The jury’s verdict in the Kyle Rittenhouse trial has certainly returned gun control and self-defense to the top of the media’s attention, but will all the media coverage (including the lies, disinformation, and spin coming from outlets like MSNBC) actually change the gun control debate?
Don’t count on it, writes J.D. Tucille at Reason, who says that the media spotlight doesn’t change anything about the fundamentals of the debate over our right to keep and bear arms.
“Americans’ support for stricter gun control has fallen five percentage points to 52%, the lowest reading since 2014,” Gallup reported last week before the verdict came down. The high point in support for stricter laws was 1990. Since then, opinions have wandered a bit, but generally trended downward.
Over that time, though, the issue has become increasingly partisan, with soaring support for tighter laws among Democrats, declining support among Republicans, and independents caught in the middle, but losing their taste for restrictions. Since 2001, Democratic support for stricter laws grew from 61 percent to 91 percent, while Republican support dropped from 44 percent to 24 percent. Independent support for more restrictions went from 55 percent in 2001 to a high of 64 percent in 2019 before a plunge to 45 percent.
As a result, tougher gun control remains an unassailable position among Democratic politicians, but one with diminishing appeal outside the ranks of the faithful.
The Rittenhouse verdict is unlikely to budge the numbers since reactions break down along similar partisan divides. Democrats compete to condemn the outcome as racist and an indictment of the American system of justice, while Republican officials joke about arm-wrestling over who gets to hire Rittenhouse as an intern. He can’t be just a guy; he’s a hero or a villain depending on your party.
“I am deeply concerned that it will encourage more tragic gun violence from those like Kyle Rittenhouse who think they have a license to take the law into their own hands in a violent way,” huffed Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) who also called for “common sense gun safety reforms.”
“Never surrender your Second Amendment right to defend yourself and your family,” responded Rep. Mary Miller (R-Ill.) to the verdict.
I would argue that one of the big reasons why Rittenhouse has been lionized by some on the right is precisely because he was vilified and demonized by the Left, both before and after the facts in this case became readily available to anyone who was interested in learning them. But Tucille’s point is that so far, both sides in the gun control debate are reacting exactly as you’d expect them to. In other words, nothing’s changed.
And if we do see any real shift in public opinion as a result of the Rittenhouse verdict, Tucille doesn’t think that gun control activists are going to come out as the winners. He points to the acquittal on Friday of Andrew Coffee IV, a Florida man found not guilty of murder and attempted murder after police entered his home looking for drugs and he fired, believing they were intruders.
The Indian River County Sheriff’s Office claimed Coffee IV fired shots first at deputies during an early-morning search warrant for narcotics at a Gifford home four years ago.
According to an arrest affidavit, SWAT team members returned fire into the bedroom. However, Coffee IV claimed deputies fired first.
Fearing for his life, Coffee IV told investigators that he fired two or three rounds. The sheriff’s office maintained it announced its presence.
Coffee IV told investigators that he didn’t know it was deputies because they did not announce who they were.
His girlfriend, Alteria Woods, who was also at the home, was shot 10 times and died during the gunfire.
As Tucille points out, Coffee, who is Black, was acquitted by a jury just like White teenager Kyle Rittenhouse, though Coffee was convicted of possession of a firearm by a convicted felon. A jury in Florida understood that a felon doesn’t lose their right to act in self-defense, even if they can’t legally own the gun they used.
Coffee isn’t alone as an American who defies the stereotype of conservative white gun owners. Growing skepticism about law enforcement along with the failure of police forces to keep the peace in some communities last year (see the Rittenhouse case) have people worried about their security. That hasn’t exactly driven the majority into the arms of the defund the police movement, but it motivated a surge in people purchasing firearms for self-defense.
“The highest overall firearm sales increase comes from Black men and women who show a 58.2 percent increase in purchases during the first six months of 2020 versus the same period last year,” the National Shooting Sports Foundation noted in July 2020.
“First-time gun buyers favor Biden over Trump,” the Dallas Morning News reported of pre-election Texas survey results. “In fact, 51% of first-time purchasers surveyed favored Biden, while 43% favored Trump.”
That matters because Republicans are not just more likely to oppose tighter gun laws, but “about twice as likely as Democrats” to own guns according to Pew Research. Gun owners of all partisan affiliations, logically enough, are much less sympathetic to gun restrictions than are non-owners, as found in August by Pew. That may not yet be showing up in Gallup’s figures, but it seems likely that increased ownership will further erode support for gun restrictions, even among Democrats.
I think that’s right, though it’s very much a long-term trend that we’re talking about. I will object to one of Tucille’s closing comments, however; his declaration that the debate between Republicans and Democrats on gun ownership is “just theater,” because the facts suggest that the “dreams of prohibitionists” are doomed.
It’s not just theater, because there are real lives being impacted by the gun control laws that Democrats demand. There are people in prison today for the “violent felony” of possessing a gun without a government permission slip, so I can’t just shrug my shoulders at the Left’s response to the Rittenhouse verdict and their desire to criminalize the right to keep and bear arms and the right of self-defense. I concur with Tucille that the gun prohibitionists are going to end up on the wrong side of history, but the fight to ensure that every eligible American citizen has access to their Second Amendment rights isn’t just political theater for the 2A activists I know.