Resentment and guns

]In the 4 April edition of The Washington Post, Christopher Ingraham, in an article titled, “White resentment is fueling opposition to gun control, researchers say,” discusses a recent study done by researchers at the University of Chicago on racial resentment and opposition to gun rights.  The authors of the study, Alexandra Filindra and Noah J. Kaplan, used an Implicit Association Test, combining images of whites and blacks with statements about support for gun control. They found that opposition to such control increased after white participants viewed pictures of blacks.

The Implicit Association Test has drawn a lot of attention over the years since the media got ahold of studies that suggested whites implicitly link “good” words with whites and “bad” words with blacks.  I put quotation marks around those two since the studies typically insist on defining good and bad without allowing participants to indicate how they regard a given word.  For example, “awful,” is declared to be bad, even though as a student of the English language, I can’t forget that this word originally meant “worthy of fear or respect.”  But no nuance is permitted with words on these tests.

Psychologists also challenge the scoring methods and note that results can vary widely even with one person taking the same test more than one time.  My own experience with this kind of test has made me doubt the methodology.  The test has participants press the e key for good and the i key for bad on their keyboards.  First, a list of words—including failure (bad), joy (good), pleasure (good), and peace (also good, again with no nuance allowed)—comes one at a time to be characterized.  The faces of blacks and whites appear, again one at a time, with e meaning white and i meaning black.  Having conditioned participants to these associations, the desired key is reversed—e now meaning bad or white, and i meaning good or black.  The computer measures response time, and if the participant takes longer in the second series than in the first, that is rated as an implicit association of negative terms with blacks.  And therein lies my key objection.  Sweeping conclusions are being made from something that could be explained in a much simpler manner—namely that when you train someone to respond in one way, flipping the expected responses around will make the second run go slower.

As Ingraham points out, “Filindra and Kaplan say their research does not imply that all white gun owners are racist, nor that all support for gun control carries racial baggage.”  Indeed.  The study has 1,179 white participants, of whom 4 – 6% were supporters of making the buying of firearms easier.  Gun owners were not specifically sought out to participate, and the authors make clear that the only selection criterion was race.

What Filindra and Kaplan do state explicitly is their belief that supporters of gun rights use “the language and symbolism of rights along with the political and judicial tactics of the civil rights era to link gun ownership to traditional values and anti-black prejudice.”

This attitude that support for gun rights has to be motivated by racism is implicit throughout this study, and it’s one that I challenge frequently, here and elsewhere.  The right to own and carry firearms is just that.  People have many things that drive them, and as with every other group, some gun owners are racist.  But the decision to exercise gun rights isn’t inherently tied to race, nor is opposition to gun control.  The essence of the gun rights argument is that each of us has a natural right to make choices about our lives, including the choice to defend ourselves from a violent attack.  That goes for anyone, regardless of factors like race that too many raise in hopes of dividing people into manageable groups.

All this study achieves is to throw up a mass of bafflegab in hopes that general readers won’t dig into the details.  We who support rights can’t allow ourselves or others to be taken in.

The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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