in checking the robustness of our inference regarding the relationship between racial resentment and gun policy preference. Also, we find that the includsion of the LDV on the RHS does not reduce the estimated coefficient associated with symbolic racism by more than 17 % (see Table 3).

  18. 18.

    Issues regarding the consistency of maximum likelihood estimates of logistic regression using panel data have long been recognized (Hsiao 1986). Even when possible, consistent estimates of fixed effects logistic models involve the loss of significant information since only those cases in which the dependent variable changes state contribute to the log-likelihood function (and note that a fixed effects model is not possible given that T = 1 for the predictors). Because of these concerns, development economists often utilize the LPM as the least worst option (for a discussion, see: Beck 2011). Given these issues, we have opted to do the same.

  19. 19.

    Though the difference in coefficients is not statistically significant, it is possible that racial attitudes had a stronger relationship with gun policy preferences in July 2013 than in November 2012. In the middle of January 2013, less than a month after the Newtown, CT massacre, Obama announced 23 executive actions his administration would take in regards to gun control and he asked Congress to pass several gun control measures. Congress debated a variety of measures and the Senate voted on a series of gun control measures in late April 2013. It is conceivable that the push by Obama’s administration and Congressional Democrats on gun control during this period might have made racial attitudes more salient on this issue among the public.

  20. 20.

    Indeed, a simple bivariate AR(1) model accounts for approximately 38 % of the variance of the dependent variable.

  21. 21.

    Technically speaking, the coefficient associated with the lagged dependent variable can be interpreted as would any other coefficient using an OLS specification. A different approach would be to think of the model as a panel analogue to a “dead start” time series model. In this model, the coefficient associated with a lagged dependent variable can be thought of as an estimate of a decay rate that can be used to help parse the short-term and long-term effects of a change in the predictor on the dependent variable. In this approach, the −0.260 can be thought of as the short term change in support for “making it more difficult to purchase a gun” due to a one unit increase in symbolic racism. But the long term effect of such a one unit increase in symbolic racism would be −0.576 (which is simply \((\beta_{0} + \beta_{ 1} )/\left( { 1{-}\delta } \right) = (0 \pm 0. 2 60)/\left( { 1{-}0. 5 4 9} \right)\)).

  22. 22.

    Maximum effect of \({\text{X}}_{k} = {\text{b}}_{k} \times ({ \hbox{max} }.{\text{ value of X}}_{k } - { \hbox{min} }.{\text{ value of X}}_{k} )\).

  23. 23.

    Factor analysis are available upon request.

References

  1. Achen, C. H. (2000). Why lagged dependent variables can suppress the explanatory power of other independent variables. In Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of Political Methodolgy, Los Angeles, CA. (http://www.polmeth.wustl.edu/media/Paper/achen00.pdf).

  2. Banks, A. J., & Valentino, N. A. (2012). Emotional Substrates of White Racial Attitudes. American Journal of Political Science, 56, 286–297.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Beck, N. (2011). Is OLS with a binary dependent variable really Ok?: Estimating (mostly) TSCS models with binary dependent variables and fixed effects. http://politics.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/2576/pgm2011.pdf.

  4. Beck, N., & Katz, J. N. (2011). Modeling dynamics in time-series–cross-section political economy data. Annual Review of Political Science, 14, 331–352.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  5. Braman, D., & Kahan, D. M. (2006). Overcoming the fear of guns, the fear of gun control, and the fear of cultural politics: Constructing a better gun debate. Emory Law Journal, 55, 569–608.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Burbick, J. (2006). Gun show nation: Gun culture and American democracy. New York: New Press.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Carmines, E. G., Sniderman, P. M., & Easter, B. C. (2011). On the meaning, measurement, and implications of racial resentment. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634, 98–116.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  8. Celinska, K. (2007). Individualism and collectivism in America: The case of gun ownership and attitudes toward gun control. Sociological Perspectives, 50, 229–247.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  9. Cooper, J. (2001). Jeff Cooper’s commentaries. 9(4). http://myweb.cebridge.net/mkeithr/Jeff/jeff9_4.html.

  10. Cottrol, R. J., & Diamond, R. (1995). Never intended to be applied to the white population: Firearms regulation and racial disparity-the redeemed south’s legacy to a national jurisprudence. Chicago-Kent Law Review, 70, 1307.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Dudas, J. R. (2005). In the name of equal rights: “Special” rights and the politics of resentment in post-civil rights America. Law & Society Review, 39, 723–757.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  12. Ellison, C. G. (1991). An eye for an eye? A note on the southern subculture of violence thesis. Social Forces, 69, 1223–1239.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Feldman, S., & Huddy, L. (2005). Racial resentment and white opposition to race-conscious programs: Principles or prejudice? American Journal of Political Science, 49, 168–183.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2013). Social cognition: from brains to culture. Los Angeles: Sage.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Gomez, B. T., & Wilson, J. M. (2006). Rethinking symbolic racism: Evidence of attribution bias. Journal of Politics, 68, 611–625.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  16. Greenwald, A. G., McGhee, D. E., & Schwartz, Jordan L. K. (1998). Measuring individual differences in implicit cognition: The implicit association test. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74, 1464–1480.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  17. Hauser, W., & Kleck, G. (2013). Guns and fear: A one-way street? Crime & Delinquency, 59, 271–291.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. Henderson, M., & Hillygus, D. S. (2011). The dynamics of health care opinion, 2008–2010: Partisanship, self-interest, and racial resentment. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, 36, 945–960.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  19. Heston, C. (2000). The courage to be free. Kansas City: Saudade Press.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Hetherington, M. J., & Weiler, J. D. (2009). Authoritarianism and polarization in American politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Hosang, D. M. (2010). Racial propositions: Ballot initiatives and the making of postwar California. Berkeley: University of California Press.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Hsiao, C. (1986). Analysis of panel data. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Judd, C. M., Blair, I. V., & Chapleau, K. M. (2004). Automatic stereotypes vs. automatic prejudice: Sorting out the possibilities in the weapon paradigm. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 40, 75–81.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  24. Kahan, D. M., & Braman, D. (2003). More statistics, less persuasion: A cultural theory of gun risk perceptions. University of Pennsylvania Law Review, 151, 1291–1327.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  25. Keele, L., & Kelly, N. J. (2006). Dynamic models for dynamic theories: The ins and outs of lagged dependent variables. Political Analysis, 14, 186–205.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. Kinder, D. R., & Mendelberg, T. (1995). Cracks in American apartheid: The political impact of prejudice among desegregated whites. Journal of Politics, 57, 402–424.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. Kinder, D. R., & Sanders, L. M. (1996). Divided by Color. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Kinder, D. R., & Sears, D. O. (1981). Prejudice and Politics: Symbolic racism versus racial threats to the good life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 40, 414–431.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. King, D. (1999). In the name of liberalism: Illiberal social policy in the United States and Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Klarman, M. J. (1994). How brown changed race relations: The backlash thesis. The Journal of American History, 81, 81–118.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  31. Kleck, G. (1996). Crime, culture conflict and the sources of support for gun control: A multilevel application of the general social surveys. American Behavioral Scientist, 39, 387–404.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  32. Kleck, G. (1997). Targeting guns: Firearms and their control. New York: Aldine De Gruyter Inc.

    Google Scholar 

  33. Kleck, G., Kovandzic, T., Saber, M., & Hauser, W. (2011). The effect of perceived risk and victimization on plans to purchase a gun for self-protection. Journal of Criminal Justice, 39, 312–319.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  34. Lipset, S. M., & Raab, E. (1970). The politics of unreason: Right-wing extremism in America, 1790–1970. New York: Harper and Row.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Lizotte, A. J., & Bordua, D. J. (1980). Firearms ownership for sport and protection: Two divergent models. American Sociological Review, 45, 229–244.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  36. Mahoney, J. (2000). Path dependence in historical sociology. Theory and Society, 29, 507–548.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  37. Melzer, S. (2009). Gun crusaders: The NRA’s culture war. New York: New York University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Mendelberg, T. (2001). The race card: Campaign strategy, implicit messages, and the norm of equality. Princeton: Princeton Unniversity Press.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Neblo, M. (2009). Three-fifths a racist: A typology for analyzing public opinion about race. Political Behavior, 31, 31–51.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. Nisbett, J., & Cohen, D. (1996). Culture of honor: The psychology of violence in the south. Boulder: Westview Press.

    Google Scholar 

  41. O’Brien, K., Forrest, W., Lynott D., & Daly M. (2013). Racism, gun ownership and gun control: BIased attitudes in US whites may influence policy decisions. PLOSOne.org (Oct 31, 2013). doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0077552. (http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0077552).

  42. Payne, B. K. (2001). Prejudice and perception: The role of automatic and controlled processes in misperceiving a weapon. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 81, 181–192.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. Payne, B. K., Lambert, A. J., & Jacoby, L. L. (2002). Best laid plans: Effects of goals on accessibility bias and cognitive control in race-based misperceptions of weapons. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 38, 384–396.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  44. Peffley, M., & Hurwitz, J. (2010). Justice in America: The separate realities of blacks and whites New York. NY: Cambridge University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Pew Research Center. (2013). Gun control: Key data points from pew research. (March 13, 2013) Retrieved April 17, 2013 http://www.pewresearch.org/2013/03/13/gun-control-key-data-points-from-pew-research/).

  46. Pierson, P. (2004). Politics in time: History, institutions and social analysis. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Scalia, L. J. (1998). Who deserves political influence? How liberal ideals helped justify mid nineteenth-century exclusionary policies. American Journal of Political Science, 42, 349–376.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  48. Schaller, M., Park, J. H., & Mueller, A. (2003). Fear of the dark: interactive effects of beliefs about danger and ambient darkness on ethnic stereotypes. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 29, 637–649.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  49. Schuman, H., Steeh, C., Bobo, L., & Krysan, M. (1997). Racial attitudes in America: Trends and interpretations. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Sears, D. O., & Henry, P. J. (2003). The origins of symbolic racism. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 85, 259–275.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. Sears, D. O., Hetts, J. J., Sidanius, J., & Bobo, L. (2000). “Race in American Politics: Framing the Debates.” Pp. In D. O. Sears, J. Sidanius, & L. Bobo (Eds.), Racialized politics: The debate about racism in America (pp. 1–43). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Self, R. O. (2003). American Babylon: Race and the struggle for postwar oakland. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Siegel, R. B. (2008). Dead or Alive: Originalism as popular constitutionalism in heller. Yale Law School Paper: Faculty Scholarship Series. 1133.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sniderman, P. M., & Piazza, T. (1995). The scar of race. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Sniderman, P. M., Piazza, T., Tetlock, P. E., & Kendrick, A. (1991). The New Racism. American Journal of Political Science, 35, 423–447.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. Stears, M. (2007). The liberal tradition and the politics of exclusion. Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 85–101.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  57. Sugrue, T. J. (1995). Crabgrass-roots politics: Race, rights, and the reaction against liberalism in the Urban North, 1940–1964. The Journal of American History, 82, 551–578.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. Tahmassebi, S. B. (1991). Gunc control and racism. George Mason University Civil Rights Law Journal 2:67. (http://www.saf.org/lawreviews/tahmassebi61.html).

  59. Tesler, M., & Sears, D. O. (2010). Obama’s race: The 2008 election and the dream of a post-racial America. Chicago: Chicago University Press.

    Google Scholar 

  60. Thernstrom, S., & Thernstrom, A. (1999). America in black and white: One nation indivisible. New York: Touchstone.

    Google Scholar 

  61. Tuch, S. A., & Hughes, M. (2011). Whites’ racial policy attitudes in the twenty-first century: The continuing significance of racial resentment. The ANNALS of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 634, 134–152.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. Winkler, A. (2011a). Gunfight: The battle over the right to bear arms in America. New York: W. W. Norton & Company.

    Google Scholar 

  63. Winkler, A. (2011b). The secret history of guns. Atlantic Monthly (10727825), 308:80–87.

  64. Wolpert, R. M., & Gimpel, J. G. (1998). Self-interest, symbolic politics, and public attitudes toward gun control. Political Behavior, 20, 241–262.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. Young, R. L. (1985). Perceptions of crime, racial attitudes, and firearms ownership. Social Forces (University of North Carolina Press), 64, 473–486.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Acknowledgments

The authors would like to thank Kate Boulay, Michelle Boyd, Jennifer Carlson, Steven Corey, Amanda D’Urso, Deborah Holdstein, Richard Johnson, Lisa Miller, Dionyssis Mintzopoulos, Michael L. Owens, Davin Phoenix, Beth Richie, Linda Skitka, Vesla Weaver, Dick Winters, Cara Wong, and the four anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions. This work was supported with grants from the Political Science Department, the Office of Social Science Research (OSSR) and the Chancellor’s Discovery Grant program at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. Dick Simpson also provided generous financial support from his grant and we would like to thank him for that. Dr. Filindra benefited greatly from a fellowship by the Institute for Research on Race and Public Policy also at UIC. We also want to thank the American Political Science Association’s Public Policy Section who awarded a version of this article with the best paper award for 2014.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alexandra Filindra.

Additional information

This research was conducted under IRB Protocol # 2013-0959.

Electronic supplementary material

Below is the link to the electronic supplementary material.

Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 117 kb)

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Filindra, A., Kaplan, N.J. Racial Resentment and Whites’ Gun Policy Preferences in Contemporary America. Polit Behav 38, 255–275 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11109-015-9326-4

Download citation

Keywords

  • Racial resentment
  • Symbolic racism
  • Prejudice
  • Gun control
  • Public policy
  • Public opinion