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Politics & Policy

There Is a Startling Caveat in Politico’s ‘More Gun Control’ Poll

Politico suggests that support for gun control is higher than usual after the shooting in Parkland:

Support for stricter gun laws has spiked in polls conducted after the fatal South Florida school shooting, hitting its highest level in at least a quarter-century.

Roughly 2 in 3 Americans now say gun control laws should be made more strict in the wake of the murder of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, according to a number of polls, including a new POLITICO/Morning Consult poll that shows support for stricter gun laws among registered voters at 68 percent, compared with just 25 percent who oppose stricter gun laws.

It’s normal to see a spike after an event such as this, but this is unusual even for the heat of the moment. As Politico confirms:

Morning Consult polling goes back only two years, but support for stricter gun laws was at 58 percent following the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting that killed 49 people, 64 percent following the 2017 mass shooting that resulted in 58 deaths at a country-music festival in Las Vegas and 60 percent last November, after a shooter killed 26 people inside a church in Sutherland Springs, Texas.

This is interesting. But I think there are a couple of reasons for skepticism in the long run. The first is that most of the change here has come from Republicans and independents. How long will that last when the Democrats are back in charge? It is of course enormously silly that our politics are so tribal. But they are, and it remains the case that a more draconian gun-control agenda would only have the votes after a Democratic sweep. Are Republicans and independents likely to be on board when the proposals come with Elizabeth Warren’s face on them?

I think not. Which brings me to the second point: That while there is increased support for gun control both in the abstract and in the specifics, there’s also this, buried at the bottom of Politico‘s report:

Despite the popularity of many of these initiatives, voters are still pessimistic that Congress will pass a gun control bill. Just 10 percent think there’s an “excellent” chance Congress will pass stricter gun laws in the next year, and only 21 percent say there’s a “good” chance. More than a quarter, 27 percent, say there’s a “fair” chance Congress passes a bill strengthening the nation’s gun laws, while 32 percent call the odds “poor.”

While support for stricter gun laws is at a new high in Morning Consult’s polling, voters are nevertheless wary of Congress going too far in imposing restrictions on gun ownership rights. Slightly more voters, 46 percent, say it’s more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns than to limit gun ownership (42 percent). By a narrow margin, more voters trust Republicans in Congress to handle gun policy (41 percent) than congressional Democrats (37 percent).

If it is indeed the case that voters trust Republicans more than Democrats on this issue, it seems likely that any Democrat-led charge will substantially alter the calculus. Sure, there are some Republican and independent voters who are at present more open to regulation. But they presumably trust Republicans to handle the issue. The GOP won’t be in charge forever. And when they’re not, these numbers probably won’t be either.

The other part that should set alarm bells ringing is that “slightly more voters, 46 percent, say it’s more important to protect the rights of Americans to own guns than to limit gun ownership (42 percent).” I won’t go so far as to say that this section renders all that comes before it as mere prologue, but I think it’s close. Put simply, this caveat should terrify anyone who hopes to turn this moment into meaningful legislative change. Time and time again, we see this peculiar dynamic: After a high-profile shooting, voters say they are fine with more gun control — and even that they support specific proposals — but they also say that they don’t expect anything to pass, and that, anyway, it’s more important to protect the rights of gun owners. It is for this reason that gun-controllers seem to lose huge numbers of voters between “Do you support X?” and “Do you want Congress to pass a new law doing X?” A similar dynamic seems to obtain with abortion. Supermajorities of Americans oppose abortion in the second and third trimesters, but, when it comes to federal legislation, they demur. When it comes to hot-button issues, this is a peculiar country indeed.


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