A US psychological study has found that white male gun owners who have money problems tend to feel more emotionally and morally attached to their guns.

This group are also more likely to think that violence against the US government is sometimes justified, researchers from Baylor University say.

"This speaks to the belief in some 'dark state' within the government which needs fighting," said Paul Froese, from Baylor.

"What's paradoxical is that white male gun owners in the US see themselves as hyper-patriotic, but they are the first to say, 'If the government impedes me, I have the moral and almost patriotic right to fight back.'"

The study found that, in comparison, non-white gun owners who faced financial difficulty did not place so much importance on the gun and were also less likely to approve of violence against the government.

"Perhaps it is because they've have always had economic anxiety but have developed different coping mechanisms," Froese said.

The research, published in the journal Social Problems, examined the ways in which American gun owners understood the meaning of gun ownership.

Using survey data, the Baylor team found that white males under economic stress tended to find guns "morally and emotionally restorative" and linked the weapons to ideas of freedom, heroism, power, while also believing they made communities safer.

"Gun control for these owners has come to represent an attack on their masculinity, independence and moral identity," Froese said.

The researchers also found, perhaps surprisingly, that while white male gun owners tend to be highly religious, those who found their guns more emotionally empowering generally engaged less in religious activities like going to church, according to the team.

"The gun becomes their central sacred object," Froese said.

Co-author of the study, F. Carson Mencken added that "guns and their inherent power restore in some people a sense of control stripped away by the economic consequences of globalism. The ability to protect their property, families and communities is restorative."

The survey data came from a poll of more than 1,500 people conducted by the Gallup Organization, of which over 577 were gun owners.

"It's not just money from gun manufacturers shaping gun legislation," Froese said. "It is the cultural solidarity and commitment of a sub-group of Americans who root their identity, morality and patriotism in gun ownership. This is gun culture in action."

Interestingly, both gun owners and non-gun owners reported the same levels of financial precariousness – painting a picture of American life marked by instability, job insecurity and psychological stress.