Guns: the culture war liberals lost

Sen. Diane G. Feinstein (D.-Calif.)

“There is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself,” so said Pat Buchanan in his famous “culture war speech” at the 1992 Republican convention.


Buchanan revealed a decisive cultural and moral difference between the Left and the Right in this country. At stake were issues of life, sexuality, education, drugs, and the family.  Since Buchanan’s call to arms, conservatives have been losing almost all of those battles, with the exception of gun rights.

Gun ownership has remained stagnant for decades: between 40 percent and 50 percent of Americans since the early 90s claimed to own guns.

While this may be true laws relating to concealed carry and public perception of guns have become more liberal.

Dating back since the 1950’s banning handguns was a very popular position.  According to Gallup, 60 percent of the general public favored banning handguns in 1959 to 36 percent opposed.  Half a century later, the opinions have nearly completely flipped.

According to a 2009 poll, 28 percent supported a handgun ban while 71 percent opposed. Another Gallup poll in 1996 showed 57 percent of the public support a ban on semi-automatic weapons, but that support has dwindled to 44 percent by 2012.  Despite the media and several politicians efforts to capitalize of fears of school shootings after- Columbine or Sandy Hook- the public has moved in continually favor of the right to own guns.

This change of opinion has translated itself into legislative and judicial victories. There was Supreme Court’s landmark decision McDonald v. Chicago in 2010 confirmed that the Second Amendment, along with the rest of the rights in the Constitution, were incorporated into the states, so that the rights were not just applicable to the federal government.


McDonald also effectively struck down Chicago and other cities’ ban on handguns.  While that case was a major progress for gun owners, states’ legislative victories in the states have been more numerous and overlooked.  The major overhaul of concealed carry laws across the nation has been victory the right can boast about in the last quarter century.  Take into account that in 1986 only one state, Vermont, had an unrestricted right-to-carry law and 16 states had outright ban of right-to-carry (including Texas).  Twenty-five years later four states have an unrestricted right-to-carry (Vermont, Alaska, Wyoming, and Arizona), and only one state still has a ban on the books, Illinois.

Renewed efforts to take up gun control battles seem to mostly be in vain.  For example, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s new gun bill is most certainly going to end up in courts and Sen. Diane G. Feinstein (D.-Calif)’s new attempts to ban “assault weapons” will be fruitless.

The last time the Congress voted for a ban, the Democrats had a 255-member majority in the House of Representatives and were only able to pass the bill with an 18-vote margin.  Currently, Republicans have a 234-member majority and many old political lines no longer exist.  In 1994, half of the Arkansas, North Carolina, Mississippi and Tennessee delegation voted for the assault weapons ban.  Most of Southern Democrats voted with their party although, nearly all those Democratic seats are now held by Republicans.


While conservatives focused on winning the Cold War in the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, liberals focused on winning the culture war.  For the most part they have been successful.  The ever-growing strength in support of gun ownership continues to be a sore point for them- not because they have conclusive evidence that gun-control works but because they know they’ve lost.

Ryan James Girdusky writes from New York City. Follow him on Twitter @Ryan_JamesG.

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