A new study in the journal Preventative Medicine has found that younger Americans are less supportive of gun control measures than their older counterparts, and that support for gun control among young adults didn’t noticeably increase after high profile shootings like the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
The study’s authors aren’t exactly “gun nuts.” In fact, co-author Daniel Webster, who is the Bloomberg Professor of American Health at Johns Hopkins’ Bloomberg School of Public Health, is a long-time supporter of gun control measures. I’m sure he and his colleagues were hoping to find that younger Americans were more receptive to Bloomberg’s anti-gun messaging, but it doesn’t look like that’s the case.
This study uses data from two nationally representative surveys fielded in 2017 and 2019 to compare public support for gun policies: (1) between young adults age 18–29 years and adults age 30 and older, and (2) between young adults in 2017 and young adults in 2019, before and after the Parkland shooting. Relative to adults age 30 and older, young adults had lower support for 16 of 20 gun violence prevention policies examined. Public support was largely unchanged between 2017 and 2019 among survey respondents ages 18–29; however, support for requiring a safety test for concealed carry decreased significantly among young adults between 2017 and 2019. Despite owning fewer guns and finding gun violence prevention important generally, young adults appear to have lower support for policies that regulate guns compared to older adults.
I have my own theories as to why support for gun control policies is generally lower among younger adults. First, it’s this generation that has come of age as our nation’s drug laws are being relaxed, particularly when it comes to cannabis. They’ve seen that government has failed to curb cannabis use despite the fact that it remains illegal to use under federal law, just as they’ve witnessed the staggering increase in opioid deaths, whether from prescription pills to black market heroin and fentanyl. The failure of the government’s War on Drugs may have caused some younger adults to question the wisdom of a War on Guns.
Criminal justice reform measures may also be causing younger adults to be less supportive of new gun control laws. There’s a growing understanding that gun control laws have a disproportionate impact on minorities, and when gun control advocates like Michael Bloomberg don’t seem to give a damn about the actual impact of the laws that they push, younger Americans may rightfully view the anti-gun proposals with skepticism.
Unfortunately, while younger Americans may not be as supportive of new gun control laws as those over the age of 30, that doesn’t mean that they’re the staunchest supporters of the Second Amendment either. It’s unwise to paint with too broad a brush, but it does seem that rejection of the gun control ideology hasn’t led to a huge increase in gun ownership among 18 to 29-year olds. Obviously there are plenty of men and women in this age group who are gun owners and Second Amendment activists, but it it doesn’t seem to be out of line with the number of gun owners in older generations. It’s good news that these folks haven’t hopped on the gun ban bandwagon, but I think it would be even better if more of them were actually exercising their Second Amendment rights as well. Becoming a gun owner doesn’t automatically make you a Second Amendment activist, but most of the 2A activists I know are actually gun owners. If we’re working for advocacy instead of simple apathy, we need to continue to engage in outreach to younger Americans and help them to responsibly exercise their rights so that they’re not lost forever.