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Implicit Racial and Gender Bias About Handguns: A New Implicit Association Test

Ellyson, A.M., Martin, K.D., Bowen, D., Gallagher, A., & Rivara, F.P. (2022).

Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 1 – 21.


This study measured racial bias about women and handguns and addressed stereotypes about gun competence and victimization that vary based on race and gender. Findings suggest there is an anti-Black implicit bias about women with handguns (associating Black women with handguns) among adults and support the need for further research measuring racism in systems and structures that intersect with gun possession.

Expanded Abstract:

Firearm-related deaths in the United States in 2020 were around double among Black women and men (6.6 and 56.0 per100,000 people, respectively) than among other racial groups including American Indian or Alaska native women and men (3.4; 20.2), Asian or Pacific Islander women and men (0.9; 5.3), and White women and men (3.5; 20.0; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics, 2021). These large and persistent racial disparities in firearm-related deaths demonstrate the need to confront firearm-related harm for both public health and health equity.

This study measured implicit and explicit racial bias about women and handguns and addresses important perceptions and stereotypes about gun competence and victimization that vary based on race and gender. Implicit bias is automatic and unconscious and seeps into decision-making and behavior unintentionally (Greenwald et al., 1995). On the other hand, explicit bias is a conscious bias where a person is fully aware of the bias and it influences decision-making and behavior with intent (Amodio & Ratner, 2011; Smith & DeCoster, 2000). 

Researchers in this study administered a national survey to 1,000 US adults using a new Race–Women–Handguns Implicit Association Test (IAT), a test developed to measure bias of which people may not be aware or are unwilling to report. Survey weighting was used to generate a nationally representative estimates on the prevalence of implicit racial bias about women with handguns. The majority of participants (62.5%) associated Black women with handguns and White women with smartphones (weighted-mean IAT = 0.252; 95% CI [0.227, 0.276]) reflecting an anti-Black bias among US adults that is stereotype consistent associating Black women with handguns and White women with smartphones. 

The proportion that indicated Black and White women were competent with handguns was low (21.6% and 22.4%, respectively), and the proportion of US adults who indicated Black women are more likely to experience intimate partner violence (range: 19.4%−22.9%) and sexual harassment/assault (range: 11.4%−20.4%) was low compared to the prevalence of both forms of violence US among Black women that may impact the decision to possess a handgun. 

Findings establish a significant anti-Black implicit bias about women and handguns among US adults, and these findings demonstrate that US adults perceive women to be less competent with handguns, especially relative to Black or White men. These findings of anti-Black bias about women and handguns are consistent with prior evidence of anti-Black bias associating Black men with danger and weapons (Johnson & Chopik, 2019; Nosek et al., 2007; Sadler & Devos, 2020; Somo et al., 2020). Furthermore, US adults inaccurately assessed safety risks facing Black women, especially IPV and sexual violence. These perceptions consistently show that US adults underestimate the safety risks that may play a role in a Black women’s decision to possess or own a handgun. These findings have important public health implications.