White men who have lost financial stability — or think that they soon will — find moral and emotional solace in their firearms, more so than nonwhite gun owners or those on sound economic footing, according to a new study. The Traces reports that the Baylor University study, published in the journal Social Problems, used a “gun empowerment” scale to analyze which groups of American gun owners feel an emotional attachment to their firearms and believe the weapons impart moral standing. The authors of the study, Carson Mencken and Paul Froese, found that white men, especially those enduring financial hardship, equate guns with heroism and consider stricter gun laws to be attacks on their masculinity.
Nonwhite gun owners who face or may soon face financial instability did not show the same attachment to firearms. The study lends quantitative empirical support to typically more qualitative analyses of the extremely touchy subject of gun culture. Mencken and Froese asked 577 gun owners whether they felt that guns made them feel “safe,” “responsible,” “confident,” and “in control of my fate.” Next, they asked respondents whether guns made them feel “more valuable to my family,” “more valuable to my community,” “respected,” and “patriotic.” They found white men who are under economic stress got a greater sense of self control and moral standing from having guns than any other demographic. The authors stressed that race, gender, or economic status alone did not explain attachment to guns: rather, this specific social context — whites who feel downwardly mobile — was the most important indicator.