The reliably left-leaning media has run headlong into the law of unintended consequences.
For most of the 1990s and the subsequent decade, a substantial majority of Americans believed it was more important to control gun ownership than to protect gun owners’ rights. But in December 2014, the balance of opinion flipped: For the first time, more Americans say that protecting gun rights is more important than controlling gun ownership, 52% to 46%.
Why has public opinion shifted about gun control? As my colleagues at Pew Research Center have documented elsewhere, some of this is related to politics, as Republicans have become far more supportive of gun rights during the Obama years. The rise in support for gun rights has also spanned many other regional and demographic groups.
But there may be another factor behind this shift: Americans’ changing perceptions about crime. Over the past 25 years or so, there has been a divergence between American perceptions about crime and actual crime rates. And those who worried about crime had favored stricter gun control; now, they tend to desire keeping the laws as they are or loosening gun control. In short, we are at a moment when most Americans believe crime rates are rising and when most believe gun ownership – not gun control – makes people safer.
During the Clinton Presidency, gun control supporters were able to pass a temporary (and utterly cosmetic) federal ban on the sale of so-called “assault weapons” and the manufacture of standard capacity magazines.
The “ban,” of course, was only real on paper. Manufacturers of firearms simply removed some of the cosmetic features outlawed under the ill-written law, and had the same lightly-modified firearms back on the street before the law even took effect. Magazine manufacturers were similarly unfazed, having put their production lines on overdrive prior to the law taking effect. They quite legally sold standard capacity magazines throughout the life of the “ban.”
This law emboldened the anti-gun far left, however, and they began thinking that even more restrictive gun control bans were possible. The mainstream media/Democrat Party then decided that they best way to build support for more gun control was to grossly over-report crimes involving firearms. They did so again and again, and were successful in creating the public perception that crimes committed with firearms were increasing, even as they were dramatically declining.
Then a funny thing happened.
Instead of clamoring for more gun control, as the media wanted them to, Americans who perceived this faked increase in crime decided that they’d be better off if they were armed to confront and overwhelm the criminals with firearms of their own.
And while Pew doesn’t dare ask the question for fear of getting an honest answer, many recent first time gun owners have been explicit in stating that they have acquired firearms—specifically semi-automatic rifles of contemporary military utility—because they do not trust the federal government under President Barack Obama, who has shown a willingness to ignore laws and abuse executive branch power to achieve his political goals.
The media and anti-gun Democrats have attempted to frighten Americans into giving up their right to self-defense over the past 25 years, but their scheme has backfired spectacularly, and they have no one but themselves to blame.