New data: Whites twice as likely to own guns

A previously unreleased survey shows whites far more likely to own guns, and oppose reform, than blacks or Latinos

By Alex Seitz-Wald

Published February 20, 2013 8:16PM (EST)

  (AP/Philip Kamrass)
(AP/Philip Kamrass)

White Americans are more than twice as likely to own guns as blacks or Latinos, and more likely to oppose gun safety reforms, according to previously unreleased data from Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers.

The survey, conducted by the Center for Gun Policy and Research and initially released without racial breakdowns in late January, showed strong support overall for many of the proposals being discussed in Congress to limit gun violence. But the researchers broke down the numbers by race this week and shared the results with Salon.

Overall, 22 percent of Americans were found to own guns, while another 11 percent live in homes with someone else who owns guns. Among whites, the number of gun owners is slightly higher, at 26 percent, with an additional 13 percent who live in gun-owning households.

But only 12 percent of African-Americans and 13 percent of Latinos own guns. Just 5 and 7 percent of each ethnic group, respectively, lives in a household with someone else who owns a gun.

Not surprisingly, this translates to a disparity in support for gun control measures, with whites being consistently more opposed to gun control than the other groups. For instance, support for reinstating the assault weapon ban is about 10 percentage points higher among blacks than whites. And 72 percent of blacks support banning possession of assault weapons entirely through a mandatory buyback program, compared to just 54 percent of whites.

African-Americans are also more supportive of laws promoting safe use, such as requiring people to keep their guns locked in a safe while at home, and of proposals to restrict access, such as making people acquire a license from the local police before being able to buy a gun.

Interestingly, this trend reverses when it comes to some proposed criminal justice measures, such as prohibiting someone convicted of a serious crime as a juvenile from owning a gun for 10 years. And asked if people who “display of a gun in a threatening manner excluding self-defense” should be prohibited from owning a firearm for 10 years, just 56 percent of blacks support it, compared to 77 percent of whites.

This is consistent with polling data showing a significant lack of trust in police among African-Americans when compared to whites, the researchers speculate.

Hispanics, meanwhile, fall somewhere in between, despite their lower gun ownership levels.

"Even though whites are far more likely to report owning guns in their homes than Blacks or Hispanics, we see wide support among whites for policies to reduce gun violence, including banning the sale of military-style, semi-automatic assault weapons and universal background checks," said Alicia Samuels of Johns Hopkins.

"We’ve looked at these data by gun ownership, political party affiliation, and now race, and we see broad public support for many policies regardless of these factors. Changing our laws to reduce gun violence is not a priority for just one group in society; it’s something it appears that most Americans want to see happen, and soon," she added.

Many observers have pointed out that the politics of gun reform have shifted dramatically from the late 1990s and early 2000s, when gun politics were seen by some as integral to Al Gore’s presidential defeat. As Nate Cohn noted in the New Republic, the issue is no longer toxic for Obama because he’s already lost so many of the voters who really care about guns, and is doing just fine without them. Part of that story, of course, is the country’s changing demographics, and Republicans' increasing isolation as a party of white men.

UPDATED to include Samuels' quote.

Alex Seitz-Wald

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African Americans Barack Obama Gun Control Guns Latinos Polling Race White People