Gun violence in the U.S. is an intractable problem. A steady stream of mass shootings and increasing homicide rates do not appear to be motivating politicians to enact meaningful gun control laws. The recently passed bipartisan Safer Communities Act does little to solve the problem. Its provisions are so weak that few gun control advocates believe it will significantly impact U.S. gun-related deaths.
Democratic and Republican politicians have shied away from the problem because of the potential for electoral backlash. While more amenable to gun control, Democrats often attribute their loss of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1994 after four decades in power as a consequence of their passage of an assault weapons ban earlier that year. This led to years of anemic Democratic support for gun control while Republicans pushed to loosen gun laws under pressure from the NRA.
Weak Democratic support and Republican antipathy towards gun control has worked politically, but it appears the electorate is shifting its opinion on this issue. ThinkNow recently collaborated with Team Friday to field a nationally representative survey of 1,200 registered voters and found that 66% believe the U.S. needs stricter gun laws. Our survey results match those released by Gallup earlier this year which also found that 66% of respondents want more stringent gun laws, up from a low of 44% in 2010.
According to our data, party affiliation strongly indicates whether a respondent supports gun control. Eighty-six percent of Democratic voters, 41% of Republicans, and 69% of Independents stated that gun laws should be stricter. While 41% Republican support might seem low, it’s an improvement over the past couple of years which measured their support in the low 20s.
This shift in Republican support could have implications in Texas and Florida where a clear majority of the electorate support stricter gun laws while their legislators are actively loosening them.
More interestingly, we found that gun owners, themselves, support stricter gun laws.
While there are differences in opinion based on party affiliation, we found there are four reforms that Americans across the political spectrum can get behind. Universal background checks, red-flag laws, raising the gun buying age to 21 and permits for concealed carry all garner more than 50% support among Americans that want stricter gun laws.
Politicians in Red (leans toward Republicans) or Purple States (similar support for Democrats and Republicans) who are interested in addressing the gun problem can presumably support the four measures above without the risk of electoral backlash.
At 74%, the primary reason Americans state for buying guns is to protect their home. No other reason exceeds 50%. This would suggest that gun legislation that does not infringe on individuals’ right to protect their home has a lower chance of creating voter backlash.
Interestingly, a policy that does not have overwhelming support, even among Democrats is allowing individuals to sue gun manufacturers.
It’s possible that Americans don’t support suing manufacturers because they fear this will put them out of business and restrict their access to guns for home protection.
It’s often assumed that gun rights and gun regulations are mutually exclusive. That’s not true. Clear majorities of Americans that support gun rights want better regulation. Americans, in general, are tired of the carnage and want something done about it. In 2020, voters listed attitudes towards guns laws as one of the reasons they were voting for president. Unfortunately, the problem has only gotten worse since then. Politicians who respond to this crisis can lead the nation to a future where mass shootings and unprovoked gun deaths are a thing of the past. Those interested in maintaining the status quo may find themselves without a constituency.
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