This should be a golden age for gun control; what with an anti-gun president, Democratic control of Congress, a media that’s happy to shill for more gun control laws (and one that fixates on the idea of gun control as a solution to mass shootings), and an anti-gun movement that’s flush with cash to spend on influencing both lawmakers and the general public.
Despite all of those factors, which in theory should all drive up support for gun control, the movement is heading in the wrong direction in the court of public opinion, according to a new poll from the Washington Post and ABC News. The new polling data shows a seven point decline in support for prioritizing new gun control laws over protecting the right to keep and bear arms since the Parkland shootings in 2018, and on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co we’re taking a closer look at where those declines are coming from.
According to the Post, 50% of respondents to the poll prioritize new gun control measures over protecting the Second Amendment, with 43% of respondents saying its more important to protect the right to keep and bear arms than putting more gun control laws in place. In truth, though, the vast majority of support for new gun laws is coming from one part of the political spectrum.
The poll finds that while more than 8 in 10 Democrats continue to support enacting new gun laws — about the same share as in 2018 — opinions have shifted among Republicans and independents. This year, 76 percent of Republicans say that protecting the right to own guns should be a higher priority, up from 58 percent three years ago. Independents are roughly split now, with 48 percent saying that protecting the rights of gun owners should be prioritized and 43 percent prioritizing gun violence laws, while in 2018 independents prioritized new laws by a 25-point margin, 58 percent to 33 percent.
Support for the Second Amendment has solidified among Republicans, which is to be expected, though an 18-point swing is notable. It’s the change in independents that should have gun control advocates worried, however. Three years ago, 58% of them prioritized gun control laws over protecting the Second Amendment. Now that number has declined to 43%, with almost half of all independents surveyed saying it’s more important to ensure that we can exercise our Second Amendment rights than putting more gun control laws in place.
Over at The Reload, reporter Stephen Gutowski points out an even larger swing in some other demographic groups.
The sharpest decline in support for new gun-control measures came among 18 to 29-year-olds and Hispanics. Both groups saw a 20 percent drop. Rural Americans and strong conservatives saw a 17-point drop.
The downturn in gun-control support comes even after multiple high-profile mass shootings in Colorado, Indiana, and Georgia. The ABC/Washington Post poll is the second in as many weeks to show support for gun control waning. A Pew Research poll released on April 21 found the same seven-point drop in support for stricter gun laws.
The polling trend lends support to the idea new gun owners are beginning to change their attitudes on guns. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, which represents gun makers and dealers, estimated there were 8.4 million new gun owners in 2020. Since gun owners tend to oppose new gun-control measures at a higher rate than non-gun owners, the drop in polling support for new gun laws may be a result of those new gun owners changing their minds.
In 2018, fully 65% of respondents between the ages of 18-29 backed the idea of more gun control. In 2021, that number has fallen to 45%. Yes, three years after the formation of March For Our Lives and the media turning its founders into media celebrities, there are far fewer young adults embracing the anti-gun ideology espoused by the likes of David Hogg.
Gutowski says the plunging numbers may be a sign that new gun owners are having an impact on the polling, and while that may account for some of the decline, I’d argue that there’s something else going on here as well. I think the younger activists on the Left are increasingly of the mindset that policing itself is fundamentally bad, and they’re opposed to putting new gun control laws on the books if they’re going to be used to put a disproportionate number of young black and brown men in prison for non-violent offenses. It doesn’t mean they’ve suddenly embraced their right to keep and bear arms, but they’re not nearly as supportive of new, incarceral gun control laws compared to their elders on the Left.
In other words, there may be a bit of a generation gap on the Left, with the younger demographics preferring “gun violence prevention” efforts that aren’t based on policing and the older demographics still bitterly clinging to the idea that we can ban and arrest our way to safety by putting more gun control laws in place.
I also, however, think that some of those 18-29 year-olds have legitimately had a change of heart. They’re now old enough to own a gun, and some of them may have actually purchased one or more over the past year. With violent crime rates rising, particularly in Democrat-controlled cities, there are undoubtably more liberals who’ve been mugged by reality (to borrow a phrase from Irving Kristol) over the past twelve months who’ve suddenly embraced their right to keep and bear arms when just a few years ago they were marching in favor of a gun ban.
I don’t put a lot of stock in any given poll, but there’ve been a few polls recently that have shown a similar decline in support for gun control, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s a real thing. Perhaps it’s only a momentary blip, but given the fact that gun control generally becomes more popular after a high profile mass shooting and instead we’ve seen support drop, it’s also possible that we’re seeing the start of a broader realignment in the court of public opinion when it comes to the usefulness of gun control laws and the importance of exercising our Second Amendment rights.